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Though it was barely acknowledged when first released in 1989, it's hard to emphasize just how significant Headless Cross is in the grand scheme of Black Sabbath's career. The Eternal Idol had previously explored a darker sound and introduced what was left of the fanbase to singer Tony Martin, but Headless Cross perfected the style and pushed its strongest elements to even further heights. It wasn't a monolith statement but it could be regarded as the first true Sabbath album since the early 80s.
For starters, there hadn't been a Sabbath lineup that showed off this much talent and chemistry since The Mob Rules. The production is clearer than The Eternal Idol's had been, giving Goeff Nicholls's keyboards room to provide some admittedly dated atmosphere and allowing drummer Cozy Powell's hard hitting barrages to give extra aggression to Iommi's signature riffs and solos. Tony Martin also seems to be more comfortable this time around, showing off a wide range and dramatic character that was previously limited by a need to match Ray Gillen. Bassist Lawrence Cottle also manages to stand out on the title track despite only playing on this as a session member.
The band's doomy power glam template also allows for varied songwriting. The title track and "When Death Calls" are easily the album's strongest tracks as the former recycles the anthemic march of "Heaven And Hell" to great effect while the latter has some climactic tempo changes and soaring vocals. Elsewhere, "Devil And Daughter" borders on speed metal, "Black Moon" effortlessly alternates between blues and power metal, and the closing "Nightwing" serves as a grand but ominous ballad.
The lyrics also opt for a darker tone though this has become a point of contention for some listeners. In contrast to the occult warnings of Sabbath's classic era, Headless Cross is much less subtle and takes cues from King Diamond. The results are about as campy and may be too cheesy for those used to grimmer insights. If anything, pointing out all the times Martin ad libs and references Satan would probably make for a fun drinking game...
Like any good 80s slasher flick, Headless Cross is a little too dated to have the scare factor it may have once had but its excellent performances give it a timeless appeal. Black Sabbath feels renewed here and the album has its share of classics even if they are frequently dwarfed by the band's more famous ventures. It's a shame that this didn't put them back into mainstream relevance but subsequent releases were enough to prove the band's staying power.
"When Death Calls"
The 'black sheep' in the title refers to the status of this record among all the other influential and good quality Black Sabbath offerings. We all know little (or more) about Black Sabbath's history, their line-up changes, their music, their influence in the metal scene and their fame. We also know some harsh truths as well, one of them being that the Ozzy era gets way too much credit while the later 80s and 90s albums (except for the Dio years) gets almost no credit. A shame indeed, as we will see that Sabbath did not run out of fuel once Dio exited the band.
Born Again was a bit of an oddball for me. It was an album that you either would just love it, or you would hate it to the core. If anything, it managed to polarize Sabbath's fan-base which I think it was a good idea (too much solidarity kinda blows) but at the same time it represented the clear path of decline for the band. Seventh Star was another oddball as it tried to borrow a few things from what was commerical in rock music during that time (pointing at the glam scene from the US) but it got a little bit underrated simply because it was supposed to be a solo project of Iommi, rather than a Sabbath release. The Eternal Idol marked the real revival of the band, even though the record was plagued by inconsistencies in the song-writing deparment and the newly appointed vocalist, Tony Martin did not have enough time to settle within the band.
And here comes Headless Cross. Luckily, this album was not done in a 'headless' manner, Iommi seemed to have invested a lot of energy and passion in it, thus it sounds fresh but at the same time, I believe it to be the darkest album Sabbath ever recorded. It is also a semi-conceptual album revolving around the incidence of black murrain in Medieval England as Headless Cross seems to be a real location, not an invented one. But when things are said and done, Iommi is not the only factor that manage to make this album sound great. It is also the contribution of Tony Martin that made this album what it is.
Tony Martin, in my view, is a vocalist that does not have the wide range and vocal spectrum like his predecessor and he can't hit the high notes that Ronnie James Dio could, which for a part of the fan-base might've been a bummer, although he can sing in a more varied way compared to Ozzy. For me, Tony Martin gets the second place as the best vocalist Sabbath ever had in its line-up. Same like Dio, Martin also has his way of providing a deep and emotional performance, especially on songs such as 'When Death Calls' (which features a guitar solo done by Brian May of Queen's fame) which is probably the darkest song Sabbath ever created (atmospheric wise) since their debut. Also, the other band members had an important contribution as well and here I mention the late Cozy Powell with his drumming that partially reminded me of Bill Ward and the keyboardist Geoff Nichols from Quartz' fame.
