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Late into December of 2013 and with the release date for this fanzine looming large it became apparent that not every release I wanted to include would make the cut thanks to time constraints, and some difficult choices had to be made. Should I prioritise bands that I have interviewed? Stick to writing about the year's best releases, or include more of the chaff so I don't come across too fawning? Focus on friends' bands? Irish bands? Classic bands? Bands who are largely unknown (who sharing knowledge of has always been my greatest joy in zine writing)? One album required no decision-making though and that was 13. Even if it meant ignoring some more underground releases how could I not devote some space and time to writing about the first studio Black Sabbath album in 13 years, and the first with Ozzy in a whopping 35? Especially when, in the grand scheme of things, it is a damn decent Black Sabbath album.
Everything on the early part of this record has a strong whiff of classic Sabbath about it, whether it's the total “N.I.B.”-referencing main riff to “Loner” or the quiet and introspective “Zeitgeist” which could have easily belonged on Vol. 4. It might have taken a lot of studio trickery to get Ozzy sounding this powerful again, but as he croons out “Astral engines in reverse/I'm falling through the universe again” it is obvious that time has not dented Geezer Butler's lyrical prowess- or Tony Iommi's riffing for that matter.
Call it being cautious, or holding the band to too high a standard by expecting them to match what they achieved 40 years ago, but on the album's lead single track “God Is Dead?” I wouldn't expect anyone to fall head over heels in love with this record. But given time and repeat listens and Iommi's real power as the Riffmaster General shines through in how insidiously this songwriting will penetrate your soul. It would've been preposterous to expect a trio of men in their mid-60's to write a barnstormer like Paranoid at this stage in their lives, but creating a classic grower of an album is clearly not beyond their power. “Beginning Of The End” and its journey through the various guises of early Sabbath (from the very “Black Sabbath”-like Doom crawl and pondering lyrical intro through the groovier Masters Of Reality-influenced mid sections and into the more anthemic Never Say Die!-esque finish) might show just how heavily referencing to their glory days this album is, but it also shows how time has not dulled their majestic creativity.
Side two of this record does falter slightly thanks to opening with “Age Of Reason” which despite being a solid track doesn't quite get the blood pumping again, and its heartwrought climax would have made it better suited to closing the album out I think. “Live Forever” is the closest thing to a dud here but momentum is regained thanks to the harmonica-laden heavy Blues Rock of “Damaged Soul” and 13 goes out on a total high note with “Dear Father.” Everything here from the sinister Doom-laden main riff which perfectly matches the lyrical theme of clerical child abuse and the absolute viscera with which Ozzy spits out the line “You have taken my life, now it's your turn to DIE!”, tempered by the insanely catchy groove of the bridge section, caps this comeback off in glorious fashion.
Because of side one being the stronger of the two here you might expect that the longer the album goes on the more the quality dips, but the fact is I would actually recommend the extended digi-pack version of this album over the single LP version. “Damaged Soul” might be a bit lacklustre in comparison to the other bonus tracks, but excellent choruses of the warning against excess of “Methademic” and the reflection on the band's previous media ostracization with “Pariah” are absolutely worthy additions. All in all the CD version of 13 clocks in, like the band members' ages, at nearly 70 minutes and the fact this gets more pleasurable to listen to every single time is just as staggering. Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne- take a bow. I am in awe. [8/10]
From WAR ON ALL FRONTS A.D. 2013 zine- www.facebook.com/waronallfronts
It's been 35 years since the classic Black Sabbath lineup put out a proper full-length release. Alas, Ozzy, Tony, and Geezer finally returned to the studio (unfortunately, sans Bill Ward) to record what will probably the final Sabbath album the world may ever see, for better or for worse. The return of the champions of 70's heavy metal (and the creators of the metal genre itself) naturally gave way to much speculation in the metal community. 13 was what we got, and the fans' response has been mixed to say the least. So, how does the giants' return fare?
First off, one major thing has to be kept fresh in mind-Black Sabbath didn't really have anything to prove recording 13. From 1970-1975, this was a band that recorded six of the most unarguably classic albums in heavy metal history. No other metal band in existence has amassed such an indispensable run of albums. This is a band that had more than paid its dues. The only tasks a new Black Sabbath record would have to perform are 1) Proving that the band can still play well, compose strong songs, and generally function as a unit, and 2) Washing the foul taste of Never Say Die out of their fanbase's collective mouth. And overall, 13 manages both of these tasks admirably.
The compositions on 13 are, for the most part, rock-solid, probably because a great deal of the album (wisely) borrows from older Sabbath material. The riff on "Loner" has seen countless comparisons to "N.I.B.", and anyone who enjoys deep cuts "Planet Caravan" or "Solitude" will get a kick out of "Zeitgeist". The recycling, while rampant, is anchored by catchy, enjoyable enough melodies (or variations on older melodies) that most will forgive it. (On the subject of recycling/homages, there's a nice little touch at the very end of this album that bookends both the album and possibly the band's discography surprisingly poignantly.)
Another aspect that should be acknowledged is the strength of the writing. There are some strange moments lyrically ("You don't want to be a robot ghost/occupied inside a human host") but on the whole, Geezer's lyrics on this album are as passable as they ever were before. I'd argue that, from a songwriting standpoint, tracks like "Dear Father" and "God is Dead?" boast some of the most thought-provoking writing ever to appear on a Sabbath record. Of course, in the grand scheme of things this really isn't saying much. Listening for life-changing lyrics on a Black Sabbath album is like going to a five-star Italian restaurant and ordering a cheeseburger off the kid's menu. You're simultaneously missing the point of the experience and focusing on something you could get far better prepared with more appropriate atmosphere elsewhere.
Of course, I have to address the elephant in the room-no, Bill Ward is not on this album. Yes, his absence is majorly felt. Yes, Brad Wilk frequently tries to ape Bill Ward's style of playing. But you know what? I will defend Wilk on this album. His respect for his elders, (and more importantly his superiors) is definitely felt. He does a serviceable job keeping time, and, for the most part, he backs off and lets the fantastic guitar work and Ozzy's surprisingly decent vocals speak for themselves. When he does try to be Bill Ward, it rarely works for him (with a couple of exceptions, for example the fantastic fills in the opening to "End of the Beginning"). The drumming on 13 isn't going to melt any faces, but it could have been far, far worse.
The MVP on this album is without a shadow of a doubt Tony Iommi. While the riffs on this album are pretty decent, they absolutely pale in comparison to the utterly fantastic solos. I've long considered Iommi to be an underrated soloist and he proves it here once again. Not only are they acrobatic and technically impressive, but many of them go on for full minutes or more, and still manage to keep engaging in spite of that length. Not only are these solos worthy of the classic era of Black Sabbath, but it sounds like his craft has steadily improved since the band's salad days. I urge any skeptics to delve into this album at least once, just for the sake of some jaw-dropping guitar work.
One final thing that desperately needs mention is Rick Rubin's production. It's...atrocious. The riffs sound muddy and overly compressed, the drums are far too heavy and occasionally get in the way of the riffs, and Geezer's bass playing, a bastion of the classic Black Sabbath sound, is buried so deep in the mix that it's hard to tell what he's playing most of the time. It's not 100% terrible, the tones on the solos sound pretty good, and the heavy, bluesy feel on "Damaged Soul" (which I personally consider the album highlight) benefits from the mix. But ultimately, for an album this anticipated in a genre Rubin has notably failed with in the recent past (We're looking at you, Death Magnetic) there were some far better potential candidates.
All in all, while 13 isn't going to be your new favorite Sabbath album, it definitely could have gone much worse. Hell, the music they put together is solid enough that if they had gotten Ward to play on it and fired Rubin, it could have been a substantial entry into the Black Sabbath oeuvre as well as possibly one of the best metal albums of 2013 (a year that was no slouch in the realm of damn good metal albums). While it doesn't quite reach that astronomical level of success, it definitely deserves classic Sabbath fans' attention. Give it a listen.
’13′, the eagerly awaited new album by Black Sabbath heralds the return of legendary frontman Ozzy Osbourne to the fold, after the tragic loss of former vocalist, another metal icon Ronnie James Dio to cancer in 2010. Of course, with this comes a great deluge of talk, anticipation and speculation as to how the new material will sound and compare artistically with the music that originally made them so important in the first place.
The new album essentially strives to combine the ‘old’ 1970′s sound that defined their earlier works with Osbourne, particularly their eponymous debut and ‘Paranoid’ through the polished lens of modern alternative rock, bringing mixed results. The addition of Brad Wilk (Audioslave, Rage Against The Machine) on drums and Rick Rubin as producer are quite reflective of this, but not overly obstructing the aesthetic direction of ’13′.
As always, the centerpiece that glues everything together here is Tony Iommi. Within a modern production framework, his guitar tone is quite crunchy and thick, his riffs the fundamental centerpiece of all compositions. Geezer Butler’s bass is quite high up in the mix, always audible and separable from the rhythm guitar. Wilk’s drumming is rather conformist and adherent; something that is just there because it needs to be, not flamboyant or adventurous in the same way that Bill Ward was. Osbourne’s vocals have with age become restrained, so the polish of ’13′ shrouds the limitations of his singing, but are comparatively sterile when compared to days of yore.
Lyrics of songs are also what typified Sabbath in their early days; there is always the essence of social commentary, but it is never there to preach an idea to you. Rather, they try to illustrate the morbidity of the world, its affairs, its tragedies and events and encode them into the cryptic language of heavy metal. Song topics vary from time and being (End Of The Beginning), religion (God Is Dead?), modernity (Age Of Reason) and abuse of power (Dear Father). Thematically, this is one of the few successes of ’13′.
‘End Of The Beginning’ contains a broken down verse riff that is sparse and minimal, sounding exactly like their title track ‘Black Sabbath’, sans the foreboding tritone playing. ‘Loner’ has a similar sense of groove in the main verse riff to ‘The Wizard’. ‘Zeitgeist’ is an obvious throwback to the psychedelic piece ‘Planet Caravan’, conspicuous in the use of acoustic guitar, tabla and a use of spacial echo in Osbourne’s vocals. From there on it’s quite easy to establish the heavy emphasis on stockpiled, recycled, trademarked ‘Black Sabbath riffs’ that permeate all of the songs. It’s an idea where the novelty essentially begins to wear itself thin in spite of the keen effort to rekindle an old flame, and the work becomes more a ‘product’ than it does an artistic work.
The purely nostalgic listener will lap this up, but those digging deeper may concur with the reviewer, and find ’13′ to be a relatively mediocre and unfulfilled venture.
I wasn't going to even review this, but what the hell. I'm doing it as part of my British Metal Class Acts of 2013 trilogy with Deep Purple and Saxon.
13 is better than Forbidden, that's for sure. But not as good as Cross Purposes, and you know what, part of the problem is that most of the people shouting about the "return of the metal gods" or whatever, won't even have heard Cross Purposes. Or Tyr. Maybe Dehumanizer and Live Evil, but I bet not Born Again. You, Kerrang! journo twat who probably gave this album a "classic" score, what do you reckon to Cozy Powell's drumming on 'Anno Mundi'? Oh you've heard of it but you haven't *heard* it, huh? What a surprise. But 13 is an album recorded for those very people. The people who have heard those first four Ozzy records a bit, and that's usually it. The Devil You Know was a record made with honesty and energy and it struck a chord with both new listeners and the obsessive Sabbath types who have listened every record inside out, learning to love every era of the band for what it was. This is a record that feels processed, deliberate, made for very specific reasons and in almost complete denial of the existence of the great records that other line-ups put out during the decades that the people behind this music wouldn't even speak to each other. Anyone remember 'Digital Bitch' or 'Devil & Daughter'? No? Well, those songs were written by Black Sabbath because of what an unbelievable, awful cunt Sharon Osbourne was and still is. But in this very strange year of 2013, here is what happens if everyone buries the hatchet and revisit some old glories for... some fuckin' reason.
So the upbeat rocking parts that used to inject just the right amount of propulsion into torpid dirges like 'Hand of Doom' are now suddenly all over the place, and it feels a bit like they're overused, or like the slow--to-fast dynamic is just such an easily identifiable Sabbathism that it has been completely milked for this album. There are seemingly constant references to the infamous opening of the band's eponymous song. Even the harmonica from 'The Wizard' turns up in 'Damaged Soul'. It's almost deceptive - it all seems like the good ol' Black Sabbath at first sniff, but on further investigation you find out someone's just painted the Black Sabbath logo over something completely without its own artistic value. There is no atmosphere, and I can't remember most of these riffs at all after the album's done playing, even after multiple plays through. So what if it still sounds like Black Sabbath, or still has a good ol' doomy style, or whatever? There's a fucking million bands that sound like Paranoid and Vol. 4, doesn't mean they actually are Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward in the 1970s, and neither are the people who recorded 13. This record should have been about being who Black Sabbath are artistically and creatively now, adding to what these men have done, rather than just reminding us about it.
So far about half a million people have already pointed out that 'Zeitgeist' is a re-run of 'Planet Caravan'. Yes. Yes it is. So, next level - why? Why, instead of splashing something new into the so-far functional mix, just update a much-loved signature song? Because even if you are Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, writing, recording and releasing music in an environment overseen by Rick "are you sure we can't get a guest spot for Kanye West on 13?" Rubin, and Sharon "ya faggin cants" Osbourne, burdened by the bewildered Ozzy inexplicably mired once more in the drugs problems he was supposed to have shaken off years ago... you are going to find all but the safest and most artistically bankrupt ideas are going to be trodden on and diluted beyond recognition. I can understand; I've worked in a number of offices. Eventually, you just give up and get on with it, and then hate yourself, and then go get drunk if you really cared that much in the first place.
It all makes me hope that Iommi is going to find or create for himself a fresher and more promising platform while he's still around, because he clearly has a lot to offer the world. I was kind of hoping he would get inspired by the WhoCares project to form a band called Born Again or something and do an Iommi/ Gillan album. 'Out of my Mind' and 'Holy Water' are friggin' cool songs. Or let's have a Tony Martin band called Headless Cross. Except that he already has that on his own because Sabbath doesn't talk to him any more so, you know, sadface.
13 isn't without merit. This isn't a butthurting review (is it? Nah.). There is still talent at work here, even if it is a bit muffled by the overall plan the powers that be had for this reunion project. 'Live Forever' has a decent, rollicking groove to its lead riff, and 'Age of Reason' reminds that there is nothing wrong with Iommi's world-renowned solos, while the walls of drum-rolls and ominous droning guitars in 'God is Dead?' are pretty sweet too. I can't deny the riff that opens 'Dear Father' would almost have been worthy of inclusion somewhere on The Devil You Know. But I drift off as the song is playing and then it just sort of... ends, and I'm like, where did that go? In terms of Ozzy's vocals it was always a foregone conclusion - he sounds like he has in the past few solo albums he's done, and for some weird psychological reason it sounds like that version of Ozzy somehow guesting on an album that Tony Iommi and maybe Geezer Butler is playing on. Know what I mean. The drums are dull, but they keep the pace. That is all I have to say there. A drum computer would've been cheaper but what do I know.
Then there's the bonus tracks. The fact that these are some of the most enjoyable material here just reinforces my view that Iommi's better ideas were just ignored or shunned. I mean 'Naivete in Black' has a cool pulsating groove to its simplistic rock structure that won't quit, there's no denying. It could be either one of the best Ozzy Osbourne songs ever, or simply a worthy cut from Never Say Die! or Technical Ecstasy. 'Methademic', Ozzy's especially dodgy vocals aside, would have made a far better opening track to the album than 'End of the Beginning' with its unnerving acoustic intro and storming doom metal riffs. Then there's 'Peace of Mind' and 'Pariah', both pretty decent bangers at least at the level of the Iommi-Ozzy-Ward reunion track 'Who's Fooling Who' from the first Iommi solo album in 2000. If these four songs had come out as an EP, maybe with 'Loner' as the lead song, then would I have been a bit more bloody excited? Yes, I would.
