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God Is Dead? Was the first and only single released from Black Sabbath’s 13. This is in no way a traditional three minute single off of your typical album. It is a slow developing, doomy 9 minute slab of Black Sabbath. Once again the Ozzy fronted version of the band shows their creativity and their lack of concern for the mainstream. They do whatever the hell they want to on their own terms. God is Dead is a musical piece, not just a song.
It is not secret that Iommi is a riff master. The song itself starts out slow with that doom and gloom riff that Black Sabbath coined in the early 70’s. Iommi’s riffing conjures up an atmosphere of impending doom throughout the song and he proves once again to be at the top of his game even when facing death. The song moves at a snail’s pace as it ebbs and flows from the softer gloomy riff and the ultra-heavy doom riff. The song really picks up around the 6:00 mark as it rises up from the doom and gloom with a Hole in the Sky flavored fast riff. Almost immediately after we are punished by a more up-tempo riff makes you want to head bang because of the sheer heaviness. We also get an uncharacteristically short solo that acts as icing on the cake to a wonderful performance from Iommi. The solo is short but it really works well with the song. Just because it is a 9 minute song doesn’t mean that there has to be a wealth of careless noodling on the guitar. The solo just fits and enhances the song without losing much focus. Of course Black Sabbath is known for the riffs and I hope I have made that apparent that God is Dead? has a wide variety of classic Iommi.
Much like the entire 13 album, this song is heavy, doomy and certainly thought provoking. The song seems blasphemous at first listen because God being dead is quite the sensitive subject. It is controversial to have a song like this on an album let alone a single release. The informed and intelligent are able to see the connection with Friedrich Nietzsche and his famous phrase. It really doesn’t deal with the literal death of god but it deals with god on a philosophical level. Nietzsche claimed that god was dead in our hearts and all the bad things going on in this world make that evident. That is what this song is about to put it in the most basic way. Geezer takes us inside a religion fellows mind as he tries to justify god’s existence.
If you listen to the lyrics which are easy to follow along with, you can hear Ozzy say “I don’t believe that God is dead”. In my mind the religious individual is not really sure of himself anymore and he could be losing touch with God along with the entire world. I think Nietzsche would be proud. The song delves deep into an age old issue with a twist that proves that Geezer Butler is still capable of writing thought provoking lyric sand that a band from the 70’s can still have their classic sound while still sounding relevant.
There is absolutely nothing that I can find that is faulty with this single. It shatters the mold of a typical single. It has fantastic Nietzsche Purple Spaghetti artwork which is utterly ridiculous in an awesome way. It is a slow, doomy track that the original Black Sabbath is known for with fantastic thought provoking lyrics. Geezer and Tony really shine on this with an incredibly loud bass style and a short but effective guitar solo respectively. In my eyes this song is a great musical piece that fits well in the Black Sabbath discography. I would have enjoyed a traditional single release instead of just digital download on Amazon and Itunes. I would love to have that artwork to look at but the only way you can get it is by getting the super deluxe package only available on BlackSabbath.com. Aside from that small blunder, I cannot find much fault with this fantastic song!
So Black Sabbath return for real with new material, with Ozzy on the microphone. Everyone is excited for the return of their heroes, and anticipation is high for the next album, Megadeth's Th1rt3en. No wait, sorry, Black Sabbath's 13. Yes, this is a super exciting time. But no, 'God is Dead?' isn't the super exciting release everyone hoped for.
At this point, with the thousands of Sabbath imitations out there and the general evolution of metal since the 70s, it is difficult for the band to sound exceptional any more. For instance, the run-of-the-mill clean guitar part during the verses could have been written by anyone. It wouldn't be under the spotlight if it were just a little more complex and less 'DARK!!'. Of course, this leaves the door open for Ozzy's unique vocals to elevate the track to the usual Sabbath standards. Given some fairly interesting lyrics, Ozzy just sounds tired. Even when the track intensifies, when things should go in to overdrive, Ozzy is stuck in the same octave, with an almost identical lyrical pattern, with only 'God is Dead!' to punctuate the monotony. The song is just under 9 minutes, and does nothing to justify such length. I suspect had the song been cut by two or three minutes so that the energetic last section starts in the middle rather than towards the end, the reaction would have been a lot better, and this rating would be higher. Unfortunately, each play of 'God is Dead?' leaves the listener wondering why they haven't just put on four Slayer songs instead, or why they aren't playing 'A National Acrobat' and doing 2 and a half minutes of exercise when it is finished.
New listeners probably won't understand what the fuss is about. They'll wonder who these old farts are and why it is such a big deal for them to be making a comeback. In the case of 'God is Dead?', can you blame them? I can't. The upside is that the new CSI-premiered track sounds like something not to fake getting excited about. Let's hope the album rocks too!
There has been talks of a reunion of the classic Black Sabbath line up for what feels like forever, and I must admit I felt skeptical that it would ever happen. In a way it hasn't, because Brad Wilks of Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave fame has replaced Bill Ward as the skinsman. However, although the omission of Ward is unfortunate, this still is effectively a classic Black Sabbath reunion. I have to admit that because of Ozzy's solo work I was a bit worried that this could possibly turn out to be something that could be damaging to their legacy (some would argue that they already did this with the final two albums of their classic era, but they effectively recovered with Dio). The first offering from their upcoming albums is the Nietzsche inspired single "God Is Dead?".