Iommi and the gang this time preferred to play with some occult lyrical themes, a sensitive issue since the band has always been haunted by people that would use their reputation for their own benefit, and also by people that would just criticize them for this sort of exposure. Regardless, I did not find any of their previous material anywhere near satanic, but it seems like Tony Martin really had some balls when he came up with these lyrics. The eponymous song and When Death Calls feature minor mentions of Satan, but not in the worshiping way that you see in some death metal bands (Deicide) or black metal bands (you name them). If anything, they just use it as a sort of scarecrow, rather than a character worthy of being worshiped or admired.
Sabbath also presents fast-paced tracks (as opposed to the mid-paced tracks that I already mentioned) such as 'Devil and Daughter', track on which Martin proves that he possesses healthy lungs too. 'Kill in the Spirit World' is also a nice track that features a pop-rock riff, probably a remnant of the Seventh Star recording period which later develops into an incredibly heavy and evil atmosphere with Iommi provinding some evil riffage that blows your mind. 'Call of the Widl' does not argue about our daily toilet needs, but how nature pisses on us, literally! Initially, this song was supposed to be named 'Heroes' but I am glad that they discarded this song title (even though it got discarded for a stupid reason) as this one fits the theme of the song much more.
'Black Moon' is a B-side track from the recordings of The Eternal Idol played in a different key which does not sound all that bad. At the very least it maintains the quality of the record while being more bluesy and doomish than the previous ones while the closing song, 'Nightwing' represents another highlight of this offering which plays with the tempo all along until the end. Yeah, there is another track featured as a bonus on the picture disk but I am glad that it will stay there as it feels like it is from another movie.
All in all, Black Sabbath basicaly reentered on the metal map with this record and has proven that they were not yet devoid of creativity. The new members brought a breath of fresh air in the song-writing department and Martin even brought new insights in the lyrical department as there was no Geezer Butler to cary out in this domain anymore. Suffice to say, except for the production quality, you can't really complain about this record as there are basicaly no flaws other than a weak bonus track. Unfortunately, the Tony Martin era gets way too easily discarded because of the fame of the other two frontmen which is ashame since he ain't a bad frontman either. If you wish to check out this era of Sabbath, then I think Headless Cross is the perfect choice to begin with.
Black Sabbath past 1983 is not a topic you generally see brought up in discussions about the band and their 40+ year history. For a number of reasons (the negative critical reaction to Born Again, the bumping up of Tony Iommi solo record Seventh Star to Sabbath album and its subsequent tour falling to pieces, the constantly rotating lineup from the points Bill Ward and Geezer Butler quit in 1983 and 1984 respectively up through the first original lineup reunion, among others), for nearly 15 years the band was critically and commercially ignored save 1992's Dehumanizer, which featured fan favorite vocalist Ronnie James Dio fronting the classic Mob Rules lineup, which later went on to form Heaven and Hell in the mid-2000s. Amid the bedlam of lineup changes in the lead up to 1987's The Eternal Idol, Iommi enlisted the services of Tony Martin, who would go on to be the longest running singer in the band's history aside from Ozzy Osbourne. With Martin at the forefront, the band would release a string of criminally underrated albums, none moreso than 1989's Headless Cross, an album that combines the majesty of Ronnie Dio's albums with the evil, black magic overtures of Ozzy's albums, dumps a big fat pile of "80s" on it, and gives us an absolutely magnificent album in the process.
When you think of Black Sabbath, generally what comes to minds of most are stripped down production values, Iommi's proto-doom riffing style, heavy, thumping bass lines, and Ozzy's signature crooning, right? Well throw all that out the window, because Headless Cross is, for the most part, the opposite of the classic Sabbath sound. What we've got instead is an album that strives to be as grandiose as it possibly can be, what with Martin's impassioned, powerful wailing soaring over Tony Iommi's guitar work which, while still being very clearly Tony Iommi, takes a more epic, rocking turn. The music here, as a rule, is driven primarily by the vocals, with the rest of the music serving as the backdrop for Martin's voice to sail above it. Some songs are more active than others, with special mention going to the catchy as all hell swing of "Devil and Daughter" and "Black Moon Rising". Nods to classic Sabbath exist here, such as the title track's heavy resemblance to the "Heaven and Hell" from the eponymous album, the chorus riff of closer "Nightwing" still retaining that doomy, proto-stoner feel to it from old Sabbath, and the song "Black Moon Rising" practically being a classic-style Sabbath song, but for the most part this is a new sound performed with the passion of a group that's trying as hard as they can to make a great record.