There are two truly spectacular and fitting swansongs to aged and storied artists that I am aware of, and that is The Devil You Know, and the glut of work that Johnny Cash created in his final days. 13, if it is Black Sabbath's last, will not stand alongside such monuments. I personally would have felt better with the Heaven & Hell output as the last legacy of Black Sabbath. Download the bonus tracks and 'Loner' off iTunes or Bandcamp, unless you are a completist like me and need to have the whole album on your iPod just cause there's a couple of cools songs. Yup.
Like most of the other classic metal that I listen to these days, I got into Black Sabbath pretty late, falling in love with the Dio-era Heaven and Hell album before anything else, being a fan of Dio‘s solo works and having Holy Diver leaving a deep impression on me back then. This also led me to dismiss the entire Ozzy-era of the band, despite that often being credited as the “original” Black Sabbath sound. Fast forward a couple of years later, with my discovery of more doom and stoner metal, and watching numerous band performing kickass renditions of songs like War Pigs and Paranoid, my interest in the Ozzy-era piqued, and soon enough the first three Sabbath albums became some of my favourite albums of all time.
Unfortunately, as with many old and pioneering bands that I fall in love with, Black Sabbath was no longer in existence when my love affair with them started. So it was definitely a nice surprise to hear that the band had once again decided to reform in its original incarnation (minus Bill Ward) for not only a tour but also a brand new studio effort. Like many comeback albums, expectations were rather mixed for the new album, simply titled 13, splitting opinions of what the album was gonna sound like. Was it gonna be a flop, or was Sabbath doing this merely for a quick cash-in? The release of the first single God Is Dead? bode well. The problem now was then whether the rest of the material on the album could keep up with the expectations that the band had set.
Opener End of the Beginning quickly proved that the band still had that heavy and doomy touch in them. The riffs and playing style of Iommi are immediately recognisable, and Ozzy’s vocals, while nothing like in the golden days of the band, are remarkable as well, despite my rather low expectations seeing how he requires a teleprompter for almost everything these days. And of course, Geezer Butler provides much of the low-end growl of Sabbath‘s sound, which is so crucial to the doomy and ominous sound that the classic era of the band are known for. Played over a good sound system, his bass notes boom out loud and proud, shaking one’s frame to the very bones with the heaviness in the band’s music.
Despite this being a new Sabbath record, throughout the album I could not help but feel that this was an attempt by the band to capture their glory days. There are many moments on the album where one is reminded of the first three albums. Songs like Zeigeist sounds like the Planet Caravan of 2013. Yet one is also reminded of the later works of Iommi in his guitar playing, with touches of Heaven & Hell and WhoCares being noticeable. Album closer Dear Father even includes the sounds of a rumbling thunderstorm at the very end, resembling those at the very start of the titular Black Sabbath, coming full circle once more. I think one thing that also helped to make this album a rather powerful one was the modern production quality, and while Rick Rubin had produced some of the most (personally) awful-sounding records, he certainly does 13 justice, causing the sound on the album to be even more impactful.
One thing that drew quite a lot of flak prior to the release of 13 was the exclusion of Bill Ward, with Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine providing guest drums on the album. On 13 he proves to be capable, and while unable to emulate Bill Ward’s style, he manages to suit the band pretty nicely.
Certainly, 13 can hardly be considered a classic release, and to some this might be just another effort by a legendary band to recapture their glorious past. But Black Sabbath has still managed to prove that despite all the years of not playing together, they still have the chemistry going strong in producing some of their heaviest songs in their career.
Worry not; I won't rehash how important the SABBATHians are to us who like our music loud, ungainly, and distorted. They've earned their stripes, by golly, and they know it. Whether it's the first four albums people praise to death, the post-Ozzy years that some people revere versus others, or the tumultuous period of changes in line-up, musical direction and lyrical focus (bestowing upon this reviewer one of the best albums he's ever heard...try and guess which one!), the original fearsome foursome has solidified themselves within the marbled walls of history. And that they're still willing to perform live and release new music after all this time is pretty fantastic as it is. Nothing's stopping them now...not egos, not money, not cancer. BLACK SABBATH could very well outlive us all.
Right? Well, let's see...
As weird as this might sound, hearing a SABBATH recording with modern, digital production seems rather out of place given their personal musical direction. But that’s really just a minor argument, if one at all. Let’s just get into the nitty-gritty of “13”. To call the material “familiar” is doing is just enough justice, as I can’t say SABBATH has really shot for unfamiliar territory all through the years. Sure, there were a few deviations here and there, but the main bulk of their output was just straight-up heavy metal with slow, doomy undertones, and that’s just what you get here. Yet I’ll admit that there’s a bit more spring to the band’s step with regards to the songwriting and performance level. I guess listeners would be surprised to hear just how loud this group of old timers can still be, and just how timely their material would come off as despite how weathered and worn it could have been after 35+ years of frightening the masses. I’ve really not heard these guys sound as powerful as they do with this outing in a long time now, and it’s a bit hard to tell if it’s due to the massiveness of the music itself or the production value which has the guitars and some of the vocals WAY TOO UPFRONT (due to Rick Rubin’s ear-bleed production/mixing approach…but then again, that may be the point?). That works out fine for the riffs, which are as thick and potent as before, but not so much with poor Ozzy’s increasingly derelict vocal scheme, which at best sounds competent and at worst sounds tired and more aged than they would let on. I mean, there were moments where I wasn’t sure if Ozzy knew where he was while warbling his lines! Still, I’ll give the group props in being a tight, rather energetic quartet that deliver the goods when it comes down to it (the drum position controversy be damned), something you can’t take away from them. That being said, though, competence and tightness cannot undo a dated musical approach. Iommi and Co. are riff-smiths like no other, but the output is still mired in the musical tandems of old with really no inklings of evolution or differing ideas thrown in, so it seems. The album is littered with all that makes SABBATH who they are and what they do best, but…that’s all you get. Really. And this leads “13” into becoming a two way street; some folks out there would take the album for what it is, a nice foray into old world metal that some would conclude gets better with age, but others might question the relevance of this during an era of countless sub-genres and metallic crossbreeding. I mean, back in the 70s SABBATH had no equal. Their genre-based peers relied more on a rockin’ atmosphere and folk stylings versus being a bludgeoning mass of wickedness. But these days, despite putting out a better product than one would let on, SABBATH remain on a plateau all their own. They aren’t able to canoodle with the likes of WHITECHAPEL or IMMORTAL or PANDAEMONIUM or whoever. They wouldn’t fit. And besides, where do the SABBATH dudes sit with the kids these days? Do they matter? Do they even KNOW WHO THEY ARE?? That’s not up to me, sadly.
At the end of the day, BLACK SABBATH prove that they can still somehow survive on/by their own musical merits, and I did enjoy this for what it was, really, but I think I could’ve used more. Some newer ideas spewing down the pipeline. But as it stands, I would still recommend this for one and all, particularly those who partake in “Volume 4” on a daily basis.
Black Sabbath’s return wasn’t much of a deal for me. First of all, without Bill Ward they’re not really Sabbath, however with Iommi and Geezer still there I hoped they would bring back some of the old stuff. They clearly did not.
The first track released was God is Dead? and it clearly wasn’t a great choice. Having said that, the better tracks on the album are only marginally better. When you hear a Black Sabbath song after years, you, would expect to get goosebumps like the very first time you listened to the intro of Iron Man. This wasn’t even remotely close. Iommi was always known for the “epicness” in his riffs, and the first song released from a new album after several years did not have any epicness in it, neither in the riffs nor the leads. Sign of things to come? Definitely. After listening to whole album, with a predetermined mindset of wanting to like it, I was disappointed. Like I said, the epicness was amiss. There were no riffs I could take back, no orgasmic solos that would give goosebumps. The latter half of the album is a tad better than the former. The production too, not a favorite. Though the bass stands out like Pakistani in Ecuador, it does not quite how I would like Geezer to sound. I would much rather have him sound like the way he did in the intro N.I.B, modernization of this lord of low frequency’s tone borders on the blasphemous. Ozzy sounds much better than expected, albeit I was never a fan of his, admittedly so.
An utter let down, for such a legendary band. Especially after a bundle of years. Quote unquote, Rick Rubin has shat all over this one. Well, thankfully there are only 8 songs to endure. I shall look for memorable riffs and orgasmic solos in other doom bands. A Sabbath album is still a Sabbath album, credit to them for making one, if not for much else. It’s not a Sabbath album we deserve, but it’s the one we need right now.
Black Sabbath is one of the godfathers of heavy music. Their influence is just unparalleled. I could probably type anything here and you would go with it because you’re not really reading this part. It’s just the same boring crap you read in every review of a legendary band. I could talk about dancing elephants and mental asylum inmates who throw their own feces at the wall, and you’d probably just ignore all of it because it’s generic fodder for an opening paragraph. Don’t people ever get tired of writing those? I sure get tired of reading them. Nobody cares if you’re 16 and just discovered Sabbath three months ago and are now an expert on them. In fact nobody really cares about the umpteenth review for a hyped-up new album by a classic band, because they all say the same old shit over and over. Stop it!
With that said…
This really is a pretty lame album. I loved 2009’s The Devil You Know but this one, lazily titled 13, is like an easy-listening version of Sabbath. I mean I guess it’s pleasant to listen to. It doesn’t bother me to have it on, and the band doesn’t derivate from the sound that made them famous. It’s a very ‘nice’ album. But is that really what Sabbath was about? I guess if you listen to “War Pigs” on the radio enough times, and watched the movie Iron Man and heard the titular Sabbath song in the end credits, you might think this is an amazing album. But if you like the eclectic, eccentric prog-isms and the adventurous nature, this will just bore the hell out of you.
It’s Sabbath played as Rick Rubin, Sharon Osborne and the mainstream record companies always saw them as, through vision clouded by dollar signs and gold coins. You get sludgy riffing, rocking tempos and doomy lyrics, plus Iommi’s signature bluesy solos and Ozzy’s signature nasal holler, but it’s all just so passé at this point because the songwriting does nothing but ape their old classics. On The Devil You Know we got exciting, propulsive tunes that actually added to the discography; here we just get re-enactments of old tunes with new lyrics set to them. None of these songs suck, but none of them will blow you away either.
The whole idea behind this was to go back to the days before metal, to record something that sounds like it would have come right after Black Sabbath. Which they did…to a fault. The whole idea of Sabbath in the first place was to innovate and progress beyond musical boundaries, to play around and do things nobody had heard before, which ‘normal’ people would find repulsive and ugly. They were as much a rebellious band as any punk outfit with hippie lyrics criticizing war and praising drugs and everything. So the concept of 13 being a ‘back to the roots’ album is ironically exactly anathema to what the band was about. It is the exact opposite to what Sabbath meant in the old days – it is the vacuum in which innovation is sucked up to die. For that I should rate it lower but honestly like I said, none of these songs are truly bad. They’re just mediocre.
They go through every cliché you would expect from Sabbath – every song uses some basic template of a famous song from their debut, whether it be the first two songs sounding like bloated versions of the titular “Black Sabbath” track or “Loser” being a dead ringer for “N.I.B.” “Zeigeist” is pretty much “Planet Caravan,” and the other songs are mish-mashed from a bunch of different old Sabbath tropes. Some of them have pretty catchy hooks and Ozzy can muster up some attitude. Iommi’s guitar playing is still rock solid. But the whole thing is just so safe and boring. None of these songs will be remembered like “Black Sabbath,” “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” “Children of the Grave,” “Into the Void,” “Megalomania,” the list goes on. It’s a decent tribute album but as a Sabbath album it is sad.
Sabbath on here sounds very pleasant. Pleasant – in regards to an album by the original evil, heretical band of musical misfits, who broke down so many walls. What a day, to say so.
It would be an amazing Reverend Bizarre album though, by comparison.
There’s a lot invested in the first album under the Black Sabbath banner since 1995’s Forbidden. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler are still together after the ill-fated Heaven And Hell and Ozzy Osbourne is back in the ranks, but the inclusion of Brad Wilk in place of Bill Ward keeps this from being a complete reunion of the original lineup. Factor in a Rick Rubin production job and a couple health scares and you’ve got a great album with all the ingredients to make it even better.
Even if you don’t factor in Rubin’s insistence on a back to the roots approach, 13 sounds exactly like you thought it would. Their first three albums are the most obvious reference points but the structures and tone aren’t too far off from Iommi’s most recent works and there are traces of Born Again in his soloing style. The band dynamic is also identical to what one would expect as Iommi’s signature riffs drive the songs, Geezer provides a powerful bass presence, Wilk is competent though lacking Ward’s jazzy flare, and Ozzy’s vocals are edited to sound about as good as they can at this point…
The lyrics are also pretty solid though there isn’t anything quite as apocalyptic as “Electric Funeral” or the band’s self-titled anthem. The tone is a somber yet contemplative one as songs like “God Is Dead?” and “Dear Father” sit in on religious debates while “Live Forever” and the bluesy “Damaged Soul” discuss the inevitability of death. While the topics are nothing new, they sound a bit more real when delivered by a group of men in their sixties and fit the songs incredibly well.
But while a downtrodden doom album was just what we wanted from Sabbath, there are moments where this album feels like it may actually be too slow. While the exceptions of the “Planet Caravan” sequel “Zeitgeist” and the upbeat “Live Forever,” all the songs are slow plodders with occasional signs of life in the form of a speedy bridge. There’s not a badly written track on here but the overall album feels like it needed to be more dynamic. Just listen to the album with “Methademic” and “Naivete in Black” in place of “End Of The Beginning” and “Age of Reason” and you’ll see just how excellent this album could’ve sounded.
If the tolling bell at the end of “Dear Father” means that this will be the last Sabbath album, then I will take this as a rocky but ultimately strong swan song from a group of seasoned veterans. But I will also take this album as a sign of greater potential if this turns out to not be the case. Either way, 13 is a great entry into the Sabbath canon that is even better if you get ahold of the deluxe edition. Of course, nothing can fill the void that was created by the nonexistent follow-up to The Devil You Know…
“God Is Dead?”
Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com
This review is one of the pinnacles of writing career. This is the very band that brought me here today to write for you lovely folks, and I’ll be honest I didn’t expect very much all at all. To see a band you worship offer up something that might otherwise be subpar is always frightening. We never want to see our idols fall from the often self-serving personal graces we afford them.
Folks, I can’t accurately tell you how happy I am to have been wrong in assuming that this 13 record might not be worth hearing.
To do a review of this nature is always a tough undertaking; putting aside personal hopes and histories is always a challenge. That said, Black Sabbath does what is expected of them: they issued a CD that is both historically relevant and a modern piece of heavy metal intensity so good it should shut up all the detractors, of which I was, stupidly, one. The first track “End of the Beginning” has such an insane Sabbath bloody Sabbath-meets-Black Sabbath tone to it, it’s just sickening. At the end I loved hearing a “Looking for Today” sound written all over it. Without completely copping the original sound so as to mask a lack of ideas, Tony Iommi simply pulls some musical artifacts from that brilliant mental arsenal he harbors and applies them in generous but sparing amounts. Of course we probably all heard the powerful “God is Dead” track released beforehand, and it was a pleasant surprise indeed, but “Loner” seems to call upon the Heaven and Hell era in terms of overall tone. I love that this record calls upon the sounds that made Black Sabbath famous without relying solely on past glories to guide them through this release. These gentlemen know full well by now what to do and how to do it.
