The Gibson Rooms
Not quite a Nights In and not quite a Nights out…..
At The Gibson Rooms in Soho, I was part of a small group gathered together to listen, not only to part of the Master Quality Audio of Black Sabbath’s Ten Year War box set but also a Q&A hosted by Alex Milas who was talking to mastering engineer Andy Pearce, Tom Allom, who engineered the first three Sabbath albums and MQA’s Spencer Chrislu. Before the event started, we had an opportunity to use some Android based portable MQA players provided by Pioneer Onkyo which are quite chunky compared to carrying a phone. Preloaded with the box set, the players sounded pretty good, given that the basement room was quite noisy. The audio files appear on the player as FLAC but MQA retain as much of the audio data in as small a file as possible so that If MQA files are played back on non MQA equipment then they should play at better than CD quality. Also on display were a selection of the vinyl discs (pressed in “splatter” vinyl) along with the covers. The box set contains the eight albums with Ozzy as well as two rare 7” singles, a USB “Crucistick” with the MQA files on and lots of printed content.
Onto the main event…. Tom Allom was the studio engineer who had already recorded Sabbath’s demos six months before they came in to record their debut and remembers the band as being very organised and tight as they had been playing the songs live for quite a while. The first album was recorded on eight tracks in two days and mixed in two days, incredibly quick by anyone’s standards and with a minimum of equipment, almost a live recording of the band. Tom spoke fondly of them as being easy to work with and very professional although they suffered from Difficult Third Album syndrome when they came to record Master of Reality as they had been touring so much that they hadn’t written any new material, with the result that most of the album was written in the studio. Throw in stories about Bill Ward playing drums on the second album with his foot in plaster, Geezer Butler’s bass being so loud the animation studio upstairs couldn’t work and Tony Iommi nipping over to the pub and coming back with the riff for a track listed on the tape box as “Single” which turned out to be Paranoid. (Ozzy did a “scat vocal” on the first take, I’d love to hear that) and this was a great way to spend an hour.
Black Sabbath’s catalogue has been remastered before so how good are these new remasters? When I asked this, MQA’s answer was, ahem, “100 million times better.” Pearce and MQA seem convinced that these are a step up from the previous remasters. After the event, Andy took the time to explain that the new digitised material was processed at four times the quality of the previous remasters, creating backups that are as close to the analogue tapes as possible so that, in the event of a disaster, the 2017 material would become the reference. For the record, I haven’t received any content so I’m unable to comment further on the quality but the audience playback of Paranoid, on Pioneer gear, sounded great.
Quite a cross section. Presumably, people interested in both the band and the audio.
It made me think..
Despite the splattered vinyl, photos, book etc, this box set is really all about the better remasters. There aren’t huge amounts of unreleased bonus tracks as either the band didn’t want certain unreleased tracks included or other material was unavailable due to the inevitable legal issues but from what I saw and heard, fans whose ears are still in good condition will be keen to have an improved listening experience coupled with the extra items in the box set.