Bass here, while prominent, isn't as much a driving factor to the music as it was on the older material. This is alright for me, as the music doesn't really call for super active bass lines as it did in the older, significantly more stripped down material from the band. The slack is picked up by the heavily increased use of synthesizers and keyboards, courtesy of then-longtime unofficial member Geoff Nicholls. The keyboards help give the album the incredibly "80s" feel it has along with the production style, rich in reverb and echo just as you'd expect a mid-to-late 80s rock or metal album to be. It could be considered "overproduced" for the time, but the music found here, excellent as it is, wouldn't be nearly as grandiose sounding if it had the production style of the older Sabbath records or even the style of contemporary bands like Iron Maiden. The legendary Cozy Powell's drums pulsate through the songs, rarely taking the forefront yet still active enough to not be boring. In other words, they fit the music perfectly.
Lastly, there's Tony Martin. I cannot imagine a more fitting voice over top this material than his, and he delivers the performance of his life here. As mentioned previously, Martin's vocals are the main focus of the music on Headless Cross, and considering he was on equal ground creatively with Iommi for this album, it's understandable why he would make it so. Martin was also for all the lyrics on Headless Cross, which take a decidedly darker approach than even the albums on which Ozzy Osbourne was the singer. Devilish themes had always been a main topic of the band's songs, but this was the first Black Sabbath record to be almost entirely about Satan, with "Nightwing" being the sole exception. "Nightwing" may just be my favorite song lyrically on the album, reading as if the words came from an olden time story of the titular winged beast of the night. It's like metal music made specifically for listening around the Halloween season, and that isn't a bad thing in the slightest.
As time has progressed, the reputation of Headless Cross, as well as most of the other Martin-era Sabbath albums, has increased dramatically for the better. Those who may not have been aware of its existence have discovered, or rediscovered in the case of older listeners, the album and have had almost universally positive words for it. As one of those younger persons not initially aware of the Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath records, I can say with certainty that Headless Cross is my favorite album from all the eras of the band. I know plenty of people who would cry heresy at that statement, they having worshiped the vinyl Black Sabbath through Sabotage were pressed on since their early years, and for people like that you can't really say otherwise to change their mind. For others with a more open mind, or those not aware of the band's records beyond the Ozzy and Dio eras (and Born Again), or those just interested in ridiculously epic 80s heavy metal, you absolutely should listen to Headless Cross. It is a slab of heavy metal perfection that will not disappoint.
"The Eternal Idol" was no mega hit, but it was more successful than a lot of heads could have predicted. After a lengthy tour, Tony Iommi and Tony Martin went back in the studio to dish put yet another heaping helping of atmospheric heavy metal. Iommi later reflected that much was well in his life at this time, and the whole process of making this album was considerably less chaotic than the work put to make "The Eternal Idol". This reflects in 1989's " Headless Cross", another excursion into the dark realm of 80's Sabbath. Admittedly overall this effort doesn't pop quite as well as the last album, as it tends to fall really flat near the end of the album. But when all's said and done, good album is a good album, and it includes one of the best metal songs of the 1980's, if not ever...
Black Sabbath turned back into a tighter team this time thanks to meticulous auditions and the help of friends. Iommi still kills in the way of memorable riffs and shredding solos, which now feel even more spirited than on the last album. Tony Martin gives one hell of a performance once more, his series of humming wails and howls as darkly powerful as ever. Replacing Bob Daisley is one Laurence Cottle, whose swaggering string work adds immensely to the heaviness and aura. Lastly the drumming. Oh yes, on the kit is the late, legendary skin-basher Cozy Powell, giving a restrained but very powerful and stead-sure performance throughout the record.
Like I mentioned before, the album is rather front-heavy with the stronger tracks, while later on it kinda fizzles out. But even still the spooky atmosphere remains strong. "Kill In The Spirit World" and "Call of The Wild" have a few okay riffs thrown around but otherwise they're really boring and kinda keep going on and on. Also, I'm sure I'm gonna get crucified for this, but I never really liked "Nightwing". OUCH! Someone just threw something heavy at me and I seem to be bleeding profusely...OK, I'm back. Yeah, I know everyone seems to go ga-ga for this track but I never found it terribly engaging or interesting. No apologies. Most else though is damn fine, like the stomping, bluesy heaviness of the cool "Black Moon" or the catchy, vaguely commercially-accessible "Devil And Daughter". Then...the title track. Oh my fucking head wound. This is one of Sabbath's best songs. This is one of the best metal songs of the 80's. This is one of the best metal songs EVER! The thundering drum fill to hook you in, the fluttering, deep bass, the skull-crushing buildup to the chorus, and that riff, oh my fuck that heavy fucking RIFF! You got to hear this one to believe it, preferably in front of your computer at the stroke of midnight with all the lights turned off.