Now, as for Ozzy Osbourne’s vocal duties, I’m sure there’s quite a fine amount of studio magic helping him through the recording, and that’s expected at 64-years old, but his dark, slow, even brooding vocal fits the exact sound Rick Rubin was going for as producer. Rubin stated he was going to draw out the Sabbath of old and damned if he didn’t do just that. Geezer Butler sounds as heavy and thunderous as he has, oh, every step of his illustrious career with no stultification in sight. That booming underside that has influenced nearly every metal band over the last five decades never gets old, and as a bassist myself I’m thankful for that.
Another point of wild contention was the lack of Bill Ward on the drums in favor of Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk. Wilk does a fine job and doesn’t miss a single step when driving these masters forward with some seriously destructive skin bashing. His nice ride in “Live Forever” is as competent as anything on past albums. Yes, it’s difficult to get past the fact that this lineup is, factually, incomplete in terms of “reunion”, but putting aside egregious wants and allowing change to be a positive rather than a negative will help us all enjoy the album much more along the way. I think a lot of people figured Sabbath would sound like Audioslave or RATM by taking in Wilk, and that’s both ridiculous and presumptuous. He added a great sound to the mix and should be complimented.
The track “Damaged Soul” clocks in at just under eight-minutes, and it’s a fantastic mixture of modern-day doom and ancient ideas brought to a new, hopefully appreciative audience of younger fans ready to enjoy the actual music herein and not just the Hot Topic shirts that gives them mall-cred. Mr. Butler’s finger-thumping beneath the surface is just what the metal fan ordered, and he will no doubt send a legion of people to their bass amps and four-string axes to learn the pregnant, overpowering and often frustratingly-skilled lines herein. Mr. Osbourne’s vocal here is the familiar longing sound we’ve come to miss in recent years that just seems to ease out of the speakers with all of the trepidation of molten lava cascading down a volcanic hillside towards an unsuspecting village. No, he’s not the same demon that screamed out “The Writ” or “Looking for Today”, but this is definitely an Ozzy of older and still potent design.
The guitar solo in “Age of Reason” is so magnetic and fluid with Mr. Butler’s rapid plundering complimenting the effort; musically these guys are as potent in their 60’s as they ever were in their hungry, lean 20’s. The “Planet Caravan-esque” beauty of “Zeitgeist” is also the perfect ‘lull’ in an otherwise dark and heavy collective, for a Sabbath record without such an insightful, thought-provoking track is simply unacceptable. I’ll further admit that hearing Ozzy sing about a life in ruins through “Dear Father” brings a happy sort of dark joy to this old heart of mine. The little surprise ending of the domestic album (sans bonus tracks) is a smile-inducer for sure.
In terms of historical reference, Black Sabbath stands alone in influence, style and importance; with 13 the gauntlet is not only once more thrown down for all to see, it sits in defiant full view for the masses, young and old, to understand just what magic awaits with decades of heavy metal greatness both complimented and extended.
Thank you, gentlemen.
(Originally written for www.metalpsalter.com)
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.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
If you went 7 years back in time and told me that in 2013 Black Sabbath would release a new album with Ozzy Osbourne, I would have been very skeptical to put it mildly. It seems that pigs do fly though, and now we have it - a new album from the original line-up (sadly minus Bill Ward) titled 13.
Let's get one thing out of the way first: like most Sabbath fans, I would have loved for Bill Ward to have played on this album. However with that being said, I think Brad Wilk does an admirable job filling in and my grade for this album is solely a reflection upon the quality (or lack thereof) of the music.
Rick Rubin allegedly asked the band to approach this album as if they were making the follow up to their debut album and after listening to it, that much is obvious. There's a track here that pays heavy tribute to Planet Caravan. There's a track with harmonica and there's even a rain, thunder, and church bell outro to the last track (not counting the bonus tracks). In some ways this all smells a lot like the first 4 Black Sabbath albums and there is definitely a lot of nostalgia on offer here. Sadly, that's all there is to it.
The first 2 tracks, "End of the Beginning" and "God is Dead?", is like walking through the desert. Once you make it through, you will be parched for water, but sadly all there is is a poor man's version of "Planet Caravan" called "Zeitgeist". "Loner" doesn't fare much better, and while the galloping riff of "Live Forever" sounds a bit like "Children of the Grave", it isn't half as good. Next the band chew the cud on a pair of brooding and doomy tracks called "Damaged Soul" and "Dear Father". "Damaged Soul" is the better of the 2 and offers some nice guitar work from Iommi, but it's a very small light in the darkness if you ask me.
If you own a version with the bonus tracks, you have a nifty little song called "Methademic", which compared to the rest of the album is surprisingly good. The rest aren't any better than what is on offer on the standard version.
With this album Black Sabbath had created a self-indulgent tribute to their own legacy. I don't know why they feel the rest of us had to listen to it too, though. All it does for me is make me want to put on Master of Reality or Paranoid. The band has said this might not be their last album together, but if it is, I'm not too bothered.
The fathers of heavy metal and the precursors to doom metal have returned as though from a time capsule hailing from the classic early days of Black Sabbath in the 1970s. The new album, 13, resembles albums such as Paranoid and Master of Reality and fits stylistically indistinguishable in the criminal line-up of these early records, except for its modern sound production.
Certain songs on the album have immediate resemblances to older songs, like End Of The Beginning with its laid-back tempo, doom-esque atmosphere, and the winding, eerie vocal melodies of Ozzy which play off of the guitar riffs rather than lying on top of them, and alterations between heavy and light, slow and upbeat riffing recalls the classic song Black Sabbath off the band's first album.
Zeitgeist similarly comes across as a part 2 of Planet Caravan. Many of the songs, particularly the first two on the album (End Of The Beginning and God Is Dead?), like Black Sabbath's early greats Iron Man and War Pigs, make use of a more thoroughly-composed structure of repeated riffs rather than the traditional verse-chorus rock structure that the listener follows like the delicate evolution of a narrative. However, the songs have a freshness and a modern metal feel that makes them much more than a mere mimic of early song styles.
You can expect Tommy Iommi's catchy and crunchy riffing to be stuck, playing on repeat in your head for ages after listening to this new album, and the reunion of Ozzy's distinct vocal sound and embedded vocal approach creates a perfect union with Iommi's endless array of riffs that definitely bear his signature is a much missed element of the classic Black Sabbath sound. Geezer Butler's bass has a beautifully crisp, heavy sound and his strong presence in the mix of the album contributes greatly to the knock 'em dead heaviness of 13. Appearing in original drummer, Bill Ward's, stead, Brad Wilk's drumming is simple and strong; he sits back in some songs, embellishing the sound of the original trio without distracting attention. As a guest musician, it is my opinion that his drum work, which some have criticized, is the best possible approach to drumming on this album. Without overstating his presence, he contributes greatly to the overall power of his straight-up heavy metal punch.
Black Sabbath's new opus, 13, captures the mode of the band's early Ozzy-fronted albums while boosting it with a modern metal energy that will attract new listeners in a new generation.
This album is perfect. It's so utterly perfect overall that it inevitably starts sleazing at some stage simply because one hardly expected that the grandfathers of the genre, being in their mid/late-60's, would be able to fulfill all the expectations with this effort, and even to go beyond that. And this is this "beyond" part which kind of sleazes...
As a rule a really perfect piece of art is not supposed to get a 100% score hence the evaluation here. But the truth is that these ears thoroughly enjoyed this carefully crafted slab of high-octane antedeluvian doom metal which finally provided the missing link between "Paranoid" and "Master of Reality". The "masters of reality" go through the motions without rushing forward so there are no energizing galloping riffs here ala "Children of the Grave"; neither are there any discordant proto-thrashy shreds in the spirit of "After Forever". The guys simply doom, doom... and doom for almost an hour oblivious to any current trends on the scene fixed upon the times when they literally created everything we call metal nowadays.
Those who expected Ozzy to flop will apparently have to wait for the next installment of his family's reality show. Because the man pulls out commendable, albeit calculated and obvioulsy guided, performance although he very seldom risks his voice beyond the meditative semi-stoned clean croon which gives the album a spacey psychedelic vibe. But let's leave him alone (the media already bothers him too much), and look at the other heroes involved here: Geezer traditionally provides a solid, never obtrusive and show-offy, bass bottom and he doesn't disappoint here pulling the fat strings unerringly in a simplistic reverberating fashion.
Mr. Iommi, the master of the riff, serves some of his heaviest ship-sinking guitar parts which still sound impressive without the dirty, macabre atmosphere of their early recordings. His performance in particular evokes a strong feeling of deja-vu at times ("End of Beginning" with its slooow never-ending riffs is a nod to "Black Sabbath"; the main riff on "Loner" is an audacious reference to "N.I.B.", the not very necessary one here; "Zeitgeist" is a largely successful combination of the band's highest achievements in the ballad sector: "Planet Caravan" and "Solitude"; etc.), but very few could expect the man to re-invent himself at this age. So doom on, Tony...
Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine) must have been ecstatic when he was asked to replace the "traitor" Bill Ward, but his not very emotional timid drumming hardly does justice both to him and to the album. The thundering bottom of Ward is sadly missing at times, especially on the slower sections Wilk's jingling hardly bringing even the slightest tremors in the listener's ears. He's apparently much more conscious of not messing it up rather than doing his best. And he almost manages to succeed in the former...
So there are flaws here after all. Yes, there are, but the joy of listening to the Sabbaths playing the good old stuff gelling so well after a lifetime of separation sweeps all of them away; with a single Ozzy stoned croon; with a single Iommi doomy chord; with a single Geezer fat string burp. Number 13 didn't prove fatal to the band; on the contrary, it sees them alive and well to pull a few more similar numbers in the future. This reunion may not make them exactly "lords of this world", but it would by all means erase the "grand" part from "fathers". All right now...
While the magic of the first (6? 8?) Sabbath records is credited equally to Bill, Ozzy, Tony and Geezer, for the most part Black Sabbath was and always will be Tony Iommi and the quality of their records hinges upon how the others play off his riffs. With Ozzy's mojo long-lost and Bill out of the picture entirely, expectations were understandably low for 13. These weaknesses do show up from time to time, but surprisingly, it turned out to be a pretty good album, even by Sabbath standards.
It's been noted that some songs are reminiscent of others. This doesn't bother me, as it's nothing new for Tony and Sabbath. How many times did we get another version of Neon Knights to open a record in the early '80s? How many songs since 1980 feature the Heaven and Hell gallop? How much does Symptom of the Universe sound like Black Sabbath sped up? True, End of the Beginning does sound like the opener on the debut, but it's also pretty similar to Illusion of Power from the Forbidden record. Loner calls on the riff from NIB but the vocal line is similar to Air Dance, of all things. The jazzy leads at the end of Zeitgeist (appropriate name for a throwback to Planet Caravan) likewise remind me more of Air Dance than anything. I think if it weren't for the bongos, the Planet Caravan comparison wouldn't be as obvious. Live Forever resurrects the riff from Zero the Hero in a livelier fashion. All these instances are more hints than direct self-ripoffs. A Tony riff sounds like a Tony riff and Tony riffs are what Sabbath is made of.
Ozzy's vocals are under-produced and I'm not even sure if they're double tracked. He used to layer and harmonize his vocals even at the height of his ability 40 years ago - why these tools weren't employed this time around is beyond me. It would have really helped. His patterns and melodies are more or less the same throughout, sometimes working just fine and sometimes lacking inspiration. Brad Wilk does a very good job, as good as anyone they ever had play drums in Sabbath. The absent Bill Ward would have added some real spice and variety to Tony's compositions to make this a more enjoyable listen. He is missed.
Like its predecessor The Devil You Know, 13 starts out too slow for too long. I might have ordered the songs differently on each, to mix the faster and slower numbers more evenly for better digestion. All in all both albums are probably too long for their own good.
The bonus track Naivety in Black is the prize of the bunch, with enough heaviness and momentum to stand proudly next to anything they've ever done. I would include it in any home-made Sabbath compilation. Live Forever easily makes the list of keepers, and when Damaged Soul picks up towards the end it's a genuine Sabs jam I can imagine listening to on a bootleg from 1974. Tony will probably never run out of riffs and there isn't a song on here that doesn't make me crack a wicked smile at some point in awe of his mastery. He still manages to throw in weird intervals and unexpected chromatic movements that keep things fresh yet still familiar. The old records will never leave our players, but if you crank this one with an open mind you might come away with more than you expected.
So after the string of controversies and accidents that linked the four principle individuals involved with the release, it is quite a surprise (well for me at least) that we had the blessing of seeing Black Sabbath's name on a full length for the eighteenth time. The oddly titled 13, takes things in a traditional route of the early 70s; slow, crushing and bluesy yet simple and straight-forward. 13, being a heavily expected and awaited release for one due to this being the very first release under the Sabbath name since the mediocre Forbidden in 1995 and the first since 1978 featuring original vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, doesn't quite get hammered down by expectations and lives up quite strongly up to the name of its creators.
The problems that plague this record tend to be with the producer, the vocalist and the drummer. No matter how hard fans had called for a reunion with him, few can now deny that Ozzy Osbourne's voice is not even a shadow of the man he was once. His studio albums had been perfectly engineered with effects making his vocals listenable. But we find no such ingenious ideas at work on this release and the vocals to be atrocious at best. The man now no longer has any knack of keeping a note steady and on this record it seems he is not even trying earnestly. Oh well everyone might agree that he was never one of the better vocalists technically to begin with, but he always came up with an honest performance and sang from his heart. Megalomania, Black Sabbath, Sabra Cadabra; need I say more. The production problems stem up from the very horrible sound of the drums and guitars. Now guitars being prominent in the mix is a great thing but here on this record the guitars have a dense, sludgy and muddy sound that sounds more processed than raw. Original drummer Bill Ward's absence meant Black Sabbath needed a temporary drummer. So in came Brad Wilk of Rage Against The Machine fame. Now I will never even start comparing him with Ward, but a competent and professional performance was expected from him which his is far away from.
Among the positives, the compositions are quite good, though far from Iommi's more recent works with Glenn Hughes and Ronnie James Dio. The riffs, though sometimes sounding quite a bit stale, are composed quite well and are simple in structure. Geezer Butler gives a superb performance with the bass which has become customary of him. The consistency of the record is so-so. But when the tracks get going, they do manage to pack a solid punch. Among the tracks, the final two tracks Damaged Soul and Dear Father and the opener End Of The Beginning are absolute gems. The closer Dear Father especially has a very dark and haunting chorus and a great performance from Geezer with the bass. End Of The Beginning is a lengthy and progressive track with very well constructed riffs from Iommi which gel perfectly into each other. The catchy single God Is Dead? and Age Of Reason are good yet flawed tracks. God Is Dead? works very well with it's catchy chorus but drags along for quite a while and would have sounded infinitely better had a couple of minutes been chucked out from it. Age Of Reason falls flat on its face with its main mid paced riff, which though good, is repeated far too much. A great solo towards the end from Iommi forms the highlight of the track. Loner and Zeitgeist are the low points in the album. Zeitgeist totally falls apart with its Planet Caravan worship with absolutely hideous vocals courtesy Ozzy Osbourne and drags along far too long. Loner, with its N.I.B. ripped off main riff is far too simple and repetitive and tends to be sleep inducing at best.
Casting the nostalgia around the record aside, this is a flawed yet good record which has been drenched back and forth in controversies. The album reflects the absolute hopelessness and despair that has always been the highlight of this band's music and proves that age has not made the masterminds behind it slouches in their art. Though some of the work from this record might be absolutely great, the record as a whole does not hold far too much staying power. Bottom-line; 13 is recommended to all the fans of the band who would instantly identify with the band's roots for a couple of spins at least.
