Top positive review
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Well written but definitely by a journalist.
on 28 February 2015
As you would expect from someone of Mick Walls pedigree, this is a very well written book in terms of page turning value. His Iron Maiden biog is excellent. Obviously the Sabbath story has enough twists and turns to keep you interested, but Wall knows what he's doing in structuring a book to keep the reader enthralled as well as just being a good writer. Not only that, this book covers the whole history of the band and a fair bit on solo stuff, too (possibly too much at one point).
Now here's the thing, though- the reason for my review is that this is written firstly from the perspective of a journalist (bad) but secondly from the perspective of someone who was 'there' for some of it and lived through other bits. This is not a nerd-like factual book from an obsessive fan when every detail is discussed, but a look at the band from a personal point of view. Something which hasn't actually been done before, other than actual band member biographies.
The problem with this is that it tends to toe the band-myth line rather than looking for the truth and I get the impression that he knows certain people involved with the band and is having to push a certain point of view which isn't entirely accurate in a way that an impartial obsessive wouldn't need to.
Certain things are glossed over such as Geoff Nicholl's role in the writing of Heaven and Hell (and the rest) and he's relegated to being a comical side man to Tony Iommi's folly. Very entertaining if this were fiction. Not 100% untrue, but the positives of his role seem to have been forgotten. I get the impression that Wall feels that he can't have played a role in writing H&H because he wasn't visible on stage and isn't the subject of rock hero-worship silliness.
His opinions on individual albums tend to be black and white to support the views of the press rather than fans. Technical Ecstasy is viewed as consistently awful, even the overplayed Dirty Women. If it's so terrible, why play it at every full length Ozzy concert for so long? There's a certain nuance missing and it seems deliberate - Tony Martin is seen as a good-enough singer with no charisma as opposed to a singer with an astonishing range in the studio who lacks the front man charisma of Dio or Ozzy (See the difference?).
Headless Cross is judged on the terrible 80s video rather than the excellent music and this is coming from someone who hates the 80s. In fact, he is much more warming to Eternal Idol which would make sense to a journalist if not a fan as that was the last album on a 'big' label until the 90s.
There's also full-on factual errors such as Nightmare (from Eternal Idol) being a stab at a MTV-style power ballad (confused with Feels Good To Me, I assume), Supernaut apparently not having a guitar solo (!) or the Cross Purposes tour not having a date in London (a nonexistent date which was filmed and released!). Amusingly reminiscent of the journalist who reviewed a terrible show that was actually cancelled. There's bits I'm unsure about such as stating that the Forbidden tour was a flop (I thought it was actually extremely successful despite the album's complete failure).
All this can be forgiven, but there's one thing that stops this excellent book from getting 5 stars- it's the strange attitude towards Tony Iommi. It's almost like he's Ozzy's publicity writer from the 80s (okay so he actually was so it's not that strange!) We actually hear very little about Tony's pre-Bill Ward childhood and get several pages about pre-Ozzy Randy Roads. That section is a great read, but hardly proportionate for a book about Black Sabbath. He's almost made out to be the fool 'who's massive ego' foolishly thought he could sack Ozzy and Dio. We know this is not the case.
He even slags off his playing ability - he sees him as a poor soloist next to Blackmore or Page - which, as someone who probably knows around 90% of all three guitarists repertoire, I can state that this is not true- particularly in the 80s... I suspect the point is that it is more about telling the story than actual facts which would be why this was said during the Seventh Star period of the book but not Heaven and Hell or Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (or Dehumaniser!). There's very little acknowledging Iommi being the raison d'etre of Black Sabbath in the way everyone else does. Nothing wrong with having a different opinion, of course, but it is a bit odd in a book about Black Sabbath.
Regardless, this book still gets four stars because it's a cracking read with loads of great info, particularly the period of first six albums and the solo information. If he wrote a biog of Dio, for example, I'd buy it. In the end, a good read is a good read and I enjoyed it. I'd still go to Garry Sharpe-Young's much more nerdy book for Sabbath related facts, though.