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Rank and File

Rank and File: Ozzy Osbourne

My feelings on Ozzy Osbourne are very…complicated. I certainly don’t have anything against him as a person, but his memetic cult of personality seems disproportionate to what he himself has achieved. Other metal icons like Lemmy, Dio, and Iommi may get paid similar degrees of lip service, but it’s usually with the understanding that they were masterful writers who went their own way. Ozzy is the figurehead of a name brand, recognizable for his distinct voice and antics but only as well-known as he is due to the efforts of the musicians who’ve worked under him. Plenty of figures have achieved their own fame through such collaborations but there are even more who’ve had their livelihoods snuffed out by the Osbourne machine. Cases like the infamous 2002 remasters are enough to make one realize that the “separate the artist from the art” mantra can be applied to more than just NSBM bands or murderous metalcore frontmen…

But because I too am a raging hypocrite, I can’t deny the massive importance of Ozzy’s solo albums. His work throughout the 80s and early 90s bridged the gap between mainstream audiences and metal diehards in a way that nobody else ever could. Anthems like “Crazy Train” and “Bark at the Moon” will live forever in the public consciousness for their poppy hooks and flamboyant personalities, but the stunning musicianship on those same tracks led millions of kids down the path to even heavier territory. As embarrassing as it can be to look back on at times, there’s a reason why every metalhead has an Ozzy phase. And in the spirit of the Ozzman’s ten millionth farewell tour, I’ll be looking at his ten solo studio albums to see how well they hold up.

10) Down to Earth

The early 2000s were a rough time to be an Ozzy fan. Sure, Black Sabbath was touring with the original lineup and MTV’s The Osbournes was introducing him to a legion of impressionable millennials (myself included), but it was a time of creative stagnation in hindsight. This can be seen with 2001’s Down to Earth. The album attempts to mix a heavier contemporary sound with the sentimentality of 1995’s Ozzmosis, resulting in faceless downtuned chugs being married to flat vocals delivering flatter lyrics. Songs like “Gets Me Through” and “Dreamer” are solid staples but the rest mostly comes out a generic mish mash with a few outliers keeping it together. It’s not a horrible album but even at the height of my Ozzy worship, I was never sold on it.

Final Grade: D+

9) Scream

Much was made of longtime guitarist Zakk Wylde being replaced by Firewind’s Gus G on 2010’s Scream, but nothing sets it apart from 2007’s Black Rain. The music somehow ends up sounding more like Black Label Society despite Wylde gone as the tempos are even slower and the playing even sludgier. “Let Me Hear You Scream” is the obligatory crowd pleaser and other tracks like “Diggin’ Me Down” and “Latimer’s Mercy” show signs of promise that are let down by the ultra-processed production and robotic vocals. One can only imagine how this album would’ve sounded if Gus G had been allowed to put his personal power metal stamp on the material. Scream isn’t as bad as the Chris Cornell album of the same name, but you should check out Tony Martin’s Scream instead.

Final Grade: C-

8) Black Rain

Black Rain has many of the quirks that come with Ozzy’s millennium-era material, but they’re managed here better than they are on Down to Earth or Scream. The instrumentation is executed in that same Rob Zombie/Black Label-lite fashion and Ozzy’s voice is as prone to sappiness as it is to robotization, but the packaging is more compact this time around. “I Don’t Wanna Stop” is the best of the 2000s stadium grinders, the title track is the tightest example of the era’s sludge dabbling, and “Silver” and “Trap Door” are filled with as much energy as Ozzy and co can muster. I wouldn’t recommend this one before the classic material but it’s enjoyable fluff for diehard fans.

Final Grade: B-

7) Ozzmosis
Released in the wake of Ozzy’s first “retirement,” Ozzmosis takes the reflective tone of No More Tears and pushes it to even further extremes. Ozzy albums have always been full of metal songs with a few token ballads, but the formula is reversed for this one. Most of the songs exercise slow tempos, heavy piano work, and confessional lyrics. The formula admittedly comes out rather saccharine but songs like “See You on the Other Side” and “Old LA Tonight” are beautiful if you’re into that sort of thing. Fortunately, “Perry Mason” and “Thunder Underground” are around to appeal to heavy-oriented listeners. Geezer also plays bass, which gets weird when you realize that there are more Sabbath members on here than there were in the “actual” Sabbath at the time…

Final Grade: B

6) Bark at the Moon

Ozzy’s first album with guitarist Jake E. Lee not only had to follow the genre-defining efforts of the legendary Randy Rhoads but also had to do so in the wake of the latter’s death. Fortunately, Bark at the Moon finds its own footing as it mixes the artistry of the Blizzard era with a growing pop influence. Songs like “Bark at the Moon” and the underrated “Centre of Eternity” strike the perfect balance of atmosphere and energy and even the overtly commercial fare like “Rock & Roll Rebel” and “So Tired” are still intelligently constructed. A couple fillers and a somewhat dumbed down approach make this an inevitable step down but literally anything would be after those first two.