I was never expecting a perfect return to the glory of their early albums. Those album represented a particular moment in time; one where everything they were doing was new territory. While this certainly isn't as good as the classic days, it certainly is no fuck up. The production isn't as raw as it was in the 70s, but I kind of expected this would be the case. Thankfully it is not polished to the point where it starts taking away from the music. Ozzy's voice is less nasally than it was on the old material and is, well, not as good. However, they could be so much worse. I saw him live recently, and although it was most definitely a good time, the vocals seemed to be wavering a bit. His vocals have been quite bad on recent albums, as well. I've heard that Rick Rubin really pushed Ozzy to do his best here, and the effort paid off. Again, they don't recapture the old glory days, but they are passable. My biggest criticism is that they do seem too overproduced, much more so than any of the instruments. The lyrics are pretty cool, except for the occasional flub such as "Out of the gloom I rise up from my tomb into impending doom".
If this track proves anything, it's that Iommi is still the fucking man. He is essentially responsible for the establishment of metal as a whole as well as the subgenre of doom metal, and he never really has lost his touch. Releasing a nearly nine minute long song was a ballsy move for the mostly reformed Sabbath lineup. However, this risk plays off. This gives the song time to grow naturally as well as time for the atmosphere to sink in. Iommi's guitar work is really what makes the track. From the more pensive tritones, to the more ass kicking riffing, it is readily apparent that the man still knows what the fuck he is doing. Although the lead guitar is very brief, goddamn does it deliver. It is a compromise between the more bluesy style employed when Ozzy was originally in the band and the more melodic style often used after his departure. It captures the best of both worlds. Geezer's bass hangs low, with a dominant tone, often deviating from the guitar.
The fact that the replacement for Ward is the man who played with Rage Against The Machine has been somewhat controversial in the metal scene. If you think they are a terrible band, I still don't get what would imply that the man is a bad drummer. Even if you don't like their sound, I can't see anything wrong with the drums on any Rage albums. Personally I really like the first RATM album, with the others being largely hit or miss and not retaining the anger and intensity of the self titled (I think a lot of this has to do with a pissed off fiercely anti-capitalist far-left band getting rich off the capitalist system they hate not really working). Anyway, Brad proves that he can get the job done. Although I would still rather Ward, who I especially love for his brief drum solos and his fills, I have absolutely no problem with the former RATM drummer behind the kit.
Though the former glory of classic Black Sabbath can never truly be recaptured or replicated, I'm just glad they're back together making music that isn't lame. I could go comparing this to the old stuff all day, but in the end, despite not being as good, this is worth listening to in it's own right. Although the production and especially the vocals sounds more modern, the band still sound like Sabbath and I'd take this over Never Say Die! any day of the week. Time will tell what the rest of the album will bring us, but I am now much more confident that it will be a successful one.
Wow. Just wow. Upon hearing that a new Sabbath single had been released, I ran to listen at the earliest opportunity. And, well, I didn't like it. So I left it a few days, spoke it through with some friends who loved it, and went back to listen. And I still didn't like it. When one listens to Ozzy's vocals on Master of Reality and Vol. 4, we encounter a brilliant vocalist - full of energy and vocal range. When we listen to Heaven and Hell; to Paranoid; to Born Again, we are presented with the musical genius of Tony Iommi, whose simplistic riffs are the most catchy of any metal band and provides hours of pleasurable listening experience.
So what's with this?
The track relies on 3 or 4 main riffs: a slow acoustic one, that attempts to seem dark with use of the tritone and sadly fails; a use of one note repeated to build up before a chorus; an average chorus riff; and a brilliant solo build-up riff. The song is, as with most Sabbath stuff, based around pentatonic minor and blues scales, but here it just lacks any sort of punch. There's no really catchy riffs or beat, save perhaps the riff before the solo. The bass, which carries a similar tone to Steve Harris' [of Iron Maiden], plays a series of open 'twanged' strings throughout several of Iommi's riffs, which adds a dirty and annoying feel to the song. As if the riff wasn't boring enough already, they add dirty lo-fi bass to it. Blegh.
Ozzy's vocals are also disappointing. His vocal range is contained to one octave, and only varies by a few notes at a time. He seems tired whilst singing, and it's sad to listen to. He also seems way too high in the mix, because the song doesn't seem "full" to listen to. One can hear Ozzy prominently, but the riffs seem either too distant or too quiet. I can't quite put my finger on it. To add insult to injury, the lyrics themselves are rather boring. There's no other way of putting it.
The positives: Iommi's solo, and the riff that builds up to it. Based on the blues scale, we are treated to a glimpse of what this song could truly be. The drums blast around a series of blues scale descensions, after which Tony himself delivers a 4-bar solo that takes us back to early Sabbath. It's beautiful to hear, but it quickly returns to the boring riffs and Ozzy singing "God is dead..?" Oh, and speaking of drums, the drums here do what they must, essentially. They're not brilliant nor boring, they're just there.
*Sigh* It's a shame. There was so much potential, and it seems to have been wasted. I pray that the new album is more upbeat, catchier and just more Sabbath than this one, or else it does truly demonstrate that the Prince of Darkness and Godfathers of Heavy Metal are finally getting too old for this.