Finally we have the release of the new highly anticipated Black Sabbath album showcasing the original line up from the 70's minus Bill Ward and whilst it is a good album, it's not without its faults and doesn't completely stand up to quality of the first six albums with Ozzy on vocals. That being said, I really do enjoy listening to the album, I just feel that it could have been better.
Many have bemoaned the fact that Bill Ward was not included and at risk of sounding like a broken record, his jazzy, groove style of playing is greatly missed here and I think that had they got a drummer similar in style to Bill Ward it would have added an extra dimension to the songs (I know it's probably completely improbable, but imagine having a drummer like Neal Peart on the drums for Black Sabbath in place of Bill Ward! Now that would have been something!).
I'm not going to bash Brad Wilk, as he he is an accomplished drummer in his own right, his drumming on the album isn't bad at all and I am a fan of Rage Against The Machine, it's just that he is a very straightforward hard rock drummer and Ozzy era Black Sabbath is known for the jazzy drumming style of Bill Ward.
Another criticism is that a lot of the songs seem to plod along at the same pace and it would have been nice to hear a few faster paced songs to break the album up. In addition and as has been said previously, Black Sabbath are not only renowned as the inventors of heavy metal and doom, they are also renowned as the inventors of stoner and sludge and their early compositions also contained elements psychedelia and progressive rock and the inclusion of some of the aforementioned styles into some of the compositions would have moved it away from being just purely a doom album and more in keeping with their original 70's sound which incorporated all of these styles.
Lastly, Rick Rubin. How this man is a world renowned producer is beyond me. The production on this album is too crystalline, too clear and overproduced, the drums too low in the mix (Rubin hasn't really done Brad Wilk any favours in this department) and the sound clipped and mastered too high. It was apparently Sabbath's intention to make the album modern sounding and up to date, but if you compare the production on this album against the production of the Heaven & Hell Album, The Devil You Know, it pales in comparison. I think this album would have sounded better had Iommi produced it himself. I also believe Rick Rubin is solely responsible for stifling their creativity by making them try to recreate something they had done in their past.
However, in spite of the above, there are some good points to the album. the riffs on God Is Dead? after the 6 minute mark are pretty cool (I don't like the guitar solo however, far too simple for a man of Iommi's talents and his tone is kinda strange), Loner and Zeitgeist (although sounding quite similar to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Planet Caravan) are pretty good songs. I think my personal favourites on the album are Age of Reason, Damaged Soul (evil blues with Jimi Hendrix style guitar solos - sounds like it could be off Grand Magus' self titled album) and Dear Father (Methademic is also a pretty decent song - definitely opt for the bonus disc version).
Apparently Ozzy has stated that "there'll probably be another Black Sabbath album" - I really do hope there is and that they get Bill Ward back on board and produce it themselves as that would be one hell of an album. Until then, this will be on heavy rotation.
So the first Black Sabbath album in 18 years, or the first Black Sabbath album with Ozzy on vocals in 35 years, is finally here. Following the departure of original drummer Bill Ward, due to contractual conflicts and who knows what else, Brad Wilk of Rage Against The Machine is handling the drums on this album. I can’t say that I dared to hope for a masterpiece album, especially not after God Is Dead? was released as a single - a song that I still feel is one of the weakest of the album. It just sounds very predictable to me, if that makes any sense.
The first thing that struck me when I listened to 13 was that some melodies were very familiar. The opening track End Of The Beginning is a slow, heavy song which bears many resemblances to the Black Sabbath - i.e. the self-titled song from the 1970 album - as well as the track Hammer Of Doom from Candlemass’ 2009 album Death Magic Doom. The song does however take an interesting turn about halfway through and I find I enjoy the song quite much. A little bit later on we have the song Zeitgeist which is basically a more boring version of Planet Caravan, with the same kind of instrumental set up but lacking that psychedelic groove.
The album sounds more or less the way you’d expect a Black Sabbath album to sound in 2013. Brad Wilk does an okay job at the drums but I do miss Bill Ward’s creative drum fills from the old days. The best performances of the album come from the gentlemen Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi, who complement each other fantastically. Geezer’s thick, organic bass playing lays the foundation upon which Tony’s riffs and solos sound even better, with the jamming-style second part of Damaged Soul as a shining example of this. It’s just too bad that Ozzy really don’t have any power left in his voice, although this should come as a surprise to nobody. Someone said that it sounds as if he’s singing while sitting in a comfortable armchair and that’s a pretty accurate description, in my opinion.
This album naturally has many similarities with 2009’s The Devil You Know, both in how it’s produced and in the overall impression of the songs. Actually, to me Loner sounds like a song written for Dio and not for Ozzy - especially the intro sounds like something off of Heaven And Hell or Mob Rules; I enjoy its straightforward rock ‘n’ roll feeling nonetheless.
The lyrics seem to be focused a lot around death, which is logical with Tony’s battle against cancer in mind. It’s something that gives an extra impact to the music – for example, the phrase “I don’t want to live forever but I don’t want to die” from Live Forever suddenly means a lot more than it would have otherwise. All in all, this is an okay album with some great moments and some weaker moments. If you enjoyed The Devil You Know then you’ll probably like this album as well and I guess that which album you’ll prefer of the two eventually boils down to whether you prefer Ozzy or Dio on vocals. Take it for what it is - a Black Sabbath album recorded 45 years after the band started out. After all this time, Tony Iommi still knows how to write new, awesome riffs but sadly Ozzy’s singing is the weak link.
Originally written for www.metalcovenant.com
Wow Black Sabbath is back and I could not be happier. We have the legends and innovators of heavy metal back with a new album With Ozzy, Geezer and Tony back in the fold. Ozzy is back on a Sabbath album for the first time since 1978’s Never Say Die and Geezer is back with his first Sabbath album since Cross Purposes. I am sure you all know the back story to this by now but Bill Ward was unable to join in with the group due to a contract dispute. That is just fine in my book as we still have ¾ original members and a worthy drummer who is nothing more than a session musician. Brad Wilk from Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave filled in for Bill and did an admiral job.
Tony Iommi is and always will be the god of riffs and that comes as no surprise as this album is filled with many memorable ones. From the intro to End of the Beginning to the bluesy Damaged Soul, there is plenty enough here for Tony to keep his well-deserved throne. I am not sure how he pulled this off with his lymphoma and he deserves all the credit in the world for delivering us the incredible riffs and solos.
Geezer Butler really shines on this album and I can hear his bass clearly. In fact, all of the instruments are clear on this album but the bass really rumbles on this. It is nothing that Geezer has not done before but his playing is as solid as ever. As many of us know he is also the main lyricist of the group and has never received an ounce of criticism from me before. Overall the lyrics are good but are sometimes sloppy and thrown together on the fly. “He’s just a loner, he never says hello” is just one example of the poorly written lyrics. The lyrics in Loner are pretty dull and just don’t cut it which is very disappointing. There are some fine moments like in EOTB like “Reanimation of the sequence, rewind the future to the past and reanimation of your cyber sonic soul, transforming time and space beyond control”. These fine moments are extremely catchy and enhance the listening experience for me.
Ozzy appears to be revitalized on this album and his performance shows passion and energy. It is about what I expect from a man who is pushing 70 and probably should be dead by now. He doesn't really “sing” great on the album but there are moments of greatness like the “I don’t want to see you” part in EOTB. He hits a soaring high part and pulls it off magnificently. Half of the time he is just half talking or rapping the lyrics as featured on the lines from God is Dead?. There are still great melodies that he came up with and it shows that he can still work well developing melodies with Tony Iommi. The big difference between Ozzy solo and Black Sabbath is that he is just another band member in Sabbath and he doesn’t have the pressures of working exclusively by himself. I think this motivated him to do his very best for the band because this could be the last we ever hear from him and he wanted to preserve the legacy of the original eight albums. I know I definitely appreciate what he has done and if this is his swansong then he will go out fronting the band that started it all for him!
As mentioned earlier, Brad Wilk does just fine on this album. He tries to emulate Bill Ward and it works to a certain extent. I would much rather have had Ward on the album, but we get what we get. I am not really going to praise or condemn his work on the album because he is just a fill in session member. The other three members really steal the show on this one and they are most important to the success of this album. Bill Ward could have done this album easily and there is a lot he could have brought to the table with his originality. There are not many who can jazz and Swing like Bill and it is disappointing he was not present. That is why I have marked down 8 points off the score to make that a point of emphasis. One aspect that really stands out to me is the bongos on Zeitgeist. They act as a brilliant change of pace with their soothing atmosphere and simplicity. Otherwise this is a pretty generic offering from Brad as a whole.
I think the best way to describe this album is that it is homage to the original 8 albums. That may really bother some people but almost every song is influenced by their past. We have the bells and thunder in Dear Father akin to the original bells, rain and thunder in the original Black Sabbath song. We have the spacey and psychedelic ballad Zeitgeist which sounds like Planet Caravan or Solitude. End of the Beginning sounds like a mix between Cornucopia and Black Sabbath with the ultra-heavy riffs at the beginning, and the prolonged solos akin to Dirty Women. Loner is a 21st century NIB and the list goes on. It is really just Black Sabbath with a modern day twist.
With 13, Sabbath was not going to reinvent the wheel but they stuck with their great formula. Those original 8 will always be better than 13 and will be what Sabbath is known for in the end, but it is nice to have something fresh and new to sink our teeth into. I never thought the album would be a reality but we are blessed to receive this. Thank you Rick Rubin, Tony, Geezer and Ozzy for giving us an album to be proud of.
Originally written for Me Gusta Reviews. www.megustareviews.com
Doom metal pioneers, and masters of "the riff," Black Sabbath, have dropped their highly-anticipated release 13. For the serious metal fan, Sabbath needs no introduction, and because I assume my readers are "serious metal fans," I will provide no introduction. I couldn't do this legendary band justice if I tried!
The songs found on this record are heavy, well composed and well recorded. There is an excellent flow from track to track, and each track demonstrates that the three members of Sabbath can still dominate the riff. Three members of Black Sabbath...this is where my problems with this record, and the band, begin. We all remember very vividly how the band ostracized Bill Ward and we witnessed him being discarded by the wayside, both physically as the drummer of Black Sabbath and historically (Bill Ward being erased from all Sabbath's photographs). This public shaming of Bill by the remaining three original members came off as childish, immature and unnecessary. Furthermore, it left die-hard fans asking, "Why"? However, remaining optimistic, fans anticipated the return of Vinnie Appice, but he was never consulted. The drummer picked to record this record was Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine notoriety, but I'll discuss his selection in more detail later. The fire and passion of Bill Ward's drumming is absent from this release and any Sabbath fan can hear that something is missing regarding these new songs.
I personally felt no heart while listening to this record. I had no desire to headbang (let alone bob my head to the beat). All I heard while listening to this record was a band writing a new album to cash in on their name and notoriety, which resulted in a very stale, unimpressive and bland feeling on the listening end. Sabbath also seems to be ripping off their own songs on this record. For example, the opening track, "End of the Beginning,"seems very similar to the classic "Black Sabbath" off their very first record. Both structurally and dynamically, all I could think back to while listening to this track was "Black Sabbath." Secondly, the band pulls a similar stunt with the song "Zeitgeist." Rather than hear the song for what it is, all I could think back to was 'Planet Caravan" of Paranoid fame. Because of the two instances described above, the only thought to enter my mind upon the conclusion of this record was "cash cow."
Regarding the production of this record, the only complaint I have is the guitar solo towards the end of "End of the Beginning" is mixed quite obnoxiously over the vocal line (on most records you listen to, when a solo and vocal line join together, the vocals usually take the predominant seat in the mix, but what do I know?). Other than this one personal peeve, the album sounds impeccable. Rick Rubin has done another phenomenal job at the mixing desk! Nothing more needs to be said regarding this outstanding audio engineer and his great catalog of work.
Brad Wilk is known for his extensive work with hard rock outfit Rage Against the Machine. Many Sabbath fans were taken by surprise when he was announced as the drummer for this record (I was among those fans). I think Brad does a great job on this record, but I have to admit, I feel bad for the guy, and here's why. He wasn't on Sabbath's radar until Rubin recommended him, making it clear that if it weren't for Rubin, someone else probably would be on this record. Secondly, he was not offered to join the band before or during the recording of the record (something that probably won't happen even after the official release) and he is listed as "Guest/Session" on Metal Archives. Thirdly, when (and if) Sabbath hits the road in support of 13, I feel Brad Wilk will not be joining them onstage. Conclusion? I feel Brad was used by the band for their own personal gain, and no musician – especially one as well-known and respected as Brad – should be subject to that treatment.
13 marks a return for Black Sabbath, but a return for the sole purpose of cashing in on the Sabbath name and legacy. The album has no heart, no Bill Ward (or Vinnie Appice) and fails to grasp and hold the listener in interest. The records of the Osbourne and Dio era effectively drown 13 (is this a surprise?). One can state that this record stands alongside (or slightly above) the Martin era records, but even the Martin era records are drowned by the Osbourne and Dio era records, so this comparison in itself fails 13. Here's my advice. Give this record a once over and upon the conclusion of 13, dust off those old Master of Reality, Paranoid, Vol. 4 and Sabotage records for the real magic, and remember Black Sabbath as they were, not as the childish, immature band they have become.
It’s only a slight exaggeration to state that reunion albums are inherently doomed to failure. Reunion albums are always weighed down with burden of being compared to bands’ past accomplishments. Very few bands manage to come even close to those lofty expectations. The pressure is even greater when the band is as iconic as Black Sabbath—the band most responsible for the genesis of heavy metal. The expectations and hype have been compounded by decades of speculation about a reunion album between the band’s four original members. Over the last fifteen years Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward have sporadically performed together live; in 2001 they even started recording an album, only to abandon it when side projects got in the way.
Thus, when the four legends from Birmingham announced in 2011 that a new Black Sabbath album was in the works, it looked like the world would receive the first studio recording from the original Black Sabbath lineup since 1978. However, it wasn’t meant to be; drummer Bill Ward was unhappy with the offered financial compensation and was swiftly replaced by Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk. Still, 13 marks the first Black Sabbath album since 1996 and the first with Ozzy since 1978.
13 kicks off with a dark, distorted riff set to a drum beat fit for a funeral dirge. After a few bars, the distortion drops outs, leaving a spooky melody and devious drum beat, setting the stage for the introduction of Ozzy, whose first line is a question: “Is this the end of the beginning?”. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s exactly how Sabbath’s self-titled debut opens (“What is this that stands before me?”). Like most reunion albums, 13 doesn’t muddy the waters with innovation; instead it regurgitates the sound of Sabbath’s glory days. 13 is predominately comprised of slow, doomy cuts of heavy metal that recall the first four Sabbath records. There are occasional touches of psychedelia that hint at the group’s next two albums, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage.
So how does Sabbath do at replicating its classic sound? In a word: adequate. Everything about this album is just good enough. With regards to Ozzy, “just good enough” is more than anyone who listened to his last few solo albums could have expected. His vocals have become increasingly laughable over the last decade, marked by poor delivery and an overdose of tasteless studio effects. Producer Rick Rubin leaves the production gimmicks at a minimum, allowing Ozzy’s rickety cackle to be what it is. Ozzy isn’t able to add as much color to his delivery as he did in the 70’s, but his performance is sufficient.
On the other hand, “just good enough” from Tony Iommi is a disappointment. In 2009 Tony Iommi delivered a barrage of devilish riffs on Heaven and Hell’s The Devil You Know. (Heaven and Hell was essentially a reunion of Black Sabbath’s 1981 lineup: Iommi, Butler, drummer Vinny Appice and the late Ronnie James Dio). In contrast to the fire and venom Iommi displayed on The Devil You Know, here he just seems to be going through the motions. The riffs are sufficiently dark and doomy, but by and large, they lack spirit and inspiration. One can’t point to any flat out bad riffs but most of the riffs are about on par with what one finds on your typical retro stoner metal album. There are two exceptions. First, there is the clean psychedelic ballad “Zeitgest,” which ends with ends with an absolutely exquisite jazzy guitar solo. Then, there is “Damaged Soul,” which taps back into the Sabbath’s blues roots with a thick, groovy riff and some slow, bluesy soloing. Ozzy even pulls out the harmonica, which hadn't made its mark on a Sabbath record since the 1970 debut.
