AURAL SECTS AND DOGS OF WAR – A VERY SHORT ESSAY ON GZR’S OHMWORK
AURAL SECTS AND DOGS OF WAR – A VERY SHORT ESSAY ON GZR’S "OHMWORK"
Exactly thirteen years ago, legendary Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler released his third solo album, namely the 10-track effort entitled "Ohmwork". Backed by a cast of talented musicians, more specifically Pedro Howse (guitars), Chad Smith (drums), and Clark Brown (vocals), Butler and his cohorts entered the recording studio and cut the album in a mere ten days, which partly accounts for why it sounds so raw and spontaneous in places. According to the promotional info that was posted around the time of its release, Butler wished to strip everything down and make the entire affair as real, intuitive, and direct as possible. He wanted the album to have a live feel of sorts, which he partly succeeded in doing in that it sounds neither polished nor clinical by any stretch of the imagination. Simply put, "Ohmwork" is downright vicious in places and Butler himself did a commendable job producing the record.
Musically speaking, the album is totally different to Black Sabbath; "Ohmwork" sounds way more current and in tune with what countless other metalcore bands were doing around the time of its release. There is power and punch to it while the riffs are direct and quite in-your-face. Nothing too convoluted or complex is going on here; we are talking a full-on metal assault on the senses.
Released by Sanctuary Records on May 10 in the US (and May 9 in Europe), the album sold way less than expected and received quite a few negative reviews. It was as if people were uncomfortable with the idea of Geezer Butler writing and recording metal music that had more in common with Devildriver than Black Sabbath. Blabbermouth wrote that
Put simply, this wouldn’t be seeing the light of day (at least not as anything but some local band’s CD-R demo) if Butler was not involved. These songs are by turns half-baked and overwrought, ripping off Modern Rock 101 cliché left and right – bits and pieces of ALICE IN CHAINS, black-album METALLICA, GODSMACK, SEVENDUST, and throw in your least favorite nu-metal band while you’re at it.
The ironic thing is that Geezer himself said that he was neither inspired nor influenced by any current trends in music at the time of writing the material that ended up on "Ohmwork":
I’m just focusing on what pleases me at the time. I don’t really listen to modern metal music these days. If you try and imitate you just look like an idiot. Especially at my age, if you try and catch up with what’s going on now it just doesn’t work. You’ve got to be true to yourself and play what you like doing.
In direct contrast to Blabbermouth, you had Maelstroem Zine praising the album and stating that
This third release from the band led by the legendary Geezer Butler proves beyond doubt that Butler is still dedicated to his original call: delivering mind blowing material that is dense, delicate and meaningful. More than everything, GZR sounds fresh, with all intents intact. […] A bombast rhythm section wraps the whole thing up, and it results in sounding like Faith No More going hardcore. As long as you approach this band effort open mindedly, you are bound to be shattered!
In many ways, the album seemed to provoke strong reactions among its listeners with people either loving it or abhorring it. A lot of fans and observers obviously thought that "Ohmwork" would have more in common with Black Sabbath and traditional metal than it did. Then again, the first two solo outputs by Geezer ("Plastic Planet" (1995) and "Black Science" (1997)) had very little to do with Sabbath at all, so why people expected him to somehow bring any Sabbath-like elements into his solo endeavors is beyond me. When asked how he would compare his solo work to Black Sabbath, Geezer said that "I don’t compare the two whatsoever. I never try and sound like Sabbath. Sometimes something might sound like Sabbath — which is bound to happen".
As to the songwriting process, GZR also differed from Sabbath in many ways in the sense that Butler would present ideas, sketches, and whatnot to Howse who would then build his riffs and melodies around those. This is also touched on by Butler:
The writing situation is totally different. In Sabbath we always used to write stuff in a band situation. Us all together jamming about and seeing what came out of it. We’d pick one thing that we’d like and try and expand on that and make it a song. Whereas the GZR thing, I do everything at home first, and Pedro the guitarist will work on something or I’ll work on something and then we’ll play it to each other and pick the ones we like and expand on that. Once we’ve got the song almost completed, then we’ll play it to Clark [Brown], the singer and he’ll pick out which parts are good for vocalising and what’s the verse and what’s the chorus and all that. The final step is rehearsing it with a drummer.