Overall, "Headless Cross" lacks a little of that oomph that made "Eternal Idol" stronger, but it's still no weak effort. The performance of the band is tight as hell, the riffs and solos kill aside from a few clunkers, and that rich, dark atmosphere still rides on high. Black Sabbath waits for you, for death, for torture...AT THE HEADLESS CROOOOOOOSSS!
I've long been an advocate of the non-mentioned, non-Ozzy Sabbath albums. Mob Rules, Heaven and Hell (to a lesser extent), Eternal Idol and in particular Headless Cross get the same attention that an orphan from China gets from non-celebrity parents. Even on my own blog I've been adamant about the lack of attention given these releases dating back to 2009 when I did a quick article reviewing several albums rather briefly including Black Sabbath's Headless Cross and as recently as a couple weeks ago upon Sabbath's release of the abhorrent God is Dead? music video starring the vocally impotent Ozzy Osbourne. I digress however as I'm not interested in proving how terrible Ozzy is in comparison to every vocalist Sabbath has had since and prior. Rather, Headless Cross deserves mention and awareness because of a slough of great songs, great performances and to hopefully cut through the plague of individuals out there that attempt to sully the work Sabbath did after Ozzy's dismissal and after the impeccable vocal marksmanship of Ronnie James Dio on Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules.
I originally owned the CD Version of Headless Cross which I neglected in my youth. I traded it away for a copy of The Puritan's Lithium Gates. Doom for doom at least but I lost out on three of the greatest Sabbath (Headless Cross, Devil and Daughter and When Death Calls) tracks in favor of one immense extreme Dooooom track (It Is Your Own Decision To Respect Life). I picked up a copy of the album vinyl as soon as possible to overcome this self-imposed wrongdoing. While both albums retain minimal artwork, I must admit, the cover to Headless Cross is one of the most immediate and definite representations of Doom and of Heavy Metal which has ever been inked onto a one square foot record sleeve. The ominous cemetarial cross harkens the subject matter within, the black and white colorless manifest to this day is reminiscent of so many of the albums covers employed throughout metal, especially within the underground and the backside of the album, featuring the broken cross headstone, symbolizes the heavy metal stance - agreed upon by so many - of an anti-religion, anti-establishment credo which has become ingrained in the minds and imagery of the genre. But looking closer there are subtleties. There is no image of the musicians or mention of them on the outside of the release. The Black Sabbath moniker appears small on the cover and the album title appears only on the reverse. The emphasis is on the Cross and the hidden moon, small in an ebony sky behind cimmerian clouds.
Everything here is precisely effectual starting from the ominous introductory piece "The Gates of Hell," straight through the final track, "Nightwing." There is a definitive 80's production here which is not to be supplanted but it's one of the album's strengths. The atmosphere created by Geoff Nicholls' keyboards at pivotal moments through tracks like "Call of the Wild" maintain that horror-like motif of 70's films. Those that claim the album is an 80's glam album need look no further than the lyrics which are morbid and demonic. If anything, what could be perceived as an attempt towards 80's accessibility could actually be deemed a clever and devilish propaganda trick. Ignorant vagrants looking for an album to enjoy could be seized unwittingly and thrust into the darkest and deepest throes of the Devil's malice. It happened to Brian May of Queen fame -he appears on the album's most powerful and emotive track, "When Death Calls," - at the behest of Satan and even the acoustic moments of album draw thee in. I've been lost for a long time.
The four best tracks are the irreplaceable title track which, with it's steady drum beat and iconic clear yet muffed guitar tone, lead the way through a story which - at least after listening to this album so many times - I could imagine no one else narrating other than Tony Martin. One of the least talked about aspects of this album is Laurence Cottle who direct and particularly syncopated style comes across well on this album. His bass lines are notably driven on the album and while he rarely does anything of particular technical prowess, without the momentum of his bass lines, songs like "Devil and Daughter" would be nothing but a collection of well intentioned riffs over a metronome-like Cozy Powell. He pulls the rhythm section from beyond and ties it to the surface with one big subtle knot noticeable only after direct contact for long periods of time such as I have been known to enjoy with this album. Ultimately the three best tracks are the A-sides on this album though and after the title track, "Devil And Daughter" is fun and naughty, pleasurable and painful. Memorable to infinite ends. "When Death Calls" ends the A side with a menacing, discomforting and powerful. When Death Calls... There's no tomorrow. For me, when Martin proclaims "For I Believe, Satan lives in the souls of the dying," I get shivers at easy it is to hear that on a record and know that line would freak 90% of the world out. Awesome riffs and Brian May's lead is one of the best ever put on a record.
