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’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talk, anticipation and speculation as to how the new material will sound and compare artistically with the music that originally made them so important in the first place.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.