The Sunday Supplement / Geezer Butler – The Solo Years
1 November 2020
Being one of the most influential bassists in Metal history, as well as the primary lyricist of Black Sabbath, Geezer Butler has much to offer both musically and lyrically.
In the mid 1990’s, he would finally establish his own solo project where his musical talent was put on full display.
Words: Kahmel Farahani, Brandon Oberkrieser, Steve Ritchie
This new project not only showcased the immense musicality we had heard on so many classic releases that came before, but also pushed the songwriting and playing of Geezer Butler into a new, more modern sounding direction.
We have a set of Vinyl and a set of CD’s containing each of the three albums, Plastic Planet, Black Science and Ohmwork, to give away.
The albums can also be ordered from https://geezerbutler.lnk.to/reissuesPR
Black Science – 1995
The task of getting the solo project off the ground had proved to be a difficult one.
Prior to the Black Sabbath Dehumanizer tour, in 1992 Butler spoke of trying to get the solo project off the ground in the past, one case was just before joining Ozzy for the No Rest for the Wicked tour in the late 80’s.
Butler said: “Well, I just wanted to spend the time with me family right away. And sort of took about a year off, completely doing absolutely nothing. Just time with my family.
“And then I gradually started writing material. I was looking for a really good singer but could never find one and so I gradually lost interest in the solo side, which is fine and just concentrated on writing songs.
“And then Ozzy asked me to do the ‘No Rest for the Wicked’ Tour with him, so I did that.”
However, even prior to that Geezer had been planning on ‘going solo’, but getting the project over the line had thrown up many obstacles.
In 1995 as ‘Plastic Planet’ was launched, he said: “The first time I tried to do a solo album, I was told that the stuff I was doing was too Heavy.
“All the record companies I went to were asking me to do more commercial stuff like Bon Jovi and all that, which I just don’t do. So, I sort of shelved it.
“But now that there are a lot of Heavy bands around. I just thought now would be the time to do it.”
Finally, ‘Plastic Planet’ gave Butler the freedom to create what he feels in his heart and mind. “It’s just my way of venting my feelings. I know what’s happening in the world. I’ve got kids. I’m much more aware than ever about looking at what’s going on.
“There’s just different things that start something off. I did one track called ‘The Invisible’ from when I was in New York doing Ozzy’s album. I was walking around and there was a lot of homeless people about and nobody seems to see them.
“Some people just step over them. It’s like they weren’t there. I thought they may as well be invisible and that sparked the idea to call the song that, which is about people who have secrets, like battered housewives and just all different people you don’t hear about, or people who are ashamed to talk about it or people that other people pretend aren’t there.
“I just called that song ‘The Invisible’. But, there’s other subjects like ‘Detective 27’ which is about somebody who thinks he’s Batman. (Laughs)”
So Butler called in drummer Deen Castronovo, having worked with him on Ozzy’s ‘Ozzmosis’ album. They added Peter ‘Pedro’ Howse on guitar and Burton C. Bell, the latter having just recorded ‘Demanufacture’ with Fear Factory.
From the opening bars of ‘Catatonic Eclipse’ you can sense the ‘modern mid-90’s’ industrial Heavy Metal style, packed with anger and crushing riffs.
With tracks like ‘Giving Up the Ghost’, which was aimed at Iommi and his insistence of continuing with the Black Sabbath name, and ‘House Of Clouds’ and it’s “Someone save me from myself” lines, you have a set of songs which still stand up well today.
Heavy, Heavy, Heavy! Expect no crushing guitar solos, but you will find an underrated album where Butler and his pals had presented a great set of songs which smash into your soul from first track to last.
In the context of 1995, given that it had only been a few months since Nirvana had released their seminal ‘MTV Unplugged’ set, Butler, then in his late 40’s, was maybe seen as a Metal dinosaur, yet to hit his now legendary status. It is now a refreshing task to revisit this classic album.
And, given that Bell had to go back to Fear Factory, if they had had the chance to perform this as a proper world tour, would things have turned out differently?
Black Science – 1997
From the opening moment of the 1997 release Black Science, there is no mistaking this is going to be a different listening experience for those who were coming straight over from the classic Black Sabbath releases.
The album begins with an almost ambient, industrial beat that sounds more in line with the classic Nine Inch Nails album ‘The Downward Spiral’, than an album like ‘Paranoid’.