The B-sides are less engaging. "Kill in the Spirit World," while momentarily strong during the choruses and pre-solo instrumental sections reverts constantly to an unfittingly optimistic verse. The solo is excellent but that verse... "Call of the Wild," also suffers from a similar fate though less pronounced as that encouraging vibe is dashed after the intro for the most part. Another notable lead. Recognize the pattern here? "Black Moon," is notable for it's stop start main riff and strong finale of leads and big chords complementing Tony Martin's croons. "Nightwing," starts with some killer fretless bass work, acoustics and keys before following a similar structure as "When Death Calls," with the heavy emphasis on the refrains. While a strong track, the A-sides are just so good they make the B-sides seem less than they probably really are. Great album through and through even with some small flaws on the follow through side. It's hard to find an album with no flaws though, and I'm not one to ignore them to prop up a previously acknowledged opinion on what Sabbath's best era is. I think the music itself backs that up and it sure as hell came after 1979.
Originally written for Contaminated Tones
"Headless Cross" marks the end of Iommi indulging in the commercial stuff that he likes (his solo album and "Eternal Idol") and trying forcefully to re-establish Sabbath as a credible name for the late-'80s metal crowd, possibly for financial reasons. "Heaven and Hell" had been an album were Sabbath triumphantly re-entered the post-NWOBHM metal scene while sounding fresh and authentic. They had help from Dio, who had sung some fast and heavy stuff with Rainbow ("Kill the King", "Light in the Black"), and it can be clearly seen between "Never Say Die" and "Heaven and Hell" that Iommi reinvented (learned) his soloing style.
At "Headless Cross" times, the metal scene consisted mostly of glam rock/metal on one hand and of speed/thrash metal on the other. Iommi couldn't completely turn thrash metal, no one would have bought that, so instead he kept some form of commercial metal that didn't have the glam imagery. Hence the quasi-Satanic lyrics on this album that weren't a trademark of Sabbath, but were now expected out of their legacy (just their name alone) and of rumors concerning Ozzy 's lifestyle (bats and doves) which had had a ripple effect on Sabbath, too.
There are obvious moments on this album when Iommi consciously created songs that would remind listeners of previous glorious Sabbath songs while trying not to copy them too much. "Devil and Daughter" definitely re-brands the "Children of the Grave" riff and structure, while the pace and bass line of "Headless Cross" are reminiscent of "Heaven and Hell"'s. It's clear on "Headless Cross" that Martin was going to try and sound like Dio, contrarily to the previous album where had to copy Ray Gillen's guide vocals, and Ray Gillen hadn't been quite told to copy anyone. Geoff Nichols was in the band at the time and was the longest serving Sabbath member after Iommi, which helped maintain some aspects of the Dio-era sound because Nichols had been more involved than usual in "Heaven and Hell" during the short moment when Butler quit.
"When Death Calls" is an excellent ballad and it ends with a faster part like some early Sabbath numbers (including the self-titled track or also "Heaven and Hell"), but it wouldn't appeal to ballad lovers because of the lyrics and imagery. "Nightwing" is another good Dio-type ballad, quiet with heavy moments with interesting acoustic guitar from Iommi. Some other songs are kind of similar, but "Black Moon" has a more distinct feel than the rest of this album, a short blues rock number written during the "Eternal Idol" sessions.
In "Call of the Wild", Martin tried to reference both Ozzy and Dio eras with the mention of Lucifer ("N.I.B.") and princes and kings ("Neon Knight": dragons and kings). In "Devil and Daughter" he re-used some of the lines he wrote during his stint with Blue Murder for the song "Valley of the Kings" (itself a variation on "Kashmir" with some "Stargazer" influences). The latter song does sound quite like Martin-era Sabbath, which shows that Martin really brought his own vocal lines (though influenced by Dio). To say a bit more about the lyrics, the "Devil and Daughter" title is similar to Ozzy's "Devil's Daughter" that came out the year before ("No Rest for the Wicked"), and the chorus to "Call of the Wild" (Hero) is the "unknown" title to Ozzy's hidden track on the same album. Bob Daisley played bass on the previous Sabbath album and then with Ozzy on "No Rest for the Wicked", so perhaps that could explain the similar song titles? To be sure, Martin contributed most of the lyrics, but it's not impossible that he had "working" titles set by Daisley during previous sessions.
All and all, the problem with the Martin era was not Martin's voice, which was excellent. It was simply that the band didn't produce anything original, and what they produced was deemed too wimpy by thrash metal fans and too dark and "Satanic" by glam metal fans. The guys didn't look like the guys in Poison; Martin's hair was on par with Geoff Tate's...going, going...and that didn't help video clip rotation or poster sales. Though The Scorpions did appeal to "ballad fans" despite their older and rugged look, they sang about believing in love, not about Satan living in the souls of the dying.
