Black Sabbath's Swan Song

by Kevin M. Mitchell
in Production Profile

Greg Price mixing Black Sabbath. Photo by Steve JenningsFOH engineer Greg Price states that “The End” tour is “incredible for all Sabbath fans. In my judgment, this is the best the band has ever played on tour. Start to finish, it’s a great show.” Good thing, too, because for the band that exemplifies the heavy-metal aesthetic and sold 75 million albums worldwide, these Rock and Roll Hall of Famers are going out one last time.

The North American leg of the band’s “The End” farewell tour kicked off on Jan. 20 at the CenturyLink Arena in Omaha, and goes through Oceania and Europe before returning for a second U.S. leg this summer, winding up at the Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix on Sept. 20, 2016

Ozzy Osbourne on Black Sabbath's The End tour. Photo by Steve JenningsAppropriately, Black Sabbath are going out with a bang — and a loud one at that. “This tour is about how loud you can get it while still sounding good, and with the latest and greatest from Clair and Avid, that is easy to do,” says monitor engineer Myles Hale. “I wish every tour would spent the money on having this nice of gear.” The show is out on Clair Global’s account, but Diablo Digital’s team Greg Price and Brad Madix customized the audio system, based around two brand new components: Clair Global’s new flagship Cohesion CO-12 large format line array and Avid’s VENUE S6L digital consoles.

“What Does It Sound Like?”

Greg Price mixes Black Sabbath. Photo by Steve JenningsPrice is celebrating his 40th year at the mixing board, and the San Jose-native started it all doing work with Pablo Cruise and Steve Miller. Then he established himself as a heavy rock guy, working with the likes of Kiss, Poison, Van Halen, Rage Against the Machine and Ozzy Osbourne — among others. He has been working with Black Sabbath since 1997. Price and Madix are big fans of the new Avid board and says that they “don’t care about the creature features or if a console does this or that, the question is always, ‘what does it sound like?’”

While Price has spent plenty of time behind it already, this is actually his first tour with the S6L. “There are just too many advantages to the S6L to list here, but the two most important things I love about it is how it sounds, and how easy it is to use.” He adds that the console integrated into the touring workflow like they’d been using for 10 years. “It’s just amazing.”

Monitor engineer Myles Hale and FOH engineer Greg Price. Photo by Steve JenningsHale is also bullish on the Avid S6L. “I’ve used the Avid Profile for years, and also the DiGiCo and the analog Heritage, but this is the best sounding console I’ve ever used,” he says. “Most of my EQ’s are basically flat besides the high top filter. You don’t have to make it sound good with the board, it just sounds good.” While the board has “thousands of features,” he keeps it straightforward for this band’s monitoring needs. There’s not a single plug-in being used, either. “In the past I’ve been a big Waves guy, but now I have no need for it.” Otherwise Hale is using the Lake LM 44 digital audio processor, which he labels a “badass EQ” that he issues across the vocals.

Stage right hang with Clair Global Cohesion CO-12 line arrays, flown CP218 double-18 subs and CO-8s hung as sidefills.Hale acknowledges that the S6Ls on this tour are production versions, and that they are the first to find out if it can handle the bumps on the road. Though they have a backup Avid Profile wired up and ready to go in 60 seconds’ notice, he happily reports they’ve had no problems with the S6L.

From left, system tech Simon Bauer, audio tech Katie Hughes, FOH engineer Greg Price and monitor tech Thomas MorrisAnd no issues so far with the Cohesion line array system. “Engineers would be amazed at how large and full range the Black Sabbath show is at 101 to 104 dB,” Price says. “The texture is perfectly delivered to every corner in the arena. There are no seams, hot spots, or null and void areas in the room with this system.”

Hale agrees that the Cohesion is making a difference — not only for the audience, but also from where he sits. “As a monitor engineer, this system is making a world of difference,” he says. “There is so little sound coming off the back of the speakers, I’m able to mix 60 dB lower than I typically do for Ozzy.” He adds that it’s great to not have to mix around that back splash of sound like he has in the past and now he has no inhibitors in providing a better mix for the band.

Contributing to that is the new Cohension monitors, the CM22s, which Hale says are “by far” the best sounding wedges he’s ever used. “They have balls, punch and high-end clarity.” Contributing to the better sounding stage mix are the smaller Cohesion 8-inch speakers, flown as side fills, which he remarks have an amazing sound for such a small, light speaker.

Tony Iommi on guitars. Photo by Steve JenningsTony Iommi's guitar rig. Photo by Steve JenningsMics, Mics, Mics

Not surprisingly, Price has gone with a classic approach with the mics for this classic band. Drummer Tommy Clufetos’ snare (he’s filling in for original drummer Bill Ward) has a Shure SM58 on top and an Audio-Technica AT3000 on the bottom. The toms have Shure SM57s, Sennheiser 904s, and an AT3000 in addition to some Beta 98s. The ride cymbal has a Sennheiser E914. On the dual kick drums, there are Shure SM91s and Sennheiser 902s internally mounted in each. Three overhead mics capture the large kit, with AKG C-414s on the outer edges and an Audio-Technica 4050 handling the center section. The gong (gotta have a gong) is miked with an AKG 460.

sE Electronics Voodoo ribbon mic on bass cabinet with sE Reflexion filter to reduce ambient noiseOn Tony Iommi’s guitar amps, there’s an sE Electronic SE T2, an Audio-Technica 4050 and a Sennheiser 409 in play. Palmer PDI-03 and PDA-04 are used to provide direct guitar feeds, while another PDA-04 is employed on Adam Wakeman’s (Rick Wakeman’s son) rhythm guitar. Wakeman’s keys are fed via an 8-channel Radial Engineering direct box.