Lyrically, "Ohmwork" explores and reflects on current issues and problems in the world at large, namely war, corrupt political leaders, and generally just the harsh reality out there that people are confronted with each day. To Butler, the lyrics serve as a catharsis of sorts, or an exorcism, if you will:
I like to deal in the reality of life. I mean, I’m too old to sing about women and things like that. I’ve been perfectly happily married for 25 years, and have a nice life. Inane things don’t interest me. There’s a lot of things going on in the world that do interest me — as a member of the world. I just feel helpless — not being able to do anything about what’s going on in the world; so the only release for me is through the music.
However, some of the lyrics also have a more introspective and personal angle to them, more specifically the ones for "Pardon My Depression", which deals with depression in an overall perspective as well as in relation to Butler’s own encounters with the problem:
A lot of the lyrics on this album are by Clark and about his life. He’s had a bad life. A lot of my stuff like, "Pardon My Depression" for instance, is about how many people are in depression these days, and I’ve suffered with it as well, so it’s a general thing. "Dogs of Whore" obviously is about a warring general, so my lyrics are probably what’s happening with people in the outer world and Clark’s lyrics are about what’s happening in his world.
Truth be told, "Ohmwork" has many qualities and interesting aspects to it, but it is hardly one for the history books and it is neither a brilliant album nor a must-have as such, but it does contain some fantastic songs in the shape of "I Believe", "Alone", and "Misfit". On top of that, it is interesting to hear and experience a different side to Butler’s musical expression away from Black Sabbath and his work with Ozzy Osbourne’s solo outfit. "Ohmwork" is a modern piece of work, but Butler’s rumbling and superb bass playing serves as a the foundation of the whole thing and how can you not love that? Some dreadful tunes do appear on the disc ("Pseudocide", "Don’t You Know", and "Pull the String"), but the album is still better than most people and critics give it credit for. A lot of the criticism and negativity had to do with the fact that people could not get their heads around the fact that this was Geezer Butler writing and performing music entirely to his own liking without any references or parallels to Black Sabbath.
There were talks and strong rumors of setting up a joint tour with fellow Sabbath mate Tony Iommi to promote the "Ohmwork" record while Iommi would then promote his excellent 2005 effort named "Fused", but sadly, those plans never reached fruition and the tour never happened.
In June the Recording Industry Association of America revealed Ozzy Osbourne had sold over 28 million albums in the USA, incredibly a full 13 million more albums than Black Sabbath. Thankfully, fans were rewarded with further product as Tony Iommi hooked back up with Glenn Hughes to craft the ‘Fused’ album. This highly commendable effort arriving shortly after Geezer Butler’s latest GZR solo outing ‘Ohmwork’, prompting rumors of a joint tour. (Young 298)
The very idea of a Butler/Iommi tour is pretty fucking mind-blowing, but again, that project sadly never came to fruition. It certainly would have been interesting though.
On a final note, there are some interesting guest appearances on "Ohmwork" as well as a bit of trivia surrounding the album that deserve to be mentioned here. Geezer’s son, Biff Butler, adds backing vocals to "I Believe" and "Don’t You Know" while Lisa Rieffel performs guest vocals on "Pseudocide". According to Joe Siegler’s splendid Black Sabbath website, the working title for "Misfit" was "ph Balance" while "Alone" was initially referred to as "Dooms Day". "I Believe" was chosen as the single to promote the album (not a single in the traditional sense of the word, but a 1-track promo single that was mailed to radio stations and so on), which was a smart move as that tune is undoubtedly the best one on the disc. Sadly, it was not enough to make people aware of or pay any attention to "Ohmwork" and the album sank without damn a trace shortly after it was released. However, if modern metal, metalcore, and so on appeal to you, then give it a handful of spins. It requires time and patience on the part of the listener, but there might just be a few tracks on it that will kick your ugly ass into oblivion.
Sharpe-Young, Gary (2006). Sabbath Bloody Sabbath – The Battle for Black Sabbath. Zonda Books