When you think of Black Sabbath , frontmen Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio would come to mind. But does anyone remember Tony Martin? You know, the guy who fronted Sabbath for 10 years after Ian Gillan and Glenn Hughes had lead vocal duty? As it turns out Tony Martin stood at the mic longer than any other Black Sabbath vocalist not named Ozzy Osbourne. Even longer than iconic replacement Ronnie James Dio. And yet some casual Black Sabbath fans have probably never even heard of him. A decent number of hardcore fans also tend to overlook and disregard that era of Sabbath, as Tony Iommi was the sole remaining founding member and seemed to have a new lineup with him every few months or so. Combined with a drastic change in sound from the bluesy Ozzy era and the fantastical Dio era is what caused many to question Black Sabbath's legitimacy and led to the band's decline in fame. Tony Martin was hired as a replacement for Ray Gillen during the recording of The Eternal Idol and did quite a stand up job. His first test passed, Martin returned with Sabbath to the studio for the follow-up. The result was Sabbath's most evil and underrated masterpiece: Headless Cross.
While Black Sabbath had generated controversy as a "Satanic" band since its inception with songs like Black Sabbath and N.I.B., very few of their songs had anything to do with the devil and instead focused on topics such as war, drug addiction, and society. Even the fantasy-based Dio era was more focused on wizards and what have you. Thus, Headless Cross is lyrically Black Sabbath's darkest album, with every song (minus bonus track Cloak and Dagger) dealing with the occult and supernatural. And yet it is not a doom metal album either, most of the songs being upbeat and epic rockers contrasted by eerie and demonic-sounding keyboards. To pull off such an effort, Geoff Nicholls does some of his finest key work on Headless Cross with spine-chilling yet ambient melodies. Newest recruit and Rainbow veteran Cozy Powell brings his trademark snare to the forefront, ultimately solidifying his status as second to Bill Ward. The bass work is also impressive as jazz-oriented session member Laurence Cottle does a good job complimenting Tony Iommi with some of his most underrated guitar riffs and solos. The bass intro of When Death Calls is not only amazing but truly haunting, and full-time replacement Neil Murray would do a good job covering it in the subsequent tours. And that brings us to Mr. Martin. It was with Headless Cross that Tony began to flex his vocal muscles, and his high-powered screams on Headless Cross, Devil & Daughter, and Nightwing are mind-blowing. With such a stable lineup, a solid album would be expected. But Black Sabbath exceeded those expectations with Headless Cross.
Instrumental intro The Gates of Hell sounds like it came straight out of a horror movie and sets the tone for such a spooky album. Rattling drums and ghostly wailing keyboards transition right into the title track. While underrated, Headless Cross ends up being one of the greatest songs of any Sabbath lineup. From Cozy's classic drum intro, to Iommi's upbeat yet grinding riff, organ keyboards, and Tony Martin screaming a very catchy chorus, Headless Cross is an unrecognized classic and a tough song to follow. But the band manages to keep the pace going. Devil & Daughter has a more mainstream feel to it and is one of the fastest songs on the album. Iommi pumps out one of the best solos of the album while Martin hits some of the highest notes of his career. When Death Calls is the darkest song on the album, featuring a soft and spooky keyboard melody and cymbals in the verses before transitioning to a diabolical riff in the chorus. The second half of the album picks up with blistering speed and features easily the best solo on the album from Queen guitarist Brian May. Kill in the Spirit World and Call of the Wild are both similar in being upbeat rockers with Call of the Wild taking a more aggressive feel and Kill in the Spirit World being more upbeat. Kill in the Spirit World may sound a little too lighthearted at the beginning but eventually contrasts that mood with an eerie chorus and bridge before one of Tony Iommi's best career solos. Call of the Wild also has one of the more memorable choruses. Penultimate track Black Moon is a contender for being the second-to-best song on the album with an absolutely bluesy and aggressive riff and most sing-a-long chorus on the album to help send Headless Cross out on a high note. The final track is psuedo-ballad Nightwing, which starts with a dark yet tranquil acoustic riff before introducing a heavier chorus. Tony Iommi does commendable experimentation here with electric and acoustic guitar solos while Tony Martin hits the same notes you couldn't believe he hit in Devil & Daughter. The only song on the album that falters a bit is bonus track Cloak and Dagger. Though a decent rocker, it doesn't seem to fit with the general theme or feel of the album. That being said, it's only a bonus track and doesn't affect the rating much at all.
