“For years, people would go, ‘Hey, man, are you happy about the resurgence of heavy metal?’ But it’s never gone away! The audience, it goes from like, 70 to 15,” rock legend Ozzy Osbourne, sitting beside his Black Sabbath bandmate Geezer Butler, tells Yahoo Music.
But Sabbath have indeed gone away — at least for now. However, those fans between the ages of 15 and 70 still have a chance to see them “live,” via the documentary The End of the End, which captures the band’s farewell concert in their hometown of Birmingham, England. The Dick Carruthers-directed film will screen at 1,500 cinemas worldwide for one night only, this Thursday, Sept. 28, followed by a DVD/Blu-ray release on Oct. 27 via Eagle Rock Entertainment.
In the “End of the Beginning,” the opening track on 13, Black Sabbath’s 2013 album and their first since 1995’s Forbidden, Osbourne menacingly sang, “Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?” We obviously now have an answer to that musical question. Initially, Black Sabbath talked about doing one final album, followed by a tour, but the band decided to scrap plans for another studio effort and instead hit the road in early 2016 for a final four-leg trek, a tour called “The End,” which wrapped in Birmingham on Feb. 4, 2017.
Sabbath singer Osbourne and bassist/lyricist Butler are holed up in Osbourne’s office, in the back of his Beverly Hills estate, to discuss the final tour and the band’s legacy. The room is littered with rock memorabilia. On the floor near a bookcase sits an Ozzy ventriloquist dummy, missing one lens in his Lennon-like granny glasses. Next to it is a Freddie Mercury action figure, while the nearby bookcase houses a Beach Boys vinyl boxed set and books on World War II. Across the room on the mantel in the corner sits a trio of Grammys. Framed photos, including shots of the Beatles, line the walls.
Both Sabbath legends say the decision to forgo another studio effort came down primarily to a matter of time. “It would have taken another three years to write and record another album,” Osbourne explains. “We just felt we wanted to tour.”
“We didn’t want to rush an album,” adds Butler. “It has to have that chemistry to make it work. You can’t force a Sabbath album. We did try to do an album in 2001, but it didn’t have the magic, the spark that  had.”
There was also another factor. “Another thing if the album didn’t…,” Osbourne begins, unable to finish his thought, implying he feared a new album might not be up to snuff. “The way we left it now, we left on a high note. It was our first No. 1 album ever … in our whole career, so we ended on a high note.”
Osbourne is referring to the fact that 13, produced by Rick Rubin, became the band’s first American chart-topper when it debuted with sales of 155,000. The album also led the U.K. album chart, the band’s first No. 1 there since their second album, Paranoid, hit the summit in 1970. On top of that, the single “God Is Dead?” also earned the band a Grammy for Best Metal Performance.
Much of the credit for the album’s success goes to Rubin, who helped Sabbath regain their mojo by returning to its roots. “Every time I’d see him for years, he’d say, ‘If you ever get back together with Sabbath, I want to produce the album.’ And it worked,” Osbourne says of Rubin.
“It was good having someone who knows Sabbath music, that really gets it and someone we respect to take the producing role,” adds Butler. “It really helped a lot, because he had the vision of how it should sound. If it was up to us, we’d probably all have a different idea of what it should come out like. So it was good having this one person know how the whole thing should be. He wanted it to be like back in the ’70s, early ’70s, first three albums, and that’s the way it turned out. He wanted us to do it live in the studio, which is how we did the first three Sabbath albums.”
Rubin, who has a long history of reviving the careers of artists, including Aerosmith (with a Run-DMC collaboration), Johnny Cash, and Neil Diamond, first had the band listen to their earliest recordings. “The first day that we met him for this album, we were down at his house in Malibu, and he put on the first album and we just sat there and listened to the first album and we had a few giggles about how raw it was,” Butler recalls. “He wanted us to come back to the rawness of that first album.”
“The first Black Sabbath album was more or less a live album without the audience, because we just went into the studio and virtually recorded live,” adds Osbourne. “Rick kept going on about the very first album. He wanted to get that feel. For the longest time, I didn’t know what he was talking about, but then I got it, and then progressing to what they now call heavy metal. And he said, ‘Don’t think metal. Don’t think the metal thing. Just do what you did on the first album.’”
Adds Osbourne with a chuckle: “I never really got my head around the words ‘heavy metal.’ I’ve never really understood this term.”
“It seemed like more of a derogatory term when we first heard it, and then we sort of accepted it,” says Butler. “We just took it one step heavier than Zeppelin. And so it comes between Zeppelin and punk rock, I suppose.”
“Poison to Black Sabbath to Deep Purple … ‘80s metal was like pop/rock to me,” says Osbourne. “People ask me where do I think I fit in in the big picture. I don’t know. I’m glad to just still be in the picture. … As far as ‘passing the torch,’ I’m glad that we inspired people to do their version [of what we do].”
The “End” tour stopped at historic venues, like the Forum in Los Angeles and New York’s Madison Square Garden. That was bound to prompt memories from Sabbath, having played those storied arenas numerous times in the past.
“I remember the first time playing the Garden and the first time playing the Forum,” Osbourne says. “The first time playing the Forum was opening up for Grand Funk Railroad in the 1970s, and to still be doing it, and still have people interested in our music that’s what gets me, that people today still like our music, which is nearly 50 years old now, which is incredible. It’s been that long.”
“It’s bringing the whole thing to a full circle. It’s got a definite end, so you can sit back and reflect on your whole life, basically,” Butler adds.
The thought of the end of Sabbath brings further reflection for Osbourne. “I’m glad we’re all still alive. I’m glad we can still play. I’m glad that we all still want to play, and I’m glad it’s the end because we didn’t want to fizzle out,” he adds. “To end up with a final thing with the guys I started off with is great. I’m not saying I’m retiring, because I’m still going to be doing some kind of musical thing, but it’s been a great journey. We never thought when we first went into the studio in 1969, early 1970, that we were going to last five years, and here we are nearly 50 years up the road and we’re still active. That’s what really is important to me.
“One of my favorite things is we weren’t a band that was created by some business guy in London,” Osbourne continues. “We’re four guys. I was in a band with Terry [Geezer]; Tony [Iommi] was in a band with Bill [Ward]. I went to school with Tony. We came from a three-mile radius of each other, and we formed a band to have a bit of fun and here we are on this amazing journey. I’m glad it’s coming to an end on a high note, for a change.”