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It can be clearly stated that 1992 was not a good year in the realm of music, and a good deal of it is owed to the severe lack of perspective on the part of those trying to define its direction. Everyone was under the rather ridiculous perception that something new and original was happening at the time, but despite what the masses believe and what their intellectual leaders told them, there was nothing that happened from 1992 to 1996 that had not already been explored between the years 1970 and 1975.
As I had stated in my reviews of Pantera’s 1990s albums, everyone was trying to resurrect the spirit of rock/metal by digging into the past. The recording companies were looking for a Birmingham in the United States, the fans were looking for a Black Sabbath minus the religious connotations that defined their image (not due to the intent of the band), and bands were looking for something new and progressive to explore. The problem is that you don’t get anything new, original, or progressive by dwelling upon the past. When one looks to the past for ideas, that is one thing, but when someone tries intentionally to recreate a moment in history one does not progress. Minus the nihilistic punk rock of Nirvana and a few others, Alternative Rock was nothing more than Black Sabbath dressed in flannels and specialized only in the dark and depressing realm of their more doom inspired music.
Having said that, this does not mean to suggest that this album is bad by any standard, it was actually the most accurate depiction of how Black Sabbath was ahead of it’s time. But what it does mean is that a group of 4 gifted musicians paying homage to the god-fathers of Metal defined an entire scene, and the result was a large collection of sub-standard bands that had no musical direction and no actual identity of their own. The copy of a copy, as they say, lacks a true link to the original, and eventually the result is the extinction of the spirit of the source.
This album caters to one side of Sabbath in terms of lyrics, and that is the most morose and depressing side of them that was on display on tracks such as “Hand of Doom”, “Killing Yourself to Live”, and “Into the Void”. Drugs are the primary theme, filling the lyrics with disturbing images of self-hatred and insecurity that almost make you want to pity the lyricist. And when not dealing with the subject of drugs, we see everything else stream from Sabbath as well. The rather touching story present in “Rooster” of a soldier in a war sounding a bit similar to Vietnam have been told, though perhaps in a less personal form, on “War Pigs”, “Electric Funeral”, “Wicked World”, and a few others though not from the 1st person point of view.
The music follows suit from the lyrics, as with a band that truly wants to be consistent will write equally morose sounds to match their words. “Them Bones”, “Would” and “Down in a Hole” are probably among the more original sounding tracks on here, though they still contain the overly dark imagery common to the other songs. They have a very dense atmosphere to them, especially considering that there are only 4 musicians in the group, although this was also the case with Sabbath. “Rooster” has a similar atmosphere to it, but differs in that it’s a bit under-developed and overlong.
“Dirt”, “God Smack” and “Junkhead” are pure stylistic rip-offs from Black Sabbath’s pioneering work in the doom department, meshed with their tendency to vary sections in a sometimes abrupt manner. I’m sorry, this will probably piss a lot of people off, but I’ve listened to this album all the way through dozens of times and that is exactly what I hear. On “God Smack”, in particular, the vocals tend to sound almost exactly like Ozzy’s rather agitated and tonally sloppy sound on Sabbath’s earlier work. Jerry Cantrell’s solos strongly reflect Iommi’s tendency to keep it short and heavily reliant on patterns and musical motives. “Iron Gland” sounds almost like a silly spoof of the beginning of “Iron Man”, and segues straight into the rather uninspired “Hate to Feel”, containing another set of spooky riffs borrowed from the Iommi collection of variations.
The remaining songs on here are more of the same, Sabbath worship with an emphasis on the dark side. Of them, if I had to pick a favorite it would be “Angry Chair” as it has a nicely distinctive riff, though we couldn’t get away from sounding like Sabbath here either. One of the better solos is on this one too. It’s a bit short, but it gets the job done in a song that is pretty much dominated by minimalist riffs.
In conclusion, this album will probably find a home amongst Black Sabbath fans, although core fans will obviously not be taken in by it as they will only accept the original rather than a second hand version of the music they love. Fans of the heavier mainstream metal of 1998-1990 will also like this as it still has moments where it passes for the same heavy style that bands like Saigon Kick, Soundgarden and Extreme would often exhibit in their heavier tracks. It’s a good album, it just isn’t as great as everyone is making it out to be.