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The towering monolith of Black Sabbath

Tacoma Dome hosts the legendary rock band on their farewell tour

Tony Iommi and Ozzy Osbourne during their tour for 13. Courtesy photo

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Some bands are so distinctive and influential that to describe them would be redundant. These are artists who've risen to such a level that their names are used to describe other artists. Chuck Berry, the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, the Talking Heads - these are not simply musical acts, but rather now exist as part of the lexicon of rock music. Almost 50 years ago, a band emerged out of Birmingham, England that would go on to not only become one of the most awe-inspiring, towering monoliths of rock, but would also have their part in defining a genre called heavy metal. I'm referring to Black Sabbath, and this Saturday sees them coming through Tacoma on a tour they're calling "The END."

Part of the problem of these legendary acts is that it becomes increasingly easy to take them for granted, but it shouldn't be overlooked what game-changers Black Sabbath was when the band arrived on the scene with not only their 1970 self-titled debut, but also the five unimpeachable masterpieces that followed. That first record tipped the scales with only five songs featured, two of which passed the 10-minute mark, with the follow-up of Paranoid cementing their status as rock gods.

Sabbath borrowed a little bit of the psychedelia of the UK's heavy rock scene, throwing in some of the mysticism employed by Led Zeppelin, but with a plodding sound haunted by dread and paranoia that was all too appropriate following the death of the ‘60s and the taut political environment that defined it. Paranoid even kicks off with "War Pigs," an angry missive directed at the military industrial complex that may be just as relevant today as it was back then. Their sound was and is immediately recognizable, with Ozzy Osbourne's wailing vocals surrounded by the overpowering crunch of Tony Iommi's guitar, Bill Ward's martial drums, and main lyricist Geezer Butler's foreboding bass.

While Black Sabbath ruled the ‘70s, they would soon dismantle with the exit of frontman Ozzy Osbourne, who went on to a successful solo career marred by the fogginess of self-medication, both prescription and otherwise. Reunions and their subsequent tours happened sporadically, but the work of making such spine-rattling and mind-melting music (not to mention their legendary partying) would be enough to make any band need frequent hiatuses. But, in 2013, after an 18-year break from recording, Black Sabbath returned with 13, a frankly surprisingly strong return to form.

Though it lacks the drums of Bill Ward (just as this tour does), 13 is Black Sabbath at their most vital-sounding in decades. These are certainly aging rock stars, but they still fit in quite snugly with the generations of sludge-rock bands that they helped spawn. Ozzy, in particular, sounds invigorated after years of intelligibility and reality shows. The heaviness is front and center and unrelenting, with one gigantic riff and drum beat after another, conjuring images of the blind guitarist from Mad Max: Fury Road, cresting a sand dune adorned with flames and war rigs.

The END Tour is being advertised as Black Sabbath's farewell tour, riding off into the sunset on the high of their reunion album. Farewell tours are sometimes scoffed at by jaded fans, because we know enough now to suspect that most bands will likely resurface when the time and the money's right. But Black Sabbath is a different story: They've survived almost five decades, despite the odds, and it's not unreasonable to suggest that it's time for them to slow down permanently (it doesn't inspire optimism that two of their recent Canadian shows were canceled due to Ozzy's health). This is a "see Sabbath or don't" situation.

For anyone who has hurt his or her neck from headbanging, you know what you need to do.

TACOMA DOME, Saturday, Feb. 6, Door at 6 p.m., Show at 7:30 p.m., tickets available online, Tacoma, 253.272.3663

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