Despite having a more anthemic-rock feel compared to the Ozzy and Dio albums, Headless Cross is every bit as deserving of the Black Sabbath name as any other album. Black Sabbath recorded their first album with the idea in mind to create music tantamount to horror movies, and Headless Cross is the album that best fits that bill. Though upbeat in nature at times (with the exception of Headless Cross, When Death Calls, and Nightwing), occult lyrics and demonic keyboards make Headless Cross Black Sabbath's darkest album. Though currently out of print and generally unknown by most except for veteran Sabbath fans, Headless Cross achieves to be not only the best Tony Martin album, but easily one of Sabbath's best overall. All hail to the headless cross.
Black Sabbath have faltered a bit throughout their career, but at those critical junctures where they made things work, they went all the way. Headless Cross is one of those especially inspired moments; in fact, it ranks among the best albums the band ever released, and for good reason. Iommi dropped the stoned, bludgeoning riffs of his past for epic heavy metal grandeur this time around, a move that perfectly fit with relative newcomer Tony Martin’s majestic, soaring vocals. On the previous album, Martin was held back a bit as a result of pre-written vocal parts meant for Ray Gillen; on Headless Cross, however, he gained the opportunity to show off his prowess, and took his chance to the fullest extent.
The first encounter with darkness – the title track – immediately spellbinds the listener first with Cozy Powell’s much-respected drum mastery, then with one of Iommi’s most immortal riffs. The ensuing forty-minute musical masterpiece is further enhanced with one of Sabbath’s eeriest atmospheres of all time. As for the lyrics, they’re completely obsessed with evil and malevolence – the only time Sabbath have devoted this concept to an entire album. Yet even with such demonic lyricism and pitch-black atmosphere, the album does not come across as overtly Satanic. Rather, it feels epic on a scale on the same high pedestal as Heaven and Hell did. Of course, Headless Cross does contain its share of diabolic moments, such as the beginning chorus to “Call of the Wild,” not to mention the captivatingly dark effect of Tony Martin’s singing.
Tony Iommi displays great versatility throughout the album; there are the gloomy, dominating riffs of old (“Headless Cross”); soaring melodies reminiscent of the first Dio era (“Nightwing”); lurking, shifty ones (“Cloak and Dagger”); and even nostalgic blues tributes (“Black Moon”). His solos tend to be grand and speedy more than anything else, even more than they were on Heaven and Hell. Tony Martin, however, is the real key to the success of this album. He is just as amazing as Dio – sometimes even better. The chorus of “Call of the Wild” perfectly shows this with its incredible bursts of “hero!” in between the longer phrases, as does the chorus to the title track. But the best moment of all is his final line of the album – that awe-inspiring falsetto wail:
“NIGHTWING FLIIIIIIIIIIIES AGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIN!”
There is just about no complaint that can be levied on this album. Its atmosphere, its musicians, and its cover are all incredible; rarely has Sabbath reached such a spectacular achievement. Tony Martin and Iommi have both professed their pride in Headless Cross, and it’s easy to see why.
“Listen for the feet as they pound the land to the tune of thunder…”
First of all, it would be right to say that I’m no big fan of Black Sabbath. Of course I realize the major affect they had on heavy metal, since they were the pioneers of our favorite music. I like most of their work, that is, after the Heaven and Hell album without Ozzy on the vocals.
Headless Cross came out in 1989 and it was the second album with Tony Martin on the vocals. The previous one, Eternal Idol, was quite nice and their fans’ expectations of something great had grown bigger. Indeed, Headless Cross is a great release without moments that let you down. It creates a dark atmosphere and it’s filled with beautiful keyboard themes by Geoff Nichols.
There are seven songs in here, apart from a small intro named The Gates of Hell. It is nothing much but it prepares the ground for the self-titled song which really is a killer! It is a six-minute epic and, if not the best, one of the Top-5 songs that Sabbath have ever written, flooded with a unique epic feeling. It begins with a pounding beat by the drums of Cozy Powell, a very well known name among the metal musicians. But after a few seconds comes the thunder, caused by the ultra-heavy riffs of the man who must have been born with a guitar in his hands, Mr. Tony Iommi. And just listen to the solo, the man is unbelievable!
Two other songs that make this album so magnificent are Devil And daughter and When Death calls. The first one is the only single of the album, which means that it is the most commercial moment of it. Don’t consider it though as something cheesy but as pure heavy metal. It flows smoothly with no surprises. Martin’s vocals are in the front line and he proves that he deserves to be Sabbath’s singer.
As for When Death Calls, it is another epic that begins with an acoustic theme and gradually turns into a heavy, totally metal masterpiece. The atmosphere reminds that of Mob Rules, while Powell with his virtuoso drum playing and unique breaks, contributes at the most to the creation of this metal monster. And with a magnificent change at 5’40”, Sabbath finish us off as the song fades out. Excellent, brilliant, you name it…I love it.