Rick Rubin’s production job is a mixed bag. On one hand, he does manage to make Ozzy sound like a competent vocalist—no small feat in 2013—but on the other hand, he also puts Ozzy’s vocals upfront in the mix. Why put the weakest link in the forefront? The other instruments just aren’t muscular enough. The drums are especially in need of a little more power.
People will be quick to compare 13 to Sabbath’s classic records, but it isn’t fair to expect a band to match records that literally reshaped the landscape of popular music. A fairer comparison would be the reunion albums of other heavy metal icons such as Iron Maiden (2000’s Brave New World) and Judas Priest (2005’s Angel of Retribution). Like Sabbath, both bands mostly stuck to the formula that earned them devoted fan bases in the first place. However, both Priest and Maiden managed to provide more memorable moments and offer more impressive musical and vocal performances than Sabbath has on 13. Thus, even when measured against other reunion albums, 13 is a cut below par. Again, 13 isn’t a bad album, just an album that rarely manages to rise above the genre’s median and even the most pragmatic metal fans had to be hoping for a least a little more than “just good enough.”
Originally written for ourvinyl.com
How many bands have a legacy as important as the one Black Sabbath has built? The band started a musical revolution and has influenced more bands than anyone, excluding maybe The Beatles. Can a new record live up to a catalog of records that for the last 43 years has been the blueprint for all heavier music? Their new release 13 is their first record with vocalist Ozzy Osbourne in 35 years.
Sessions originally started thirteen years ago but soon fizzled out, as the material didn’t live up to the bands expectations. Holding a press conference on 11-11-11 they announced to the world that they had been writing and were going to give it one more try to capture a record they felt was worthy of the Sabbath name. That’s when the wheels began to fall off.
Original drummer Bill Ward had a very public battle with the band and withdrew himself from the recording process. Depending on whose side you believe, it was either financially motivated or Ward wasn’t up to the task on playing the drums any longer. Then guitarist Tony Iommi was diagnosed with early stages of lymphoma and has been treating it with chemotherapy, which he will have to endure for the rest of his life. Osbourne also drug relapsed and was separated from his wife Sharon.
Longtime Sabbath fan and producer extraordinaire Rick Rubin was brought in to work with the band for their reunion album. His goal was for Sabbath to go back to the sound of their earliest days. He sat Sabbath down and played them their debut record Black Sabbath. He wanted to instill in them the sound and style that was initially captured and bring back the jazz and blues influences that dominated their early sound.
Rubin also recommended Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk as Ward’s replacement for the sessions. Although initially an odd pairing, Wilk’s sense of style and swing was the perfect choice.
13 opens with the bone crushingly heavy “End of the Beginning.” Instantaneously we are brought back to their debut as a plodding guitar line accompanies a vulnerable Ozzy who asks, “Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?” What a prophetic line for a band that is trying to find their way 43 years after they began. This is an epic track and one that only Sabbath can produce, not containing a chorus and based around five different movements that never repeat. Once the speed picks up this song is an all time classic.
The acoustic based “Zeitgeist” is a throwback to the stylings of “Planet Caravan” and “Solitude.” A gorgeous acoustic guitar and bongo’s mesh beautifully with an elegant over effected vocal from Ozzy. We are taken on another trip through space with deep lyrics about black holes, string theory and nuclear fission that only Geezer Butler can pen. A perfect interlude on a record that is mostly heavy and crushing.
The record ends strong with the blues and jam inspired “Damaged Soul” and “Dear Father.” The former track is a throwback to their roots and was written and recorded live on the spot. The rawness serves the song as Iommi’s solos are so stunning one feels like they are in the room while he is playing. How many bands could ever imagine coming up with something so stunning while jamming?
“Dear Father” accompanies the best chorus on the record and the most disturbing lyric. Dealing with the topic of a pedophile priest who now has to deal with the consequences as one of his victims has come back to murder him. Another ambitious track that is impressive in scope.
The extended version comes with three bonus tracks (another track is included as a Best Buy exclusive) and they are equally as impressive. The crystal meth inspired “Methademic” is the best of the bunch as it is up-tempo and goes for the throat with one of the best riffs on the record. The now out of print box set comes with a bonus DVD, photographs, a vinyl pressing and hand written lyrics. An impressive and classy looking set.
Five of the eight tracks clock in over the seven-minute mark but in classic Sabbath style the songs never lose their interest, as there are enough changes to keep the listener engaged. 13 is a throwback to the vibe of their first three albums and there are nods and hints at past work but nothing is retread. If we can let Slayer and AC/DC slide on repeating themselves, I think we can accept the band that started it all to dip into their glorious past.
13 is a brilliant return to form and finds Sabbath more cohesive than ever. The combination of Iommi’s riffs, Geezer’s lyrics and Ozzy’s one of a kind voice and melodies is astounding. Ozzy might not have the range he once had but his voice is captured perfectly by Rubin as its emotional, compelling and the best he has sounded since his 1995 solo record Ozzmosis. No Auto-Tune or over processed vocals that Ozzy has been relying on for his past few solo records is to be found.
This is not only the most anticipated album of the year but of the last 35. If one isn’t a fan of this record I just can’t see them ever being a fan of the original eight records. If this is indeed the end of the beginning then 13 is the perfect exclamation point on a career that is untouchable.
As a longtime fan I can’t begin to describe the emotion I have had listening to and discovering their new record. Iommi, Butler and Osbourne have been a permanent fixture in my life and 13 feels like old friends coming back home and reminding us all that music is played from ones heart and soul; something that is missing from most of modern day music.
- Originally published at About.com Heavy Metal
Here’s the rundown on ’13,’ Ozzy Osbourne‘s first full-length album with Black Sabbath in 35 years: It’s not embarrassing in the least. In fact, it’s pretty darn good and at times it’s great.
It’s unfair to ask, and highly unlikely, that ’13′ will ever achieve any kind of equal footing alongside the group’s masterful six first albums. But it’s definitely cut from the right cloth, and it’s probably the best effort from anybody on either side of this camp since Osbourne’s ‘Diary of a Madman’ (R.I.P. Randy Rhoads!) and his former bandmates’ ‘Mob Rules‘ came out in 1981.
It’s definitely the most mature thing Ozzy’s been a part of in years. His vocal range is diminished, but he uses what he’s got wisely, and it’s great to see him playing songs made for adults instead of trying to get the kids at Hot Topic to ‘Scream ‘ along with him. It’s also wonderful to hear him together with guitarist Tony Iommi again — the re-ignition of their chemistry is obvious from the very start of the album.
You miss original drummer Bill Ward‘s swing, sure. Some of the lyrics (such as the pointless paradoxes “Is this the end of the beginning / Or the beginning of the end?” or “I don’t want to live forever / But I don’t want to die”) are groan-worthy. But the participating original members sound fantastic together. Thankfully, the record is not over-produced — it sounds like three guys playing together in the same room, especially when Geezer Butler’s bass gloriously rumbles just a bit outside of the expected lines.
Naturally, the album’s highlights find the band quite nakedly revisiting some of the peaks of their past. The riff from ‘N.I.B.’ gets a re-write for the storming ‘Loner,’ but good luck staying mad about it for more than about a minute. Similarly, the gorgeous ‘Zeitgest’ harkens back to ‘Planet Caravan’ right down to the hand drums, processed vocals and spanish guitar accents — and again, you won’t care.
Black Sabbath really go back to their beginnings with the heavy blues of ‘Damaged Soul,’ an eight-minute long harmonica-accented monster which is one Hammond organ short of being among the nastiest Allman Brothers Band songs ever written.
’13′ ends with the same church bells heard at the start of Sabbath’s self-titled 1970 debut, and this would indeed be a fine ending to their recording career if that’s what the group intends. But Iommi proves — as he did on 2009′s Ronnie James Dio-fronted ‘The Devil You Know‘ — that he’s still got plenty of riffs left, so if everybody’s still getting along here’s hoping we get ’14′ or whatever it’s called sooner rather than later.
Originally posted in http://ultimateclassicrock.com/
The time has finally arrived. Black Sabbath is back with Ozzy and writing new material. Of course, drummer Bill Ward does not make an appearance, but that’s OK. Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine fame does an excellent job filling in on the drum throne. You may be aware that you are not listening to Bill Ward, but it is (for the most part) clear that you are listening to a Sabbath album. The energy is usually high, Iommi’s riffs are metal, and his solos are, as can only be expected, fucking amazing. Geezer Butler has a very powerful presence on the bass and adds to the intensity during Iommi’s solos. This is a band that, after decades without Ozzy, and even with a new drummer, stands strong with its new material and original lead singer. Welcome home, Ozzy! Now, there has been some skepticism about this album. First of all, there was some concern over the sound. Would this just be another Ozzy album, would it be a rehashing of the same old sound from Sabbath’s glory days but with half the heart (these guys are in their sixties), or would it be a completely unrecognizable mess? For the most part, none of these fears came to pass. Yes, some songs do sound like Ozzy tunes at first, and I will address that momentarily, but overall, this is a Black Sabbath album that provides some very familiar elements while offering some newer fare that is quite refreshing and works well with the old Sabbath sound.
Did I mention that Iommi sounds great? His solo on the song “Damaged Soul” says it all. His solos provide that great seventies soul we all remember while matching the darker/heavier tones provided for the modern age. Surprisingly, these two opposing sounds work together very well. There is that familiar Sabbath tone and a newer, heavier metallic presence keeping the music fresh rather than old and rehashed. Other fine examples are “Age of Reason” and “Dear Father.” These songs have a very heavy rhythm caused by Iommi and Butler taking the tone and distortion to a place lower than on previous albums. Even Butler’s work on Ozzy’s “Ozmosis” does not reach the level of heaviness found on Sabbath’s 13, and they pull it off nicely. This does not sound like a group of old timers trying to fit in with the new sound. It sounds like seasoned veterans embracing the new and making it their own, which is fitting considering Sabbath’s very wide range of influence over the decades.
The most familiar sounding track on this album is “Zeitgeist.” This song sounds a lot like “Planet Caravan” and may have even been written as a follow up. The tone is similar, the tempo is slow, and even the drumming is similar with Brad Wilk on hand drums through most of the song. Ozzy sings with that same reflective echo effect but with much greater clarity. Even Iommi’s solo at the coda sounds very similar to his coda solo on “Planet Caravan.” Interestingly, this is not a negative aspect of the album or song. The familiarity is a welcome addition, and the quality of song writing is excellent. Again, this sounds like a follow up song, not a rewriting. It is also the only slow track on the album, which makes it unique in the lineup between the heavier "Loner" and "Age of Reason."
My one complaint about this album comes in the form of two songs, “End of the Beginning” and “God is Dead?” In fact, my complaint is about the same style in which these two songs were written. For each, the first two thirds sound just like traditional Ozzy songs rather than Black Sabbath. “End of the Beginning,” wich starts the album, sounds disjointed at first. Ozzy’s lyrics are very elementary (more so than his usual style), and Iommi and Butler don’t seem to have found a connection with one another. The melody is too tight with little soul, which is a terrible way to begin any Black Sabbath album. On “God is Dead?” the melod and tones are so similar to Ozzy's solo work that I kept expecting Zakk Wylde’s pinch harmonics to make a presence. Thankfully, they don’t. Fortunately, both songs pick up momentum and end very much in Sabbath fashion: with intensity, soul, and outstanding riffing. These are the only two songs that begin this way, indicating that they may have been the first two written and/or recorded. The rest of the album feels much more consistent both in writing and sound and does not delve any further into that realm of Ozzy’s solo sound, which would be extremely disappointing.
One last point I would like to discuss is the bonus disc. Personally, I feel that the three extra songs should have just been put on the album. They are excellent and only continue the flow provided with the original eight tracks. One particularly interesting song is “Methademic,” an acoustic track that infuses metal acoustic and heavy distortion. I was honestly not expecting this on a Black Sabbath album and found it a very welcome addition. It begins with a slow but deep acoustic solo riff followed by a very heavy and pounding entrance by the rest of the band. From there, the song remains electric, fast, and heavy. “Peace of Mind” and “Pariah” are also good additions but do not have that same unique writing as “Methademic.” Due to their heaviness, these three songs come the closest to being Ozzy songs, but Iommi and Butler maintain a strong writing presence that keeps the songs in the Black Sabbath realm. Great songs all around!
More than anything, 13 is a return. It is a return of original Black Sabbath members (minus Bill Ward) to the recording studio. It is a return to that old familiar Sabbath sound of heavy metal and soulful blues. It is also a new beginning. Brad Wilk’s presence on the drums is an interesting and fitting addition to the lineup. Iommi and Butler’s expanding on their metal sound while maintaining familiar textures provides a fresh sound with a welcome touch of sentiment. For those who are not familiar with Black Sabbath, this is a pretty good start, but do refer to their first several albums. For those who already know and love Sabbath, this is an outstanding piece of work.
It’s kind of like the now infamous Ozzy salvo right at the start of the album - 'Is this the end of the beginning? Or the beginning of the end?' As the run up to the recording and release of the album indicate - the end has already and quite surely begun. But rather than being swift and merciful – its proved to be one steep, horrifying descent. Even the delivery is a prelude of things to come. You could almost picture Ozzy reading this off a lyric sheet, looking slightly sideways at Rick Rubin and the rest of the band (if they cared to show up) and almost saying 'Is this how I should do it? Is this right?'. That's the level of engagement you get on this album. The distance between the band as composers and the songs they have written – the epitome of artificiality if there ever was one. The riff, in the meantime is a port of 'the' Black Sabbath - if by a variation you would mean a 3rd tier knock-off sapped of all the energy, atmosphere and ingenuity that made the original work. The kind a garage stoner band would play to emulate a storied band back then known as…Black Sabbath.
So that's all the album really is. It’s the sound of a great band becoming their own tribute act, a completely unhilarious caricature of themselves. It’s the mark of aged old men increasingly threatened by the prospect of irrelevance and penury taking a legacy without any known parallel and tearing it to pieces. The issue isn’t that they aren't breaking new ground, like many say they should. Clearly, they don't NEED that to be any good. They're retreading old ground, and sacred ground at that. Pillaging the ashen remains of their history for their own shallow egos. But this might not be problematic for some. Some might say that it isn't wrong for Sabbath to plagiarise their own works. To take a riff, throw out a few bars. Or take a melody, transpose it to a different key. Put it all together and call it a song. After all classic band X and Y have been doing the same thing and never failed their troglodyte fanbase for years now. But then again, these people are dead wrong. The point is Sabbath is nothing like any of those bands and never will be. They were never the darling of classic rock magazines, never among the group of 'oldies'. Even if the same hare-brained critics and award shows that tore them down back in the day would in hindsight very much proclaim a heraldry of them these days. Remember that when you see ‘Iron Man’ or ‘Paranoid’ on Classic Rock Vol 1. Through several lineups and changing times, Black Sabbath have never been the kind of band that uses their history as a crutch to compensate for shoddy, derivative work – due mostly to the persistence of one Tony Iommi, who seems so incredibly estranged from his signature style here that he has to rehash previous works like never before to retain any semblance of it.