Geezer Butler’s bass rig is captured via a combination of mics (an sE Electronic Voodoo and an E-V ND38) a Millennia Media SST-1 direct box and a Palmer PDI-03JB processor.

Bassist Geezer Butler photo by Steve JenningsThe master of mayhem himself, Osbourne is going through a Shure ULXD wireless with a Beta 58A head. “I have chosen mics that give me the sound I want,” Prices states simply about his selections. “I do not want to try to manufacture the sound with EQ, dynamics or plug-ins. The combination of the S6L to the CO-12 is giving an extraordinary reflection of any given input.”

Price is also recording shows for a special, limited edition live EP to be made available exclusively to showgoers. Stage feeds are captured directly to Pro Tools, supplemented by audience mics (captured via a Millennia Media HV-3D 8-channel preamp), including Sennheiser shotguns, Shure VP88 stereo mics and a pair of Royer Labs SF12 ribbons at the FOH position.

The mic and monitor setup on Tommy Clufetos' 10-piece drum kit includes side and rear Clair CM-22 wedges along with rear CP218 double-18 drumfillsIn the Wings, Stage Left

If there is a cooler way to spend your summers as a kid than how Hale did, we’d like to know about it. Starting at 11, he toured with ZZ Top. His father, Billy Hale, was the group’s bass tech. “It was an awesome experience!” he confirms. “The only downside is I’d go back to school in the fall with these great stories, but my friends wouldn’t believe me.” His first mentor behind the board was legendary ZZ Top FOH engineer M.L. Procise. In high school, the 16-year-old Hale started working for Houston-based LD Systems, building up his chops to the point that he snagged a monitoring spot with George Thorogood and the Destroyers. Various freelance gigs happened after that until the monitor spot with ZZ Top opened up. By then, Tony Francis was mixing for the boys, and Hale credits him as being another mentor.

FOH console racks for Black Sabbath's The End tourMonitor console setup for Black Sabbath's The End tourIn addition to ZZ Top, Hale would work with Bob Seger and Roger Waters. In 2009, Price called him saying Osbourne was looking for a new monitor engineer, which lead him on this final hurrah. “It’s going really well,” he says. “It’s the biggest production I’ve ever been a part of, and the new gear makes me look better than I am!”

Good thing Hale and the band like those Clair Global wedges, because there are 17 of them in use. Only rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Wakeman is on in-ears: a Jerry Harvey Audio JH-16 via a Shure PSM1000 IEM rig. (He is kept out of sight stage right in a black tent, though Osbourne introduces Wakeman once, joking that he’s kept out of view because “he’s too f***king ugly to be on stage.”) The monitors are set up in different zones, with guitarist and bassist mostly staying in their area with their monitors, getting their own individual mix. Hale says that Osbourne has tried in-ears again and again, never with the results that he wants. “He does run around, and I just follow him around providing [his preferred mix] wherever he is,” Hale says.

Black Sabbath The End tour photo by Steve JenningsTight Team, Great Show

“The End” tour’s elaborate lighting, staging, pyro and video have the sound guys cooling their heels for a while during load-in. “The overall production is huge and takes a lot of time to get up in the air before we can even begin what we need to do,” Hale reports. But he credits system tech Simon Bauer and audio techs Thomas Morris and Katie Hughes for doing a great job. Otherwise, Hale confirms what is obvious to the audience: for the final tour, the band is having a good time. “When I see them happy and smiling, I’m happy and smiling!”

 

Black Sabbath “The End” Tour

Sound Company: Clair Global

Audio Crew

  • FOH Engineer: Greg Price
  • Monitor Engineer: Myles Hale
  • System Tech: Simon Bauer
  • Monitor Tech: Thomas Morris
  • Audio Tech: Katie Hughes

 

FOH Gear

  • House Console: Avid VENUE S6L
  • Main P.A.: Clair Global Cohesion Series CO-12 Array
  • Subs: Clair Global CP218 double-18’s (flown and ground stacked)
  • Sidefills: Clair Global CO-8

 

Monitor Gear

  • Monitor Console: Avid VENUE S6L
  • Wedges: (17) CM-22
  • Outboard: Lake LM 44
  • IEM: Shure PSM1000 with Jerry Harvey Audio JH-16
  • WIreless: Shure ULXD with Beta 58A heads
  • Microphones include: Shure 57s, 58s, 91, Beta 98s; Sennheiser 902s, 904s, and E914s; Audio-Technica 3000s and 4050s; and AKG 414s and 460s.
  • Direct Boxes: Radial Engineering, Millennia Media and Palmer