Final Grade: B+

5) No Rest for the Wicked

No Rest for the Wicked was a raging kick to the balls after two albums of Jake E. Lee’s glam metal fluff. The production is still 80s as all hell and the songwriting can get mindless, but the insanely energetic musicianship really makes it hard to complain. Then newcomer (and clean shaven) Zakk Wylde hadn’t developed his southern-fried sludge sound but his aggressive delivery made him stand out amongst the legions of 80s shredders. In addition, the ever-underrated Bob Daisley’s bass is absolutely booming, Randy Castillo’s drums are at their wildest, and John Sinclair’s keyboards add to the fun. “Miracle Man” remains one of Ozzy’s most explosive openers while “Bloodbath in Paradise” and “Demon Alcohol” are underrated deep cuts. There are more important Ozzy albums out there but there aren’t many that are this fun.

Final Grade: B+

4) The Ultimate Sin

I may have just referred to The Ultimate Sin as “glam metal fluff” but it’s some damn good glam metal fluff. The reverb heavy production is certainly of its time and songs like “Lightning Strikes” have that distinctly mid-80s charm. Thankfully the growing emphasis on pop hooks made for an easy transition as “Shot in the Dark” is worthy of its hit single status and others like the title track and “Killer of Giants” have enough substance to see them through. The instrumentation has a stiffness that wouldn’t be seen again for a couple decades, but Jake E. Lee really knows how to adapt his playing to the style. Another album that’s a little too niche for true classic status but a fun listen all the same.

Final Grade: B+

3) No More Tears

Similar to what bands like W.A.S.P. and Savatage were doing in the early 90s, No More Tears is best described as introspective party metal. The wildness (heh) of No Rest for the Wicked remains and this production style was likely already dated in 1991, but the sound is channeled into more purposeful songwriting. The structures and musicianship elevate the title track and “Zombie Stomp” to heights unscaled since the Blizzard era and the personal themes on songs like “Mama I’m Coming Home” and “Road to Nowhere” have more weight than similar material to follow. Even the would-be fillers like “S.I.N.” and “A.V.H.” are surprisingly dynamic! It’s also really cool to see Lemmy contributing lyrics to this album, subsequently introducing him to tons of people who’d never gotten around to Motorhead before. If only he’d been able to bring some of that mojo to March or Die

Final Grade: A

2) Blizzard of Ozz

I imagine it was nice to be a Black Sabbath fan in 1980. The original lineup may not have been together anymore, but Sabbath had a bright rebirth with Ronnie James Dio at the helm while Ozzy himself managed to get back on his feet with a so-called solo career. Bassist Bob Daisley has maintained that Blizzard of Ozz was always intended to be a band’s self-titled debut, and that sentiment rings true throughout. Ozzy may have been the recognized name even then, but the music is far removed from the Sabbath rulebook. The theatrics of “Mr. Crowley” and “Revelation (Mother Earth)” are rooted in similarly dark occult fare but classical scales soar where the blues once roamed and the catchy vocal hooks on “I Don’t Know” and “Crazy Train” do more than merely follow the riff. Like Van Halen’s debut two years before, Blizzard of Ozz is the soundtrack to the 70s’ death and the 80s’ glorious birth. It peters out toward the end with “No Bone Movies” and “Steal Away (The Night),” but remains an essential listen all the same.

Final Grade: A

1) Diary of a Madman

If Blizzard of Ozz was the successful blockbuster meant to secure a franchise, then Diary of a Madman was the creatively extravagant sequel. What it lacks in mainstream radio airplay is made up for by the sheer artistry throughout. The title track pushes Rhoads’ classical influences to the extreme, “Believer” and “Little Dolls” are among Ozzy’s darkest tunes to date, and “Over the Mountain” and “Flying High Again” are among the most elegant songs ever written about getting high. In addition, the song structures remain surprisingly band-oriented for a “solo” project and the lyrics are the most esoteric ever penned for an Ozzy album. It would’ve been easy to make another album full of “Crazy Trains” and Ozzy arguably did so on some of the other 80s albums, but they opted to make an album full of “Revelation (Mother Earth)” instead and gods bless ‘em for it!

Blizzard and Diary both feature Randy Rhoads’ astonishing talents, but this album is where the loss truly hits home. The unbridled creative freedom on display here truly makes one wonder what he would’ve achieved if he hadn’t passed in that 1982 plane crash. Ozzy himself has said that he doesn’t think Randy would’ve stayed in the band for much longer and I honestly don’t disagree. His skills would’ve inevitably called for a change of scenery and I can imagine him starting a new band or forging his own solo career. Perhaps the neoclassical metal world would be still defined by Yngwie-style shredders, but it’d arguably be far more tasteful if its greatest master had still been around to give it a guiding hand.

Final Grade: A

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5 comments

Héctor Hurtado Grooscors
Héctor Hurtado Grooscors July 13, 2018 at 4:05 pm

Good one Chris Latta, need to revisit again the post Down to Earth albums, what I remember of Black Rain is that was total shit

Reply
Ron Moody
Ron Moody July 13, 2018 at 4:34 pm

Ugh.

Reply
Ron Moody
Ron Moody July 13, 2018 at 4:34 pm

I bailed after The Ultimate Sin.

Reply
Jason Carpenter
Jason Carpenter July 13, 2018 at 10:36 pm

Good decision.

Reply
Jeff Lawrence
Jeff Lawrence July 13, 2018 at 7:00 pm

Black Rain IS total shit. Down to Earth has s few highlights. But sadly though, Ultimate Sin was the beginning of the end. However, NRFTW is a nostalgia favorite.

Reply

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