The stuff Sabbath played even at their most pandering and commercial was hardly the sort of material for mainstream or critical adoration. They were an oddity, more than anything. They weren’t by any means pretty. They had a singer that could barely sing but sounded just right. A guitarist who'd lost a few of his fingers but could still teach the likes of Ritchie Blackmore a lesson in the power of riffs as opposed to showmanship. A bassist and drummer who could truly swing, in the best sense of the term - they were TIGHT before it even existed. Adversity and risk created this band and made it what it is. When this same band takes the easy way out and plagiarises their works as if they were say, AC/DC. It truly doesn't work. Because 'Black Sabbath' never was pub rock. It wasn't something you'd raise your glass to 'cause you like the groove. It was something that hit you and hit you hard. Something that left with much much more than an immediate impact restricted to ‘catchiness’ or image. And when you go about striving consciously to produce equivalents of those seminal pieces, something the band wouldn’t stop to even in their heyday – its effect is summed up in the word itself. Equivalent. Neutered. Music of this kind was never meant to be replicated. This band was never meant to be dumbed down into a jukebox playing regurgitated ‘hits’ and reminiscing about the glory days, as most classic rock clusterfucks and revivals tend to be. And certainly not with the tech-savvy, irritating shenanigans of one Rick Rubin for a backdrop. How he managed to screw up this up – I can hardly tell. This is a group of musicians that sound so immediate and lively - you could probably catch them on an 8 track recorder and be amazed.
What then could be redeeming about the album? Well as much wrong as it does for their legacy, it still does get some right done in the present. Though, to be frank - this has been done better prior by Sabbath themselves and a whole ton of bands descended from them. You could play spot the riff all over of course, whether it’s the 'Hole in the Sky' reprise in 'God Is Dead?' or 'N.I.B.' in 'Loner'. The template is very much borrowed. But that aside, when your source material is as strong as this – you really can’t go too wrong. 'Loner' still does rock a fair bit. The 'Planet Caravan' homage in Zeitgeist also sounds great - and could have been that much better with a more expansive production. The latter half of the album sees the band trying to come up with something more original and herein lie occasional flashes of brilliance. 'Age of Reason' for one is a song that would've sounded absolutely fabulous with Ronnie James Dio at the helm and features very classic Iommi riffs and leads, aesthetically more like the Dio-era than anything prior. 'Damaged Soul' really grooves, and has a great bluesy bridge (with harmonica) - sounding almost like something off 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath'. Geezer shines particularly on this one, and while he stays consistently good for the entire duration of the album – one can’t help but think that this could have been much better served if the core material was framed with just as much ingenuity. I did find the closer 'Dear Father' straining, clunky and overlong. Though most of the songs here seem to compensating for real content with reinforced song lengths. I know Ozzy has plenty of issues to deal with, but the next time - atleast throw it over a monster riff, or something barely memorable. Do something, damnit. In an almost tragically self deprecating way, the album ‘ends’ with the fading sound of a tolling bell and rainfall that marked the ‘beginning’ of their debut.
So what exactly could have made this much much better? And if the band is really quite as bereft of ideas and verve as they sound here, injected some much needed life into this? Among the more glaring omissions. Aside from the stillbirth that is the production - which makes terms like ‘overproduced’ and ‘sterile’ seem almost laudatory - is the drumming. Now hiring Brad Wilk seems very much like straining for some appeal with the newer crowd. A Sharon Osbourne decision, if there ever was one. His drumming defies all cliches, in that it sticks so closely and unprecedentedly to them that it’s hard to even call it a cliche. Its effect is simply that of a festering sore. This, when you could have possibly got the able and excellent Vinny Appice on board? Well I guess he knew better than to have anything to do with this stinker anyway. Now, the vocals. Ozzy could never really sing anyway. Even in his prime, he was two notes short of being effectively mute - but he made up for all of it with plenty of bat-shit craziness. Sadly and rather predictably, none of that resurfaces here. Thankfully, the music is rather low-key and doesn't have him strain much. And I guess I've acquired some immunity to his penchant soul-sucking babble - dwindling it down to a mere rather than an active annoyance now. His vocals also evince a ton of studio tinkering, though that does very little to save it. But one can only wonder what could've been if the band had the artistic integrity to bring in Tony Martin, Glen Hughes or for that matter- Ian Gillian? That WhoCares single showed SUCH promise. Now an entire album of that would be a truly worthy return. Oh well.
In conclusion, I can't tell if this is a cash grab. It would be highly unbecoming of the band to cave in at this stage of their careers (though there was that previous reunion…) yet the signs are all there. The entire band did gang up and collectively screw over Bill Ward. That's for sure. Ozzy, in rather poetic irony, alleged senility as the sole cause for Bill’s dismissal. And Iommi even stooped so low as to use his cancer as a somewhat justification for the low blow claiming that 'he couldn't wait' and 'had to do this'. You'd only think he had a masterwork in the wait with such a sense of urgency. And while The Devil You Know raised the bar ridiculously high - showing much younger bands how hard the Gods could rock, all this does is evoke pity. Which is really not a good road for Sabbath to go down. It seems highly unlikely from this that there is retribution for this band. I guess, they're willing to try. And they may prove me wrong, yet. But I won't be waiting. Not too far back, Tony Iommi was a high watermark in the metal genre. One that never did fade and held its own stolidly through all the tumult and glory of this band. But perhaps it’s only good for the metal scene to let go of its exalted heroes and move on - as painful and unbelievable as it seems. And will continue to seem as desperate fans strain and bandy about collective praise for this hack job. Only time will tell where things go from here. Won’t stop them from touring and milking the shit out of this for the next few years I guess.
Reuniting a classic lineup can be quite the dangerous task. It will either result in a huge backlash due to failure to meet arbitrarily high expectations, or at the very best (in most cases) receive only a lukewarm reception, and with an influential band such as Black Sabbath, the spectrum of disappointment to satisfaction will increase tenfold on both sides. As a fan of the Ozzy years (save 'Technical Ecstasy') and especially of what I claim to be their masterwork 'Master Of Reality', I can firmly place myself in the positive side of the scale. It was only a mystery as to what Sabbath would sound like on this release, would they return to the doom sound displayed in 'Master Of Reality' or the more traditional metal sound like in 'Paranoid'? Within the first few seconds of the opening track 'End of the Beginning', that question is instantly answered with the slow, sludgy riffs which would display how the best their album in 42 years would sound like.
The vast majority of this release is similar to their more doom-oriented releases, such as their seminal debut album and the one mentioned all too much before 'Master Of Reality', with its sluggish, heavy riffs and decelerated drum beats. But that doesn't stop some 'Paranoid'-esque moments from showing up as well, like in 'Loner'. Certain songs even combine the slow and brooding moments with the upbeat and catchy moments such as in 'Live Forever'. The majority of the guitar riffs being played in no particular or any apparent scale also adds to the dark charm and atmosphere put across, but some are, like in 'Damaged Soul'. 'God Is Dead?' is a personal favorite of mine for having perfect clean-to-heavy guitar transitions, but not losing any of its atmospheric effect in the process, and being that it's Tony Iommi working the fret board here, he always knows where to place the tri-tone (flat 5th) in just the right spot, and that doesn't just happen on 'God Is Dead?', it's almost ubiquitous throughout all the album's songs. The solos are captivating as well, classic minor scale work and played with gratuitous amounts of emotion and passion especially within the two opening tracks.
Geezer Butler also puts off an outstanding performance on this release by helping Tony's guitar sound heavier than it initially was, and separating his riffs from Tony's as well, which makes the music all the more interesting. For instance, when Geezer plays a bass riff, it's always working with the notes that Tony is using, but not necessarily in the same sequence, which makes his playing very distinguishable, and quite refreshing. The drummer was quite an unlikely pick, they hired Brad Wilk of Audioslave and Rage Against The Machine fame. One would think that he might bring something new to the table, but I don't notice any difference between his and Bill Ward's playing on this release, other than some later sections of 'Dear Father' and 'Loner'. Otherwise, he's going along with everyone else, almost following Geezer in a way. He also has some very strategically placed fills that aren't too innovative, but fits with the music and doesn't fight for attention with Tony's riffs or Ozzy's vocals.
Speaking of Ozzy's vocals, I will admit that they are shot. Due to production (and perhaps overproduction), they managed to make him sound better than he does live. It's tolerable, and it makes him sound as if he can actually stay on key and not be all over the place. I won't detract too much here, age has withered him, but really, he's never been that good of a singer in the first place, and of course when he can't find where to put lyrics in, there's a not-so-generous amount of 'okay''s and 'alright's along with the occasional 'come on now!', but that at least keeps it fun, so there's no detraction for that from me. His lyrics aren't exactly the best either, some reeking of clichè, but they're far from his worst. There are some interesting concepts that he puts forth, like a ying-yang philosophical approach in 'End of the Beginning', and a supposed response to Friedrich Nietzsche in 'God Is Dead?'. Very well written for the most part, with some rather interesting rhymes as well.
"Out of the gloom
I rise up from my tomb
Into impending doom"
And that's exactly what this album is. Impending doom, and in the absolute best way possible. In my mind, this will fit right along with Sabbath's repertoire of masterpieces and widely-recognized opuses. A very solid set of songs coming together to create what may be one of the best albums not only of this year, but of this band's entire discography, and that says something. I only hope these guys will continue to make music, especially some like this.
Cast your fears, doubts and worries aside. The godfathers are back and not to disappoint. The mood of this album is classic Sabbath, the feel of this album is classic Sabbath, I had initial worries due to the lack of Bill Ward and the release of 'God Is Dead?' as a single (which I thought was a good song but nothing exceptional), but those original worries have been blown away by an icy cold breeze from the lords of doom.
The album crawls to life with 'End of the Beginning', which takes a while to come to life and gets you initially worried, you begin to wonder if this whole album is going to just ooze along like a slug in treacle and take you nowhere special. Then Iommi bursts to life with a solo and the song picks up - a faint hope. Out of the dark left behind by 'End of the Beginning' is the single 'God is Dead', a song yet again displaying the dark sabbathy gloom we have grown to love and expect, with ocassional glimpses of what these 60 year olds are still very much capable of.
Loner is the next track and much more of a 'hard rocker' with surprisingly blunt lyrics and a catchy riff telling the sad story of a 'loner' ending with the lyrics ''The secrets of his past live deep inside his head, I wonder if he will be happy when he's dead''. The mention of a riff brings me nicely onto my next point. Tony Iommi. He leads the way in this album combining catchy blues with heavy down-tuned riffs that would turn any party into a funeral march. Then just when you think you're going to be sucked into a black hole the spacey 'Zeitgeist' is there to take you aboard it's spaceship and carry you away. Zeitgeist is one that grows on you with every single listen and has a very 'stoner' element to it, much like the classic 'Planet Caravan'. It can make 4 minutes feel like a lifetime, and a lifetime feel like 4 minutes at the same time.
The next four tracks are 'Age of Reason', 'Live Forever', 'Damaged Soul' and finally 'Dear Father'. Now I don't want to dwell too long on 'Damaged Soul' and 'Age of Reason' not because they're bad, but due to just how good 'Live Forever' and the exceptional 'Dear Father' are. 'Age of Reason' is an excellent track that brings the album back down to earth talking of a 'shattered world that's gonna die', and features more classic yet refreshing Iommi riffs and another vocally strong performance from Ozzy. 'Damaged Soul' is very doomy-bluesy track that lulls you ever closer to your inevitable death bed mainly thanks once again to Iommi.
Wedged between 'Age of Reason' and 'Damaged Soul' is 'Live Forever'. This bursts to life in flames of catchy, rifftastic, heavy as hell and strangely epic combinations of everything metal. With simplistic lyrics of 'Well I don't want to live forever, but I don't want to die' you'll be dragged into the torn world of Ozzy - and you won't want to leave. Finally the album ends with 'Dear Father', a dark twisted story that will have you cowering in fear and feeling a very expressable disgust at very obvious figure head. This song is a mixture of faster paced versus' and guitar work by iommi followed by a slower harrowing chorus as if sung by the devil himself at the offenders. There are inexpressable by text changes in pace, mood and power in this song that I cannot match with mere words. Simply listen and enjoy...and enjoy the last 30 seconds.
Also going to include a notable mention to the bonus tracks, all of which could hold up in an album from any other band, especially 'Methademic' which could arguably earn a place as a main track on this album. After all it wouldn't be Sabbath wihout a track dedicated to a drug, would it? Fast paced, creepy and drug inspired - great song. Don't miss out on the catchy 'Peace of Mind' and lyrically astute 'Pariah' either!...Yet to hear 'Naïveté in Black' but I'm sure it won't disappoint.
To summarise: It's Black Sabbath showing the rest how it's done, now bow to their feet. 95%.
Highlights: Toni Iommi's creativity straight from the abyss. 'Zeitgeist', 'Live Forever', 'Dear Father', 'Damaged Soul'...the whole bloody thing!
I'm not going to try to change anyone's mind with this review...I understand where the people giving negative reception are coming from. However, I would like to state that I completely disagree with everything these people have said. In my eyes, this is much more than just the simple "comeback" that we have seen over and over again, over the past ten years. This is the return of Black Sabbath: the indisputable inventors of heavy metal. Black Sabbath is, without question, the single most beloved and respected heavy metal band ever (both within and outside the metal circles). This is the band that every heavy metal band wishes they were: the band that took their influences and turned around to create something completely unique and groundbreaking. Most people who dare to say anything negative about the band's 70's work alone, are blasted as "posers". So with that in mind, expectations were bound to be very high for this album. As is usually the case, most of these people were (apparently) let down by what they heard.
I was among the skeptical at first: I saw Ozzy's recent live performances as a joke, and was rather let down by the release of the "God is Dead?" single, several months ago. Nevertheless, I could not help shake the feeling that "13" was a big deal. Not only for Black Sabbath, but for heavy metal music as a whole. So...I bought the album. After reading a number of scathing reviews from disappointed fans who put down the album as "average" or even "garbage", I did not expect to be as blown away as I had been with the band's classic catalog. However, whatever it was that drew me into the album, to make me think it was a "big deal", hooked me within the first song. As the opening chords of "End of the Beginning" blasted out of the speakers, I knew I was hearing metal history in the making. I predict that this album will go down in history as the masterpiece that it truly is...it surely wouldn't be the first. Many groundbreaking albums, from The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper and the Lonely Hearts Club Band" and Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon", to Morbid Angel's "Blessed are the Sick" and Death's "Symbolic", were critically reviled upon their release, and only gained the legendary status they enjoy now over time, when fans realized their true worth. Even Black Sabbath themselves were criticized as a "Cream rip-off" when they released their first album. The point of all this being that really, you cannot listen to what reviewers say...you can only listen to your heart, and what the music means to you. And that's what I'm going to do here. I can't read people's minds and see why they've been disappointed by this album (thought I can guess...), I can only tell you what I think about it, and I just so happen to disagree with every negative review that has ever been published (so far or in the future) about this album.
The first thing I would like to point out is the atmosphere. To me, this is probably the darkest album that Black Sabbath has ever released. Not in the same sense that, say, the song "Black Sabbath" was dark, but in a more reality-based sense. Where the atmosphere of "Black Sabbath" was fantasy-based, and was given off by the riffs and ideas themselves, the atmosphere of this album can be sensed in the passion and urgency with which the band plays, as if the band knew their time was ending, and wanted to record an album that would serve as the "ending credits" to their career (hell, "Dear Father" ends with the same thunderstorm and church bells that opened "Black Sabbath"). This is reflected in most of the lyrics, which deal less with fantasy and evil, and more with life and the reality of death (with a good amount of borderline anti-Christianity, for good measure). In some songs, such as the album's first single, "God is Dead?", or the downbeat blues-influenced monster, "Damaged Soul", or the incredibly heavy and evil closing number "Dear Father", this atmosphere can be cut with a knife, with the feeling of walking through an abandoned mental institution, where the pain and sorrow of the past is etched into the walls. Other songs are more subtle, such as the more up-tempo rocker "Live Forever", which musically, is more riff-based, but also contains the lyrics that probably best sum up the point of this album:
"Days pass by too soon,
Waiting for the rising of the moon,
No escape from here,
Facing death, but is your conscience clear?"
