The nineties were a testing time for many of rock’s iconic leaders of the seventies. The nostalgia era that is now an industry of its own had yet to really come to prominence and many of the musicians who were there at rock’s dawn were left floundering as the new decade rolled around and an innovative and fresh wave of ‘alternative’ rock dominated the music world.
None of this phased Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, however, who, as chief master of the heavy metal originators heavyweight bottom-end and the lyrics that gave voice to the monolithic riffs that the band made their trademark, didn’t rest on his laurels and created three solo albums of forward-thinking new music throughout those years.
1995 saw the release of his first solo album, ‘Plastic Planet’, followed in 1997 by ‘Black Science’, with ‘Ohmwork’ completing the trilogy in 2005. All three albums are now being made available for the first time ever on vinyl, with both CD and LP using newly updated cover artwork and all will be available via BMG on October 30th.
‘Plastic Planet’ was originally released under the name g/z/r and featured Burton C. Bell of Californian industrial/groove metal pioneers Fear Factory on vocals and is considered a classic of 90s metal. The album perfectly melded Geezer’s roots in doomy blues-rock to the industrial influenced metal sound that was a key element in pushing the genre forward in the nineties.
Alongside Bell for this recording was a long-time collaborator of Geezer’s, Peter Howse (nicknamed ‘Pedro’ by Butler, from a character in the TV show ‘Four Feather Falls’), Howse was a founding member of the Geezer Butler Band in 1985, and has written and played in all versions of GZR/Geezer. Drums were handled by Deen Castronovo, providing the pounding rhythms that propel the heavy grooves and mechanical metallic edge on ‘Plastic Planet’. Lyrically, Butler channeled technological, sci-fi, and dystopian subjects mixed with the social issues tackled on ‘Drive Boy, Shooting’ and ‘The Invisible’; themes that perfectly matched the then futuristic sounds within.
Returning in 1997 with ‘Black Science’ and originally released this time under the name Geezer, this album saw Butler once again working with drummer Deen Castronovo and guitarist Pedro Howse, and like ‘Plastic Planet’, was produced by Butler and Paul Northfield (Rush, Alice Cooper, Suicidal Tendencies, Dream Theater etc). Bell was unable to provide vocals this time due to commitments with Fear Factory, but his industrial boots were more than adequality filled by the then completely unknown Clark Brown who stepped up to the plate and delivered an impressively powerful vocal performance over the album’s high-energy and heavy power grooves.
It wouldn’t be until 2005 that Geezer would get the chance to continue his solo explorations, having returned to Sabbath for the 1997 edition of Ozzfest, remaining in the band ever since, but in 2005 he released ‘Ohmwork’, this time under the name GZR. Once again the recording was undertaken with Clark Brown on vocals and Pedro Howse on guitar, the difference this time being that drum duties were handled by Chad E Smith (the veteran St. Louis drummer, not the Red Hot Chili Peppers percussionist of the same name).
With ‘Ohmwork’, gone were the industrial metal influences of the previous decade, but Butler still steadfastly refused to hark back to the past and kept everything contemporary, drawing on influences, as a keen follower of music, on everything that was happening in rock at the time. From the pedal to the metal of ‘Aural Sects’ to the epic, neo-psychedelia of ‘I Believe’, ‘Ohmwork’ was a fitting finale to Geezer’s solo album trilogy.
These albums have actually been re-released as they were originally only released on cd. I guess now that vinyl is seeing a resurgence in sales that is the explanation for their reissue. Unfortunately, there are no extra tracks, which would have served as an added bonus to these releases. From what I can see the packaging is also completely the same from the first time around. The only difference appears to be that they are all listed as being by Geezer Butler. Originally there was a slight variation in the artist description in that Plastic Planet was originally attributed to G/Z/R as the artist. The second album was attributed to “Geezer” and Ohmwork was released as GZR. Perhaps the variance in artist title ensured that they largely stayed under the musical radar of many heavy rock music fans. Indeed Plastic Planet itself was the only one that I owned when it was first released with the latter two solo albums somehow passing me by.
Plastic Planet has held up well and still sounds as musically strong as it did to my ears the first time around. The other two albums I was hearing for the first time. Both featuring Clark Brown instead of Burton C Bell and certainly both offer stong quality music. The albums illustrate the legendary bassist’s creativity, reflecting changing shifts in the heavy music genre at the time-as he served up music in a variety of sounds and styles that would certainly not have slotted comfortably under the Black Sabbath name.
Worthy additions to Butler’s musical legacy and definitely worth exploring, especially if you missed them the first time around.