From there the opening track, titled ‘Man In A Suitcase’, explodes into a heavy, crunchy riff that leads to a catchy, melodic chorus. The song sounds more in line with bands like Filter and Faith No More, than the dark blues inspired doom of Black Sabbath.
The second track titled ‘Box Of Six’ is a hammering slab of Metal. The main riff is filled with groove and instantly brings to mind Pantera. Track three, ‘Mysterious’, brings the album in a new direction with it’s brooding atmosphere, while the industrial tinges continue and begin to take more of a focus in the arrangements.
These opening tracks help lay the musical groundwork of what follows on the album; a mix of aggro upbeat Metal layered with melody, groove and industrial beats. The vocals, from Clark Brown, match the music perfectly throughout, with their clean but hard edged singing.
The rest of the band, composed of guitarist Pedro Howse and drummer Deen Castronovo, proved to be the perfect tools for Geezer to use in order to explore these new directions and expand his own musical horizons.
Lyrically the album dips into familiar territory for Black Sabbath fans. The previously mentioned ‘Box Of Six’ seems to be both a look at popular culture and religion and how both can be worshipped. It’s closing lyrics of “Superman, the ultimate ghost. Lucifer, the ultimate ghost. Jesus C., the ultimate ghost”, seems to back up this theory.
There are also science fiction themed lyrics as heard on tracks like ‘Area Code 51’ and ‘Among The Cybermen’. Elsewhere on the album, the track ‘Has To Be’ seems to be an analysis of a broken human psyche.
In general, there is enough on ‘Black Science’ for open minded fans of Black Sabbath to be attracted to, while enough difference in sound that the album could equally attract as many new fans as well.
While the musical stylings of ‘Black Science’ might not sound as new and modern as it once did in 1997, the album does not sound dated. Many of the songs would fit in well alongside others by modern Hard Rock bands in 2020.
While we encourage all fans of Geezer Butler to listen to this album, no matter your final impression of the record, there is no denying the willingness and the success of Geezer Butler in branching out and pushing himself musically into new directions.
The early 2000’s were not kind to Classic Rock and Metal bands, or the iconic musicians that drove them.
Geezer Butler is just such a legend. Fresh off the back of the hugely successful Black Sabbath reunion shows at Ozzfest in the late 90s, the era of Nu-Metal and Kerrang TV saw Geezer attempt to revive his GZR solo band for another record.
The result was Geezer Butler’s third and presently final, GZR album ‘Ohmwork’ and it is a bit of a mixed bag.
Opening track ‘Misfit’ is a full throttle belter of a song that sounds closer to Static X than it does Black Sabbath. Therein lies the enigma of this album. Anyone expecting latter era Black Sabbath will probably be disappointed as there are no doomy riffs and mystical choruses here.
However, that is not to say there is not anything to enjoy or at least pique the interest of die-hard fans here.
Tracks like the industrial metal of ‘Pardon My Depression’ or the distorted groove Metal of ‘Aural Sects’ sound like post Pantera Metal songs to crash one’s car (or more probably skateboard) to.
If ‘Ohmwork’ does have a weakness it is arguably vocalist Clark Brown, who sadly never moves beyond Wayne Static sounding screaming and Fred Durst style rapping. This is apparent on the album’s weakest tracks, ‘Prisoner 103’ and ‘Pseudocide’, which fit the sound of many Nu-Metal bands circa 2001.
On the plus side Geezer Butler’s bass playing has thankfully lost none of it’s unique groove and having Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on drums gives the record an added level of Funk in the rhythm section.
‘Dogs of Whore’ is a more interesting mix of riffs and chugging rhythms while the album closer ‘Don’t You Know’ sounds like an ideal moshpit starter.
It would only be two short years before Mr Butler was back in his rightful place on the world’s biggest stages with Black Sabbath.
Take this album then as a snapshot of a difficult time for Heavy Metal and an interesting item in itself.
MetalTalk have a CD and Vinyl set of Geezer Butler’s three solo albums to give away.
Say ‘Hello CD’ or ‘Hello Vinyl’ to MetalTalk in an email via firstname.lastname@example.org to win a set. Sorry, this competition is UK only.
The draw will be made Sunday 8th November.