The Prince of Darkness stood victorious.
He peered out at his followers, gazing around with eyes that never seem to blink, and soaked up the adulation. He seemed to know that his triumph -- one that seemed so implausible just a few months ago -- was really a testament to the undying passion of the fans.
"I just want to thank you for helping us get our very first-ever No. 1 record in the U.S.," Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne told the massive crowd assembled on Monday at 22,000-capacity Shoreline Amphitheatre. "It only took 45 (expletive) years -- but we got there."
Yes, there's much gratitude in the Black Sabbath world these days. It doesn't just stem from the surprise hit album -- "13," the first to feature Osbourne since 1978's "Never Say Die!" -- or the accompanying tour, which is a runaway hit at the box office.
It also has to do with what's been going on recently inside the band itself. There has been guitarist Tony Iommi's ongoing battle with cancer, as well as Osbourne's well-publicized substance abuse and marital problems and original drummer Bill Ward's departure from the fold. No wonder that many assumed, not all that long ago, that a full-fledged North American tour for Black Sabbath was a pipe dream at best.
Yet, it's never safe to bet against Sabbath. The British band has survived so much during its legendary career, which began in 1968, and has usually found a way to come out on top. This time around -- during what many believe could be the group's final tour -- Black Sabbath is taking time to smell the roses.
As Iommi told me during a recent interview, "I think everyone now appreciates what we've got and what we get to do."
The heavy metal heroes gave it their all during the Shoreline show, opening with a rousing "War Pigs" and then soldiering on through a mix of old fan favorites and new material for roughly two hours.
The group sounded great -- better than it did when it last played Shoreline, in 2005.
As expected, Geezer Butler was the rock, churning out the heaviest of metal bass lines. He almost makes it look too easy, which might be why he doesn't get his rightful due as one of the best bassists in the business. The biggest surprise was Osbourne, who might have been the target of fans' most pressing concerns but who delivered some of his strongest vocal work in years. He even seemed to mumbling less than in recent years.
Most important, the cancer treatments don't appear to have slowed Iommi down one iota. His guitar work on such classics as "Snowblind" and "Children of the Grave" was as colorful and rich as ever -- and I wanted to marry the lead he played at the end of "Black Sabbath."
Joining the three original members on the road is drummer Tommy Clufetos, who also sits at the throne in Osbourne's solo band (although it was Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk who did the drumming on the recording of "13"). Clufetos is no Bill Ward, but he did a fine job on both old and new songs -- for the most part. He played a mammoth drum solo that stretched on what seemed like four hours while the other musicians were offstage. If there is a title for what he played, it should be "The 60-year-olds in the Band Need a Break." It wasn't Clufetos' fault -- he was only doing as instructed, I'm sure. Still, fans didn't come to Shoreline to see the fill-in drummer enjoy such a lengthy spotlight.
Following the drum marathon, Black Sabbath bounced back -- as always seems to the case -- to triumphantly close the show with such all-time metal classics "Children of the Grave" and "Paranoid." Victory was, indeed, theirs.
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.