Black Sabbath


Written by: EW on 28/06/2013 23:08:44

Albums don't come more eagerly anticipated than this. The first recorded work of an original Black Sabbath line-up (well, almost) in 35 years has been enough to send paroxysms of excitement throughout the metal world and far beyond, but like all such highly promoted releases the hyperbole often clouds true judgements of quality. As a committed Sabbath fan of a measly 12 years I can't hide my excitement at the arrival of "13" but how does it stack up against one of the most revered back catalogues in rock history?

"End of the Beginning" starts in a suitably imposing manner - a stomping, pounding riff breaks into a more restrained variation, an instant indication that the gloomy doom template of yore is to be recited, albeit with the crisper clearer production that is nominally to be expected from a Rick Rubin release. Enter then one John Michael Osbourne, whose opening line of "Is this the beginning of the end?" is suitably precinct given the circumstances. His legacy needs no further introduction - it is one that makes his enduring survival to this date astounding - but it is unlikely to be boosted further by the addition of "13" to his discography. Recognition must be given to the truth that Ozzy has never had the vocal quality to rival the likes of Dio or Rob Halford, but it is all too apparent when he signs "Lost in the darkness I fade from the light" at the start of "God is Dead?" or through the "Planet Caravan"-esque "Zeigeist" to note the production values that have gone into generating a computerised version of his 1970s self. Such touches of fairy dust have the effect of reducing the capacity for Sabbath to recreate the natural sound of their classic material, although his undeniable enthusiasm heard through the amount of "Come on now!" and "Alright yeh!"'s make his struggles a more touching affair. Ozzy's performance simply accentuates the weight of expectation on the riff-writing performance of Tony Iommi, a man who fits the bill of the ultimate metal guitar god.

Stockpiled in that opening duo are signs of the riffs that have built Iommi's legacy, but taking into account their positioning at the forefront of the album I can't help but feel their pounding simplicity sounds dumbed down in comparison to the sheer scale of not just classics from the early Sabbath LPs, but Heaven & Hell’s 2009 effort "The Devil You Know". Take "God is Dead?" for example - the heavy opening and closing which book-end the softer tones around the vocals feel a cop-out and limit the song's ability to generate the ominous darkness that is historically the Sabbath staple.

The more nuanced "Age of Reason", replete with a thunderous bass performance from Geezer Butler and the rather reserved drum rhythms of Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk (more on that later) mark it as a contender for the comeback track of the album. Having gotten through the downbeat opening pair "Loner" kicks into a more positive "Sabotage" style vibe as Ozzy sympathises with the outcast in the subject's matter: "I wonder if he will be happy when he's dead". "Live Forever" enters life with a descending riff of relative non-descriptness before it perks up dramatically with a bass driven tempo and some of Ozzy's better vocal lines in the piece, as he sings "I don't wanna live forever but I don't wanna die" he leads the song into some characteristic Iommi soloing and the chance for him to lead the song to a unusually swift (for this album) sub-five minute conclusion. It is no "Paranoid" in length or effectiveness but it certainly resembles the mindset of that classic.

The slow, moody, bluesy "Damaged Soul" is the closest Wilk comes to being able to add his own touch to "13". One wonders what Bill Ward may have been able to do had he been on the "13" stool as his jazzy rhythms would have felt much more at home on both this track and the album as a whole for Wilk offers little more than solid yet uninspiring beats at all turns. Instead "Damaged Soul" is most notable for Butler's excellent showing and Iommi's lead solos that at times recall Down, a band unashamed of their Sabbath influence and who harbour their own unique brand of blues-incorporated doom. "Dear Father" runs with a similar beat to much of what has come before and therein lies the rub - this collection of slow-mid tempo riffs offer a collection that would be the best most other bands could offer - the kind to get the head nodding at all times - but when held up against the sheer mind-blowing quality of the riffs on 70s Sabbath material it naturally struggles in comparison.

My copy of the album comes with a bonus disc of three tracks; drug-themed "Methademic" starts as if a cut-off from Metallica's "Black Album" before being most notable for some odd vocal patterns from Ozzy late on; "Peace of Mind" feels rather like a solo Ozzy track from his successful 80’s career while closer "Pariah" is the best of the three and could easily have adorned the main album proper.

It would be easy to accuse Black Sabbath of being a legacy band in 2013 but rather than this being a B-league band from back in the day rehashing past glories this is the band that has brought us all here, made everything we love in metal possible and for that they will always have time in the hearts of millions. "13" is by no means perfect but it still offers plenty to love for those who have waited many, many years for this moment and that is definitely worth celebrating.


Download: Age of Reason, God is Dead?
For The Fans Of: Everything that is metal in Metal.
Listen: Facebook

Release date: 10.06.2013
Vertigo Records

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