“Past Lives,” the two-CD, 2002 release by Black Sabbath on
the Sanctuary label, is an “essential listen” for die-hard
Black Sabbath fans. It provides an unaltered glimpse into their
“live” sets, during the years between 1970 and 1975.

Disc One, as any fan will know, is nothing less than their
previously unauthorized “Live at Last” recording, supposedly
released without the band’s consent in 1980. Twenty-two
years later, it is here, as a part of this two-disc set. It was
taped on March 16, 1973, at the Rainbow Theatre in London.
Tracks one and five through nine of Disc Two were recorded
at the Olympia Theatre in Paris on December 19, 1970. Tracks
two through four consists of songs from their then
soon-to-be-released “Sabotage” album. These tracks were
recorded at the Asbury Park Convention Hall in New Jersey,
on August 6, 1975.

As I mentioned earlier, these are definitely “warts and all” sets,
in the best sense of the term. If any “touching up” has been
done, I believe that it has been limited to the remastered
sound of these performances. There are certainly no studio
“overdubs” here! Admittedly, there are many instances of
“dubious” pitch, not the least from Ozzy Osborne, and listeners
who are not true Black Sabbath fans need not apply. For fans,
this is a real treat, because of the palpable power and energy
of the band’s live performances. You can listen through the
distortion and imperfect balance, and revel in the sheer sound
of this group.

It’s true that the performances are variable throughout these
two discs, not only from song to song, but often within a
particular song. Yet, “critiquing” a band like this one within
a “live” context with a fine-tooth comb, is almost beside the
point. These are actual aural snapshots of Black Sabbath at
specific points in time, and I don’t believe that listeners should
compare any given performances here with studio versions of
the songs. Instead, we should be grateful that this footage is
available, and enjoy it for what it is.

The sound produced by Black Sabbath here is quite special.
Who else delivered such memorable, doom-laden riffs in the
early part of the 1970’s? No one that I can think of! I believe
that it may be a generalization to state that this band “invented”
Heavy Metal; however, it’s certainly not an exaggeration to say
that Black Sabbath came up with the template for it, to a degree
unparalleled by any other band.

This two-disc set is in a cardboard foldout format, with a
nice booklet containing photos, an essay by Bruce Pilato,
a small poster of the band from the early 1970’s, and even
a guitar pick. The inside of the foldout is a wide panoramic
photo of Black Sabbath playing at Cal Jam in 1974. It features
songs from their first six albums, which in all honesty, are their
best. After the release of “Sabotage,” the quality of the songs
wasn’t the same on “Technical Ecstasy,” and “Never Say Die.”
As such, this set features Black Sabbath during their peak years.
As I’ve said earlier, the aforementioned debate of weighing this
performance over that one is beside the point, and fans will
probably argue until they’re blue in the face over the merits
of each one. The point is that true Black Sabbath fans must
hear this disc. Anyone else will no doubt miss the forest
for the trees.