I would also like to point out that the album is not all atmosphere. As has always been the case for Black Sabbath, this album is RIFF HEAVEN. Anyone who thinks that Tony Iommi has somehow lost his seemingly superhuman riff-ability need only set their CD player to track three ("Loner"), to hear one of my personal favorite riffs on the entire album, and easily the catchiest I have heard all year. However, there is really not a single moment where his riffs fail to deliver the goods...the man is an absolute riff-writing GOD, after all. Just listen to some of the riffs he hammers out in "Age of Reason" or "Dear Father", for instance. Geezer Butler's bass sound is one of the best I have ever heard. It manages to keep itself audible and powerful, without overpowering any of the other instruments. Just listen to "Damaged Soul" to hear this amazing bass tone truly shine. Most of all, however, I have always admired Butler for his ability to follow Iommi's riffs, yet still add his own flare to them to keep the music interesting...this is something that he continues to do with this album, such as in "Age of Reason".
The drumming on "13" was handled by Brad Wilk, formerly of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. I have heard that his style of drumming on this album sounds similar to the style he used with those bands...I cannot really comment on that because I do not listen to Rage's music and have not heard anything by Audioslave in probably 5-6 years. What I can say, is that no matter what band he used to play with, he did an absolutely stellar job keeping together the classic Sabbath feel, while still adding his own flare to the songs. His drumming on this album is very similar, in a way, to the bass playing of Geezer Butler, in the sense that his drumming fits like a glove to Iommi's riffs, though still manages to keep itself sound interesting and offer something fresh to the album that not only allows the instrument itself to sound more interesting, but gives a better perspective to Iommi's riffs and the whole overall product. If this is what Brad Wilk plays like, I will have to dust off my old copies of "Out of Exile" and "Audioslave" and give them a much needed re-listen!
The biggest surprise that this album offers, however, is the vocal performance of Ozzy Osbourne. When I first listened to some of the songs from the album's official stream, my first thought was that he sounded monotonous and bored. Now, when I listen to the CD, I think his vocal performance is actually rather amazing on this album. I mean, no one ever thought Ozzy was a "good singer" in the first place...the draw was always the emotion he delivered, and how distinctive his voice sounded. No one has ever sounded, or will ever sound in the future, like Ozzy (or Dio, but that's a tale for a different day!). And with that in mind, his performance on "13" is rather magnificent, because he delivers his lines not only with an immense amount of passion and emotion, but also with a surprising amount of power. If you came into this expecting any jaw-dropping vocal acrobatics, then not only did you come into this the wrong way, but you've also come into this the wrong decade! For the most part, everything he does is rather basic (with a few exceptions)...but what amazes me is the power of his performance, and the conviction with which he sings here. Say what you will about the man's live performance, but I think he sounds very, very good on this album.
Finally, we have Rick Rubin's production. I actually love the production on this album. It gives a voice and power to every single instrument, which allows the music to sound clear, but not enough so that it is devoid of atmosphere. My first impression, when listening to the official stream, was that the production would sound dry and compressed, but the end result is actually the opposite. Everything sounds very organic and real to me, which is a stark contrast to what we have seen from Rick Rubin in past efforts, namely the infamous "Death Magnetic" production.
Overall, I think this album is a masterpiece. Easily the greatest album to have been released so far in 2013, a throne it is likely to hold (unless King Diamond releases his album this year). As stated earlier, I predict that this album will, in future generations, be looked upon as a masterpiece. To the detractors, I say "to each his own", but I strongly suggest that everyone who is disappointed listen to it a few more times, to give it time to sink in, because this album truly has a lot to offer to the Black Sabbath legacy.
Revisiting the past is among the more commonplace things that any person does in their daily lives, it's all wrapped up in having a functional memory. Any band, at any given moment during the creative process of making an album, is always considering some past effort either courtesy of themselves or someone else. It is thus important to state emphatically that any problem with the long awaited full length Sabbath album with Ozzy back in the captain's chair is not that it looks to the past, or even that it dwells upon it to an obnoxiously obvious extent (and it does). No effort really lives or dies by "what" is being attempted (barring something that is completely incomprehensible like Metallica's disastrous collaboration with Lou Reed), but rather in "how" this come about. The devil is always in the details, as the old cliché goes, and while the sadly defunct Heaven And Hell project succeeded masterfully in sticking to the devil they already knew, the same can not be said insofar as "13" is concerned.
To dispense with the obvious, this album is about as overt of a stylistic throwback as has ever been encountered, even by the standards of the likes of Count Raven, who've been attempting to capture the magic of Ozzy era Sabbath and translate it into a newer and more stylized doom metal medium. Frequent occurrences of near self-plagiarism abound, with a particular emphasis on the band's first two albums, though some traces of their mid 70s progression up to "Sabotage" come about at times, most notably during the latter part of "Age Of Reason" where a heavy keyboard presence paints a chord progression that all but anticipates the eventual NWOBHM just as said album did in 1975. But it isn't merely blatant references to slightly modified riffs or ideas from Sabbath's best known songs and albums, but also in the free-flowing, jam band character that was a continual staple of this band's sound for the entire 1970s. In both a micro and a macro sense, this is an all out attempt at a 1970s revivalist album.
To break with a growing consensus of detractors of this tragically flawed comeback, what is ultimately wrong with this album does not reside in the original membership to any large extent. Iommi's riffs, while blatant variations on past efforts (be it the "N.I.B." homage in "Loner" or the obvious "Planet Caravan" tribute "Zeitgeist"), are catchy and well-realized. Ozzy's vocals, while extremely limited in range and processed to the point of sounding way too clean, are sufficient and even strong at times. And the strongest link in this rusty chain proves to be Geezer, whose bass lines are a bit restrained by the standards of his brilliant work on "Paranoid", stand out nicely and keep the arrangement mildly animated despite the largely slower tempos in play. Even Iommi's solos, which have reverted back to outright blues rock orthodoxy, are organized nicely and tell a solid musical story (his lead work on "Damaged Soul" is particularly impressive).
There are two primary factors that drag this album down and make it an equally mediocre effort (though for different reasons) to that of Ozzy's last weak farewell album "Never Say Die", and their names are Rick Rubin and Brad Wilk. The whole of Wilk's work before being tapped for this project has been an exercise in dryness and simply showing up and keeping the beat. His mundane and orthodox drumming can be likened to a plate full of toasted bread, filling up one's stomach but having no flavor or intrigue to speak of, making one wonder why they didn't just use a drum machine, which would have fit in well with Rick Rubin's production practices. And that's just the issue with the former party in this album's downfall, Rick Rubin is about as artificial in his approach as a basket of plastic fruit. Everything is so overly balanced, bereft of any organic feel or punch that one will find himself on his knees, begging for the instrument tracks to bleed together for just 3 lousy seconds. The guitar distortion on here literally sounds like it was produced by a keyboard, and the drums struggle to really have any depth, though they are mercifully less loud and overbearing compared to "Death Magnetic".
Although it is a rarity that relatively descent songwriting is completely sabotaged by a lackluster production, it has been perfectly accomplished here. It presents an awkward paradox between classicism and modernity that results in a fairly elaborate album coming off as completely stale and contrived. Writing the same basic album(s) doesn't necessarily lead to this sort of situation (as anyone who listens to AC/DC can testify to), but it leaves things exposed if it isn't done to its fullest consistency. Nevertheless, this kind of an album is sure to sell fairly well for the same reasons that the new Swedish 70s retro phenomenon Ghost has been making waves, because gimmicks can stand in the place of just about anything else, and there may be no greater draw for hipsters than Black Sabbath going back to their roots while having the producer trying to outdo Bob Rock. But for those who want a quality listening experience are encouraged to refer to the last offerings of this outfit with RJD at the helm, both as Heaven And Hell and the brief stint under the Sabbath name for the new material heard on "The Dio Years". Hopefully this will be the last time that Rick Rubin has anything to do with Black Sabbath, even if it means this is the last LP to come out bearing their insignia.
And so the day arrived. After all the legal drama, Heaven and Hell - all things said against Ozzy - and Dio's passing, Iommi, Butler and Osbourne reunited to release a sort of final statement to finish their history as Black Sabbath/Ozzy fronted version of the band.
As a brief introduction that will serve as comparison and explanation of the following points, I think Heaven and Hell was a band that was doing very, VERY WELL. Dio's fronted version of Sabbath (as they said plenty of times) released a monolithic and crushing album in the name of The Devil You Know. It was a very simple premise: to make honest metal which every member was enjoying on doing so. The songs were fresh, but had the classic Iommi riffage, the production was perfect and the performance was stellar. So, what am I doing talking about this? 13 is the opposite of that and it's why the album is so bad I'm my opinion. Being honest, this had a bad feeling from the very beginning.
As a sort of disclaimer, I feel the need to add that I don't hate Ozzy and the band at all. On the contrary, I had plenty of faith and good expectations, especially in Iommi, given the great work he did with H&H. Geezer has always been an excellent bassist and his basslines are made for Iommi's riffs to shine. Wilk is indifferent to me; I think any decent drummer could have made a decent job, since the music would be fairly slow and the strings have been always the highlight in Sabbath, especially the Ozzy albums.
The album starts with 'The End of the Beginning' and the first chords tells you it's Iommi doing his thing. Sadly, those riffs are only a slightly faster version of the riffs presented on the S/T album (the S/T track specifically). Ok, for Tony to come up with new riffs over decades must be quite the challenge, but this is ridiculous. When you listen the whole track and then the whole album something becomes very apparent: Sabbath used as templates some of their most famous songs ever and it shows. It's too evident how much they tried to replicate their old sound and style that hurts.
For me, Sabbath was always about innovation and playing whatever they wanted. Iommi released Technical Ecstasy and he didn't give a fuck about fans' opinion; it was what he wanted to do and he just did it. When Ozzy left, Iommi got into more NWOBHM and Dio's debut with the band shows it, successfully changing the band's style and revitalizing it instead repeating himself.
Now, for the first time, we witness the riffmaster following orders and looking back to find inspiration. It's not a secret that Rubin (the producer) made the guys to listen the first album and 'suggested' to make a follow-up to that legendary effort, Today. I'm now sure why, but Tony was agreed and decided to write songs that sounded old, tweaking old riffs and ideas. You can clearly hear bits, sections and structures of songs like N.I.B., Black Sabbath, Planet Caravan, for naming some, so it's the very nature of the album is what really makes this almost unlistenable. It simply hurts too much to see this level of self plagiarism from the guys who invented metal. The jammed feeling of the old albums IS NOT PRESENT HERE and when they try to sound like rocking, it sounds forced. Everything is calculated; every section is placed where it is for a logical reason: to create a superficial feeling of nostalgia, a throwback feel that makes people appreciate the album not for what it is, but for what you're reminded of while listening to 13. Just look in Youtube for live clips of the new songs and the old ones, the similarities are too many to not be ashamed of.
Songwriting aside, the album suffers from a number of reasons to weep over. The production is very crisp, compressed, clinically clean to the point of getting sterile. So, if they tried to record an album with a 70's vibe, why not aiming for a more dynamic and analog production? the drums sounds like any modern metal album which use Superior 2.0 or Addictive Drums. The guitar tone sounds saturated and at the same time unnecessarily clean and plastic for Sabbath; the lead guitar tone is especially grating, it's almost like a screeching cat. The bass is what I think sounds the best here, no complaints on that matter.
I also need to talk in a separate paragraph about the vocals. Ozzy has never been a great or a merely good singer. He always had a restricted range and mostly followed the riffs. When you had great riffs, great songwriting, Ozzy was just another instrument in the mix: he never grabbed the attention of the tracks cause the riffs were always the main thing about Sabbath. Now that we have a very below-average quality of songwriting, Ozzy's vocals get more attention and his weaknesses are crystal clear. So, the guy that 40 years ago wasn't good at singing, now he simply CAN'T sing. His range, which was already limited, now is reduced to 1 octave, at best. He really tried his best in God is Dead, I know. He and the production team managed to make him sound better than his solo albums, but even Robocop manages to sound more human than Ozzy in his own band. Now I think 13 it's the best he can sound today but that's not saying much. His vocal lines are tired, effortless (excepting parts of GID and 2 lines of Dear Father) and miserable like a grandpa who's forced to run for his life. It's not a gloomy or a creepy performance anymore, it's a pitiful display of a washed-up, ruined man who can't deliver anything worthwhile anymore.
From the bonus tracks, Methademic comes as a stronger number than the entire album. Maybe it was a song he did when Dio was still out there, since I think it suits better to RJD than Ozzy anyway.
So, it's a shame that The Devil You Know wasn't released as a Sabbath album cause it was the last real honest musical endeavor Iommi and Co released at this day. 13 is a very disappointing way of ending a career for the godfathers of metal.
When 13 came out, I was listening to it for the first time (with the exception of God is Dead?) and reading reviews on this site. And quite frankly I think a decent number of them are a little unfair. It seems a bit unreasonable for hardcore fans to expect a perfect return to form for a forty-year-old band with a lineup that has reunited for an album for the first time in over thirty years. Some pan the band's over-reliance on doom, others the hearkening back of past ideas, others of just plain old age. But wait a minute...how is this any different from The Devil You Know? Wasn't that a heavily doom-inspired album with two of the same members of this album? Wasn't it a little repetitive? And didn't fans like it and praise it as another Sabbath reunion? Yes to all of those, and yet just because 13 was a little late to the dance some hardcore fans are crucifying it. Just like the aforementioned Devil You Know, 13 is a tad repetitive with overwhelming doom but is absolutely by no means a bad or even average album. And it's a grower. First impressions aren't always everything, and 13 will probably take a few listens to truly appreciate the music.
Guitarist and lone consistent member Tony Iommi has long been the riff-master of metal and brought us so many classics such as Iron Man, Paranoid, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and Symptom of the Universe. So one might be disappointed that he's not pulling any new tricks out his sleeve and instead focuses on overloaded heavy doom riffage. And as the album goes on, some of the riffs get a bit repetitive and less original and recycled. But considering he's the master of the metal riff, he makes even repetitive sound cool and fun. Even as I hope for something a little bit more varied in his riffs I just can't help but appreciate the dark heaviness. And his solos hearken back to his blues roots in early Sabbath, which is pretty awesome. Geezer Butler's bass lines are dirty but very defined and rather than just support the guitar (which is sometimes annoying in metal) he helps contribute to the wall of sound that they created in the early 70's. Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk steps in for Bill Ward on drums and, let's face it, there's only one Bill Ward. To expect him to fill his shoes or surpass him as a drummer is ridiculous. Keeping that in mind, his drumming is very solid and pounding and ultimately does its job. Probably one of the biggest issues fans are going to take with this album is Ozzy's voice. Ozzy has never been a technically gifted or singer. That's never been the case, and it certainly isn't the case now. But while Ozzy may not be as skilled as other Sabbath singers, he's always had that "it factor", that iconic impact with his voice. It's hard to explain, his voice has just always fit perfectly. And while his voice and range have declined due to age, drugs, and alcohol, he still does a solid job. It just fits.
