Why Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Black Skies’ Was Shelved
Ozzy Osbourne wasn't entirely directionless in the early 2000s, but he was navigating a complicated path.
The Black Sabbath singer hadn't released any solo material since 1995's Ozzmosis, and although he was penning new songs, he was also flirting with the idea of a Black Sabbath reunion. He also found himself without his longtime songwriting collaborator, guitarist Zakk Wylde, who had been replaced in Osbourne's band by Joe Holmes in 1995. Osbourne tried a little of everything — different songwriters, different guitars, different tunings.
One evening, guitarist Reeves Gabrels, a member of David Bowie's Tin Machine who had also worked on Bowie albums Outside, Earthling and Hours, got a call from producer Tim Palmer, who asked if he'd be willing to come by the studio to work on some demos. Palmer had one request: "Don't bring any of your weird guitars." Gabrels selected a few options, including a Les Paul Junior.
"Ozzy saw my Junior, and he goes 'Oh, that's a Junior! I love Les Paul Juniors!'" Gabrels tells UCR. Osbourne was a big fan of Mountain's Leslie West, who frequently used such an instrument, but nobody in Osbourne's band played Juniors.
Gabrels contributed to a song called "Black Skies" and was asked by Osbourne if he'd be interested in playing on more. But things soon became disorganized and Gabrels didn't appear on any other tracks. "At one point he just stopped showing up," Gabrels said. "He had gone to England to rehearse with Black Sabbath. So after two months, the album got stopped." At the same time, Osbourne had endorsed the use of his music and likeness for a video game called Ozzy’s Black Skies, a combat flight simulator set in a fictional universe, complete with monsters and mythical creatures.
But then the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks forced the industry to reconsider what material was appropriate for release. Suddenly, music that described skies as black and ominous seemed tasteless and ill-advised, as did an aggressive aviation-based video game. Somewhere along the way, Osbourne's tie-in to the video game was dropped. The game was renamed Savage Skies and didn't come out until 2002.
Listen to Ozzy Osbourne's 'Black Skies'
It wasn't a total washout: Wylde returned, and future Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo joined the band to help craft something out of the shelved project. Down to Earth, Osbourne's eighth solo album, arrived in October 2001. One of the LP's singles, "Dreamer," included a B-side on the Japanese and European pressings: the formerly abandoned "Black Skies."
In 2021, Osbourne released three rare tracks to mark the 20th anniversary of Down to Earth: "No Place for Angels," an acoustic take of "Dreamer" and a different version of "Gets Me Through."
“I’m just a guy whose had a great gift of entertainment bestowed upon him," Osbourne told Billboard in 2001 when the album was released. "And I’m just trying to let them know that I bleed, too. I worry, too. I have my issues, therapy, sleepless nights."