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July 14, 2024

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Sabbatum: A Medieval Tribute To Black Sabbath (The Music Cartel)

By: Vinnie Apicella

Okay, here's one for the jackpot. What do Black Sabbath, bells, bagpipes, and Beg The Bug Records have in common? Ah, you're scratching yer head thinking, huh, what exactly does that mean? Well in this case, it means the ol' masters come alive again for yet another rebirth only this time we're moved far and away from the present and music as we know it. An Eastern European group known as Rondellus, through the use of powerful 14th century instrumentation and operatic chant, have reinterpreted many classic (and a few clunkers) Sabbath tunes in quite an extraordinary way that few could've conceived of. Now I've heard my fair share of tributes and seen some far fetched attempts at reinterpretation that were more about listener challenge than directed coverage. How many cringed when Apocalyptica claimed their fame by adding violins and cellos and the full classical accompaniment to the crude bass lines and percussive crunch of Metallica? And set something of a near term trend in the process as Rock, Opera, and The Met combined for a tasteful fury of power and grandeur. So when a band who's been as a big as Sabbath, lasted as long, released as many records, influenced as many kids and fellow artists, the usual tribute album simply doesn't cut it. Last year The Ramones got another well deserved tribute by a bunch of European dub acts and Electronic mixers; The Sex Pistols got an album's worth of Middle Eastern tranquility on the "Never Mind The Bhangra" release and that was an acquired taste without question. And so we arrive thusly at this tribute, "Sabbatum," which on a similar scale, pairs an unlikely and long forgotten style and flushes a new spirit into an old soul... or is this an older spirit into an old soul? Ah, no matter. To say the twelve tracks on this record will be instantaneous hits with fans would be outrageous -- and then again, they might be. More likely it'll open some eyes to an unknown that was an important stepping-stone to today's musical culture. I was fortunate enough to study music history a year and a half ago and at least have some concept of medieval chant music where I can right away identify with this disquieting female voice that surfaces seconds into the first song "War Pigs." My prejudice or impatience might've otherwise got the upper hand in other circumstances and the idea that we're running back through time where instruments as we know them are still two centuries removed from existence and the "Latinization" of what, for many, equals the Holy Grail of music would've been incomprehensible. Medieval Chant was the forbearer of what would follow up the ladder of our enriched Baroque and Classical Periods, either of which are usually synonymous with much of what we hear in traditional Heavy Metal music. "Sabbatum" covers twelve Sabbath tracks, sticking obviously to the Ozzy era only, and while attempts to break down this song or that would be fruitless considering the available resources freely disposed in the music, rest safely in knowing that your sacred "Symptom Of The Universe" or "The Wizard" are in capable hands of talented musicians that took great care in crafting their versions of the original. That said, the songs, in their melody and tempo, sound much as expected when guitar, bass, and drums, are replaced by lute, fiddle, and harp, and a madman's bark bows out to alternative turns in male/female operatic chant-- yes, it's a little boring at first, but somehow you're still drawn in to see where it'll lead. It's a cleverly conceived album that retraces musical history to focus on an often-ignored period outside of maybe the rare New Age (Enya?) voice that surfaces time to time. While many might lose patience with the usually dreary and slow moving tones -- until of course we arrive at track eleven, "Hard Road," and find the participants in an apparently celebratory mood -- it's a rich listening experience that most fans should enjoy at least for one go around, and an interesting addition to the collection as the conversation piece for annual holiday parties.
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