The instrumentation is solid, and the lyrics by Butler are still superb. Song topics cover war, the question of religious faith, isolation, and travelling through space. Obviously recurring themes in Sabbath's music. And while there is no undeniable, classic standout track, there is nothing to shake a finger at either. While there is some occasional familiarity Sabbath throws in just enough riffing and breakdowns to keep a certain degree of freshness. The beginning section of opening track End of the Beginning is almost structurally identical to Black Sabbath. However, it speeds up rather than stay too doomy a little less than halfway through the song to avoid a complete recreation. In fact, the song's latter half is spectacular and is sure to bang heads, ultimately being one of the best on the album. Single God is Dead? follows a similar formula but has an absolute killer instrumental breakdown near the end. And while the dreamy Zeitgeist is basically a sequel or 21st century version of Planet Caravan, it's still a pretty cool concept and definitely changes things up. Loner is an upbeat bluesy sort of song and, like Zeitgeist, keeps things fresh during the doomfest. Live Forever accomplishes the same by combining both doom and upbeat metal but is arguably one of the weaker tracks. Age of Reason, Damaged Soul, and Dear Father all continue the epic doom trend of God is Dead? and End of the Beginning. Age of Reason is cool with an extended instrumental section while Damaged Soul carries a bluesy vibe similar to Loner and also features Ozzy on harmonica for the first time since The Wizard (which is pretty awesome). Dear Father follows in the same vein as the other doom tracks but surprisingly ends with sounds of rainfall and the same church bells as Black Sabbath. This very cool ending gives the album a full circle feeling, and perhaps hints that this will be the final album that Sabbath ever does.
If you buy the album, make sure you get the deluxe edition with four bonus songs (Naivete in Black is only available on the Japanese or Best Buy versions). Methademic and Naivete in Black (a reference to the common misconception of N.I.B. being an acronym for "Nativity in Black") are definitely the champions of these four. They are actually two of the best songs on the entire album (Naivete in Black in particular) and are the only fast-paced songs. Peace of Mind and Pariah are more mid-paced songs and while not fantastic, are still pretty good and are solid additions as bonus tracks.
Did this album blow me away? Not necessarily. Is it a bit repetitive in areas? Yes. Is it still a great album for guys who have been in the game for over forty years and essentially created heavy metal? Absolutely. Don't expect Sabbath to redefine the genre they defined in the first place, but this is still a very strong and exceptional album. It seems like wishful thinking to expect this to be perfect, but 13 succeeds in being heavy, dark, and consistent. It might not leave a strong impression the first time around, but a couple of listens later and you have a damn fine album. Who knows if this is really the final chapter for Black Sabbath given the ending of Dear Father, but maybe that is the way it should be. As much as we would all love a full reunion with Bill Ward, maybe the masters of metal have nothing left to prove. Even if this is not the perfect album we were all hoping for, it is still a great one. They have given us decades of excellent music, and have finally reunited to give us even more. And that's all this Sabbath fan asks.
But in all honesty, I hope they keep it up. I think they proved they still have plenty of gas left in the tank.
This isn’t the type of thing I want to be critical of, because even if I have some complaints on their earlier work, and sometimes wonder if I prefer Dio Sabbath, I truly do love the original Ozzy-era Sabbath, even if the last two albums were a little lackluster. But this reunion album might just be as uninspired as the incredibly bland title. The name 13 has no real significance, as it’s their 19th album and their 9th with Ozzy. Only if you ignore all of their albums with Tony Martin, the album with Ian Gillan, and Seventh Star, and only count the Ozzy and Dio albums does this bear any resemblance to a 13th album. And it’s been almost 20 years since they last put out an album. Obviously the name 13 is either just a gimmick, or a lame acknowledgement of its 2013 release. The title isn’t bad, but it’s meaningless and uninspired. Now excuse me why I tell you exactly why that’s relevant.
Somewhere along the line, someone mentioned to Tony Iommi that he was an innovator of the doom genre, and he must have figured that that was what made Black Sabbath good, because there’s a lot of crushing riffs going on here, but clearly everyone forgot that what really made the band great were his riffs. I guess Tony thinks it’s ok to beat us over the head with doomy power chords. Are we forgetting about such great riffs as Sabbra Cadabra, Paranoid, and Supernaut? There just isn’t much that stands out like those riffs on this album. It’s too busy being dark and having a downtuned, murky guitar tone.
It’s not that it’s entirely devoid of riffs, Loner is a pretty fun song, But I swear I’m listening to Age of Reason for the 3rd time, and nothing really stands out except the part where Ozzy says “Too many lies!” (or whatever) and it sounds like Iommi borrows a bridge riff from Iron Man. Speaking of which, the album repeatedly borrows from past ideas.
Didn’t anyone honestly catch on that both End of the Beginning and God is Dead? both borrow very heavily from the song Black Sabbath? I love that song, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t ask to hear it again, let alone twice more. Now, neither song is bad, but they both follow a formula pretty obviously set by Black Sabbath. God is Dead? basically has the tri tone, but with an open note struck before it so people won’t bitch, End of the Beginning has a riff that isn’t quite as similar, but isn’t much of a thin veil of a rip off itself, and both turn into a rocker near the end much like Black Sabbath did. Honestly, I had to double check the first time that God is Dead? wasn’t End of the Beginning played slower. And the throwbacks don’t end there; Zeitgeist is essentially Planet Caravan, right down to the space lyrics, except it turns into a true acoustic song by the end.
And if you give Live Forever some time to finish building itself up, I think it becomes the faster part of Hand of Doom, but less interesting. I don’t know when he starts saying “Just before you die” just sing “Your mind is full of pleasure/Your body's looking ill” to yourself and see how you feel about it. The rest of the song doesn’t really do anything significant.
The last two songs are sort of sort of sludge epics, Damaged Soul giving Iommi some time to jam on some solos but not being anything too special, in my opinion, and Dear Father being a surprising highlight, even though when it speeds up, it reminds me a lot of the quicker part of Into The Void, although I guess the whole song sort of harkens back to that song in some ways. And fittingly with all of my references to taking inspiration from their past works, the album ends the same way their first began; thunder rain and a church bell in the distance.
As far as the album as a whole, in my opinion the guitar tune was a little bit of a complaint. The tuning and distortion didn’t really allow Iommi to shine as he did in the bands classic period, although I’m not sure if he would anyway, considering the riffs on this album seem to pale in comparison anyway. It just felt so much like generic doom metal, which is not what I feel Black Sabbath should be offering me. I don’t know why I dislike it so much, considering I enjoyed The Devil You Know, and I don’t think his tone was much different on that album. He seems more bogged down on this. To be fair, maybe it was because I wanted something more similar to their traditional style with the original line up reunion. And yet, listening back, The Devil You Know still has plenty more moments where the band stops playing Doom metal and really starts rocking. There aren’t any Eating the Cannibals or Neverwheres to be found here. And I guess that’s fine, but if I can make a prediction, I feel like it makes for an album that will maybe be well received until the nostalgia wears off, and then be ultimately forgotten.
Ozzy’s performance is pretty adequate. He’s never been a great singer, and a lot of what used to make him unique is gone, but he’s not entirely depressing, even if I think many of the songs would work better if he had more range. Again, he was never the best vocalist, but what ability he has lost over the years have made some impact, but I don’t think anyone will be surprised when they hear it.
One thing I must compliment the album on is its lyrical explorations. Very interesting stuff from Geezer here, as the lyrics explore questioning one’s own religious philosophies, the quandary of not wanting to die, and yet not wanting to live forever, and questioning if you’d be better off dead. Is Geezer in need of some anti-depressants, because even if some of the ideas and lyrics aren’t the most original, the fact that almost all of the songs on the album at least acknowledge these or similar feelings or thoughts… it’s kind of heavy shit.
Maybe this is a bunch of guys, guys I’m not sure even actually get along anymore, trying to recapture their 70's sound with modern sound. Tony Iommi is under the impression that because he inspired doom metal he should actually play it, and because of this I felt the album had a lack of memorable riffs. Despite all the negatives I’ve brought up, this is not bad, but it is average, and pretty blatantly derivative of their old material.
I’m sure many will disagree, but I felt this album was something of a disappointment. It’s somewhat generic for Black Sabbath, and for veterans, they seem to rely on their past work for inspiration a little too much. Again, this is not a complete failure, and it probably is worth at least checking out. This is a historic line-up reformation, even if it is without Bill Ward. Unfortunately, it also probably won’t blow you away either. It’s decent work, and will probably make most fans content, but to me, it feels a little uninspired, and I doubt I’ll think about it much once I start playing their older stuff in about five minutes, when I finish editing , revising and adding any final notes I have. And I guess that’s fine. This is still alright. But should we settle on Black Sabbath being just ‘alright’…?
I was pretty content with this review. I finished it and decided to base it on the album, and forget the bonus tracks, since even though I like to acknowledge them, I don’t let them affect the score, since they aren’t on all versions. I had, what I figured was a decent review, submitted, accepted, third in. Good stuff right?
Then I got curious about the four bonus tracks. And after checking them out, I had to say something, because WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT?!
Naïveté in Black, despite my expecting some shitty version of N.I.B. that would be similar to Warpurgis, is the most elusive of the four bonus tracks. It’s a fast paced rocker reminiscent of maybe T.V. Crimes or, more closely, Time Machine. It’s downtuned and a little muddy still, but it’s a good rocker that if puto n the album could alone have probably upped the score to 70%. Methademic has a slow acoustic intro that quickly builds into another decent rocker. Which begs the question, why the fuck did they make all these rockers, and then decide that they didn’t want any of them on the fucking album? The verse features quick drumming and a sort of melodic chord strum rather than a real riff, but my god, some parts of these songs Iommi sounds not only like he almost cares, but actually somewhat aggressive.
Don’t get too thrilled, not all of the bonus tracks are good. There’s always Peace of Mind, a sludgy sort of song that doesn’t really go anywhere or do anything. It speeds up a bit in its latter half, but shit, so do half the songs on the album. I don’t get why you’re so damn hesitant to just punch us in the face with some rock. Give us a Paranoid or Symptom of the Universe. Pariah is a little more mid-paced, and there really isn’t much to speak of here. But while these two songs are lacking, the bonus disc as a whole is probably better than the goddamnmotherfucking album. There is seriously more to remember here than the new fucking album. Sure, it’s still a little derivative, but at least it isn’t derivative AND boring.
Who let Sabbath write these fast paced tracks and then told them, “No, the fans just want to hear you play a bunch of slow, doomy songs, better to just not put these on the album.” BECAUSE PUTTING A FAST SONG ON THE ALBUM WOULD JUST BREAK MY FUCKING HEART. I can appreciate adding some decent bonus tracks to fans who want to pick up the deluxe edition, but this is borderline a ‘fuck you’ to anyone who didn’t. Fuck you Black Sabbath. Fuck you Sharon, I’m sure I can find a way to blame this on you, mostly since I’m convinced Ozzy died years ago, and what we’re seeing is literally a hollowed out marionette shell. I hope you get Iommi’s cancer. Not that it somehow becomes contagious, but that it actually jumps from Iommi, leaving him cancer free, and embeds itself in your fucking brain and you die.
…That escalated quickly. In short, if you’re gonna get it, put out the extra $5 for the deluxe edition, because it’s much more enjoyable. Or fuck it, don’t buy it. It’s still not their best work, and do you want to buy an album that wants to rape a few extra bucks out of you just to rise above ‘mediocre?’
In what had to be one of the longest rollouts for an album's release in memory the so-called "comeback" LP by Black Sabbath featuring original 'singer' (using that term loosely) finally hits the street. Can't call it the "original members" because drummer Bill Ward opted out and apparently Vinny Appice wasn't even asked. 3/4 reunion, ok?
One's reaction to this album largely rests on three things: 1) How do you feel about Ozzy Osbourne 2) Did you want your favorite band to plagiarize itself? 3) How do you feel about Rick Rubin?
The first question is an unavoidable one. Osbourne has been a self parody for nearly 30 years, hitting an all-time low with his insipid reality show. In fairness I need to set aside any personal dislike I have for Ozzy the image and review his efforts on '13' on their own merits. Still, for a guy that became famous as a solo artist from two moderately decent albums and 90% image and myth I should be allowed to take a jab at the cottage industry of Oz. Anyway, on '13' he doesn't sound as awful as one would expect. Based on truly wretched live performances vocally on the band's current tour it's obvious producer Rick Rubin had Ozzy sing his lines incessantly until they rose to the level of mediocrity, which is the best you can get from a 60+ year old rock singer who always had a mediocre, albeit unique and fitting for certain material, voice. What I find hilarious is how the old guy gets praise for not sucking! That's Ozzy and the nature of fandom.
Right from the opening "End Of The Beginning" Ozzy ee-nun-see-ates his verses with snail-paced phrasing. He makes an already eight minute song feel like an hour. Oh yeah six of the album's eight songs are unnecessarily long (more on that later). Quite simply these sound like guide vocals not the finished work. After two verses I found myself thinking. "Man, if Ronnie James Dio was singing this could be killer" because make no mistake about it- this is vintage style Sabbath doom 'metal' and prog rock. Iommi's riffage is unmistakable and his tone evokes the early 70s for the first time since the band's glory days. But that's part of the problem. It's been written many times that Rubin allegedly played the band's first four brilliant albums to the band and said they needed to sound like that again. Mission accomplished. This album drips with musical references and arrangements of the early days. It's so contrived you'd almost mistake it for a parody. Long songs, doomy tempos, provocative lyrics, etc.
Speaking of lyrics the album's boring first single, "God Is Dead?", is banal to the extreme. Think "gloom/doom/tomb" rhymes and you get the picture. Speaking of "GID" this is another in a series of songs that have no business being seven-plus minutes. Clocking in at nearly nine (!) minutes this interminable track takes about six minutes to get to the interesting bit where it switches to uptempo and we are greeted with a classic Iommi riff that continues for the duration. It swings mightily for those three minutes granted but those first six minutes gave me the same feeling I had when watching the Robin Williams movie "Toys". Crushing dullness. Most songs on this album fail to merit long running times. They're not interesting enough and it just gives too much space for Ozzy to drag the album down and drag it down he does.
Even on the "faster" (barely) songs like "Loner" Ozzy inspires laughter with his trademark "oh yeah!'s" and "come on now!" fillers. At least "Loner", despite simplistic lyrics (sample "He's just a loner/ He does things alone"), rocks a little. Again Dio would have elevated this one ten stories.
The album does contain two exceptional songs. "Zeitgeist" with it's bongos, jazzy guitar lines and breezy slowness reminds me of the band's great "Planet Caravan". Immediately I had to go back and listen a second time to accept this album contained a genuinely good song. It does and even contains one approaching greatness. The bluesy "Damaged Soul" is the one time the band revisits it's roots and doesn't elicit cringes. The band simmers on this one. Ozzy doesn't venture out of his tiny comfort zone vocally while Iommi wrings every drop out of his guitar strings. There's even an Osbourne harmonica bit just like the old days. This one works because it feels like a loose jam session that Rubin let slip his fussy grips.
That brings us to the notorious Rick Rubin, king of compression and loudness behind the board. I don't claim to be an audio expert but there's just something sterile about his productions. Every instrument is crystal clear and all up in your ears. On this one Ozzy's vocals just sound so clinical. While listening I kept picturing Rubin saying to Ozzy: "Alright Ozzy, let's do that line again and again and again and...." because his singing seems almost programmed. That's the case of this whole album. It's so unashamedly contrived you just don't get lost in the music. Oddly, though, Iommi- the obvious hero on this LP- sounds great throughout the album. Geezer Butler's bass is mixed right too. The drums? Flat sounding and forgettable. It's like they told Brad Wilk "Okay, just keep a beat and don't try to get cute buddy!".
Bottom line: Ozzy fans will call this a masterpiece because it sounds like classic Sabbath and Ozzy can do no wrong. Fans who are now professional critics will rate it high because of their shock that it isn't as terrible as predicted. Those of us that like Black Sabbath but don't exactly consider Ozzy-related projects among our favorites won't be able to overlook the albums many flaws. I blame it on Ozzy first. Rubin second.