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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars

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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.
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on 26 June 2015
According to the publishers, Symptom of the Universe is, “The final word on the only name synonymous with heavy metal.” And they may be right.

Sabbath got together at the tail end of the 1960’s. They became one of the biggest groups in the world by ’74 then split in ’79. The following year they came back with a new singer and then fragmented into an Iommi project until the mid-1990s.

This was the third Black Sabbath book that I read in quick succession. Symptom of the Universe is definitely the most rigorous. The first was I Am Ozzy, then Iron Man: the memoirs of Tony Iommi and now this, Symptom of the Universe. Former Sabbath PR man, music journalist and biographer Mick Wall’s book helps to fill in the blanks present in the first two autobiographies.

Wall presents a detached third-party perspective of the band and its history. All three books chart follow the same arc:

– four working class people come together to follow a dream,
– struggle, get an increasing amount of success,
– develop massive egos,
– take too many drugs and booze,
– go bonkers,
– fall out,
– get lawyers involved,
– then, start to play music together again.

Wall does a nice job of piecing together massive amounts of information: various interviews, archival material, thoughts and reminiscences from his own personal experience with the band and parts from other autobiographies and books. This is all linked together in a coherent and readable narrative. Wall also sits on the fence maintaining an air of neutrality and disinterest. By not taking sides this helps to guide the reader through the fragmented drug addled story of the band.

Symptom of the Universe benefits from not relying on just the memories or opinions of one person. This makes it more rounded and interesting. Wall portrays each player as a real person, not just a caricature. Everyone has their positive points which contrast against their more negative aspects too.

Ozzy comes across as a junkie clown, living in fear of Iommi, who is unfairly portrayed as an egotistical, coke-addled taskmaster; Geezer Butler the intelligent lyricist, with Bill Ward and Geoff Nicholls as the fall guys for all the jokes.

Of course, the main focus is on the band’s crazy antics as opposed to musical analysis or thoughts about tracks and albums. I guess these are the things which people want to read about as most of them are amusing. Wall does provide his own opinion of music, but that’s what it is: an opinion. So, you can agree or not and often I didn’t. He also, correctly in my view, bypasses most of Ozzys solo career. Also skipped over are the details behind every single member of Black Sabbath.

So in summary, Wall gives us a well written book. A real page turner enhanced with insights unavailable to other authors. Rich in detail it is an essential read for any fan of the band or heavy metal. A fascinating, captivating and thought-provoking account of the four men who invented a musical genre. I just hope Wall decides to write a biography about Dio next.
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on 7 April 2015
Symptom of the Universe is a comprehensive telling of the Black Sabbath story in it's many incarnations from the Band's beginning until 2013. Mick Wall's book is definitely a "warts and all" tale, Tony Iommi in particular coming across as a nasty,bullying and selfish individual,though it has to be said he's hardly unique in that respect in the music world portrayed in the book with thuggish managers,cruel practical jokes and rip offs,stitch ups and bitchiness seemingly the way things are done in the music industry,or at least throughout Sabbath's history.
Mick Wall knows his subjects very well and while his prose sometimes lapses into Music magazine pretentiousness his insight and ability to get under the skin of the various weird,wonderful and sometimes not so wonderful characters in the Sabbath story bring the book to life. Sabbath's story is almost like a soap opera and Mick Wall does a great job of detailing the personality clashes, arguments and dirty deeds that led to the constant "revolving door" of personnel changes. I'm no heavy metal anorak but I enjoyed the back stories and details of the various artists that came and went and ended the book with a far greater respect for Sharon Osbourne, who I only really knew before as "the mouthy bird off the telly".
A great read that entertains while informing,I'd like to have read a bit more about the sinister Don Arden, Sharon Osbourne's father, who I know as an avid true crime reader was just one of the thuggish figures involved in the music business of that era.
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on 9 December 2013
Outside of objectively verifiable scientific phenomena, it seems that truth is a much more subjective and ambiguous quality than we might think. Where people are concerned, this is even more so. Thus rock stars are frequently buried under an avalanche of myths, legends and a culturally constructed received wisdom. Rarely does one come away from a rock biography with a genuine feel for the human beings behind the music. It is here where Mick Wall always excels. Of course, having worked with and for the principles, on and off, over a 35-year span, gives Mick a crucial insight unavailable to other chroniclers. Thus we have something here which is fascinating, compelling and thought-provoking.
Rich in detail and with an obvious fascination with the people, rather than with producing a glorified career review, makes this essential for any fan of contemporary music and the artists who shape it.
I should declare an interest; I worked as researcher on this book for Mick and it was a revelation to see dull and prosaic matters of fact brought to vivid life lending fresh insight and awareness.
Few would argue that Sabbath invented mental and now the reader can really meet the men who fashioned an international cultural phenomenon.
Tony Iommi: affable prankster or mean-spirited bully? Ozzy: clown prince of rock 'n' roll or puppet of Sharon? Both? Neither?
Thoroughly recommended. another unqualified winner for Wall.
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on 15 January 2014
Mick Wall wrote the highly entertaining Axl Rose biography, and does it again with the Sabbath story.
Only disappointing thing is this book could have been twice as long & would still have been as fascinating.
Every great rock band deserves a great biography & Sabbath get it here.
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on 6 February 2014
I'd read books by both Ozzy & Tony, but it takes someone from the outside looking in to make sense of what really happened in the band down the years. Well researched, a good read and a must for Sabbath fans.
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on 29 December 2013
An awesome in depth account of Heavy Metals creators charting the rise and falls of this great band.Found out tons that I never knew and wanted to.Five stars without a doubt.
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on 9 January 2014
Excellent read,in depth and good insights from all members of the band,funny and revealing,worth a look you wont be disappointed
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on 13 February 2014
Great book on one of favourite bands of all time. A pleasure to read - Thank you Mike Wall for giving us the whole story.
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on 7 December 2013
Very good book.Found a couple of things that i was not aware of about Sabbath!Some good pictures as well.If you are a sabbath fan,purchase.
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