Black Sabbath reuniting for world tour, new album and why that’s too bad

Metal pioneers Black Sabbath are reuniting with the original lineup and hitting the road, more than 40 years after the band’s inception.

Guitarist Tony Iommi, singer Ozzy Osbourne, bass player Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward are plotting a world tour as well as a new album, as they announced at a press conference today. The band will headline England’s Download Festival in June 2012 and then head out.

Rick Rubin has been tapped to produce a new effort, the same role he had when the band made their first go at reuniting back at the end of the ’90s and into the new millennium. If the album’s completed, it will be Rubin’s first for the band.

Black Sabbath hasn’t released an album of all-new material with that lineup since 1978’s “Never Say Die!”; Osbourne was fired that following year, and replaced by Ronnie James Dio. Thus, the inaugural quartet left eight studio albums in their wake.

Sabbath made their last concerted, formal reunion starting in 1997/1998, an earnest but ultimately doomed attempt at becoming a full band again. Bill Ward had a heart attack while they were on tour. Iommi pursued putting out his first solo album while Ozzy worked on a couple of his own, setting the band back on what was thought to be a temporary hiatus. The MTV’s “The Osbournes” was permanently conscripted into Ozzy’s life and that was that, in 2002. To show for it: 1998’s decent and mostly live album “Reunion,” which included two new studio tracks, with one that thankfully showed some spark (“Psycho Man”).

Black Sabbath, without contest, is among one of the most influential rock bands of all time, trailblazers for metal, helping in defining an era of post-Beatles British music and yielding a template of heavy music frontmen. I am a great admirer of the band; and I won’t be the first or last fan to say, that this reunion just seems sad.

I was just a few feet away from Ozzy Osbourne in April this year during the Tribeca Film Festival in discussing documentary “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne,” a warts-and-all look at the decades of drug and alcohol abuse, the scandals and rock ‘n’ roll antics, the beginnings and frayed ends of Sabbath, the dawn of “The Osbournes,” the works. It was co-produced by Ozzy’s son Jack.

I didn’t sense any fragility from the famed singer, but Osbourne certainly looked legions older than his golf-and-wine age of 62, his syntax still stumblebumming around a simple spoken phrase. The doc itself featured scenes from his “Black Rain” tour, and one image to me continues to stand out: Zakk Wylde, Osbourne’s then-guitarist, gently correcting Ozzy’s tone during rehearsals on the big stage, Wylde’s thunderous physical presence cascading over a a wilted Osbourne, who had exhibited memory loss in scenes before it. I worry about Ward’s health, but also about Ozzy bringing about a new spark from an old lineup, whereas he’s previously fed off the energy of the younger guys that play on his solo tours. Those tours in the last couple years, by the way, have gotten some mixed reviews.

Osbourne and Iommi were still trying to sue each other as recently as 2010, over the use of the band’s name; it was an argument of legacy. Legacy is an argument for a Black Sabbath reunion. It sours the taste when even the band members’ stability in that legacy is still in contention.

Just watch the YouTube clip for the 11-11-11 announcement below: its less a promotion for the current state of Black Sabbath as it is a short archive to remind listeners just who the hell Black Sabbath is, and what they wrote. (And, honestly, touting the band’s 2006 induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame as an introduction? Who the hell cares about an institution that inspires outcry for artists who have yet to be inducted, and a general shrug after artists are committed.)

Ronnie James Dio died last year, with his own winding, storied history, part of that being a punchline (you’ve seen Spinal Tap, right?). Osbourne, too, has more than 40 years of mythology but — face it — made himself the  joke on “The Osbournes.” Undoubtedly, more solo efforts will erupt from the guy whether he’s in Sabbath or not, but 10 years will do a lot to the man and a band after that 1998 reunion ultimately floundered. It’s could spell failure on top of washup status, the Osbourne himself has established.

I’ll be interested to see what comes out of Rubin — whose name is synonymous with Slayer — in the sessions to come. I hate to make the comparison, but he culled some great performances out of a late-era Johnny Cash. Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” was rendered useless in the mastering stage, but had a mesmerizing clip to it. Rubin may have headed up efforts for Adele, the Avett Brothers and (of course) Red Hot Chili Peppers, but he hopefully has no plans to clean up the sludgier, bleeding edges that made Sabbath so unfailing.

And this could all be with the quartet’s tongues planted firmly in each’s respective cheeks. I wouldn’t doubt some level of parody or pageantry. Reunions are helpful cash grabs, and sometimes result in an acclaimed comeback, even if the convergence is short. I hope Black Sabbath bang the hell out of their tour, and I hope breed some more of that slow-burning, arching metal magic. There is some doubt.