But there are other songs in the album that are also quite good. Kill in the Spirit World is of medium speed and it slows down even more at the refrain, but it has some really mystical lyrics. It is not a dynamite; however you’ll listen to its five minutes very pleasantly. Call of the Wild follows up and it sounds pretty much like the previous one, though maybe a bit faster and with more tension in its riffs. Nice ones, both of them. Nightwing, which is the last song of Headless Cross, creates a creepy and mysterious atmosphere that, combined with its mystical lyrics about a night hunter, makes you feel he has silently crept behind your back, ready to take your soul to hell! And once again Iommi has the last word playing another wonderful solo towards the end. It is the most suitable finale for a very, very good album.
Black Moon is probably the only flaw in the album. It is not bad, sharp guitars, powerful drums and beautiful keyboards. I don’t know why but this song sounds very strange to me. Maybe I’m wrong but its rhythm doesn’t echo well in my ears. I don’t want to misjudge Sabbath for writing this one, because I’m not quite sure whether I like it or not. I’ll leave the decision to you.
I think that Headless Cross is the best thing Sabbath have done since Heaven and Hell. They have a great singer and when Iommi is in good shape, everything is doomed to turn out well. I like this album very much and every time I listen to it, I feel compelled to push the PLAY button when it ends. Black Sabbath, once more, thank you very much for everything you have offered to our music.
Every once in a while, though quite rarely, an album comes about that strikes your attention so firmly and gracefully that, in one way or another, you can't live without it. Greatness profound, with an endless amount of enjoyment that grows exponentially with each listen. For me, one such record is this masterpiece.
Throughout their existence, I've never heard BLACK SABBATH sounds as sincere with their compositions and performance than here on "Headless Cross". Even their earlier days with Ozzy, while competant and obviously the stepping stone of all things heavy metal, left a bit to be desired in terms of the amount of heart within the overall performance. Not so on this...
This would have to be the darkest and most ambitious material the SABBATH camp has ever put out, and nothing before or after will match, in my opinion. The entire performance, from every member, is pitch perfect and unleashes deluges of darkness and wicked impureness the likes of which the fans haven't experienced. Obviously the music revolves around Tony Iommi's mastery of the metal riff, and on this his work is second to none, with the slower, dirgey moments couple with some serious head-banging moments that beg for your attention. And the line-up he's composed for this is something to be quite envious of, especially the talents of crooner Tony Martin, keyboardist Geoff Nicholls and late skinsman Cozy Powell, whole all compile into musicall hell that grips you tightly and refuses to let you go. And while the argument could be made that SABBATH doesn't/didn't need keyboards, I'd have to disagree as the keys are used very tastefully and help darken the music even more, giving it a more theatrical and mysterious feel. There are no songs on here to be considered filler; every tracks is intense and fits the scheme of things perfectly, but the best standouts would have to be the title track, the brilliant "When Death Calls", "Call of the Wild" and "Nightwing", showcasing that SABBATH can be different in their musical wanderings while still holding true to their acid-rock roots. Martin's vocals and lyrics are also at their best, something he really has yet to top; his falsettos strangely working wonders with some of SABBATH's most Satanic and occult-based lyrics, and provides vocal lines that are epic and match the rest of the music quite well.
So in the end, this is one of the best albums I've ever heard. And every time I hear it it gets better and better. VERY recommended for anything interested in the "forgotten" era of BLACK SABBATH's history, as during the Tony Martin years this is the best to offer. Thumbs way the fuck up!
As you can see from the rating, this is Sabbath's all time best album...
While it is true that Black Sabbath has never released a truly 'bad' album, some have been less consistent or enjoyable than others. The reasons can be attributed to many different things, be it the change of direction, the multiple line-up changes, the drugs, etc... But no matter the reason, in the face of all the scrutiny and dying fan base, Sabbath managed to release the greatest album to ever feature the Black Sabbath moniker. If Black Sabbath truly means 'Death' than no album, rather before or after, sums up the name than this album, it's soul is darker, heavier and more demonic than anything in Sabbath's back catalogue. From the thunderous drum intro of the title track or the fade out of Nightwing, and everywhere in between, this is pure bliss to any metal ear.
What sets this album apart is not just the quality material, that was expected from Sabbath, but because they step into new grounds and form a loosely-based concept. While it is not Surveillance, Thunder Seven, Streets, The Wall or 2112, it's heaviness and darkness makes up for any holes in the story. Of the Ozzy albums only Sabotage can be regarded as a talented album in terms of vocals. Then when they found better singers, Dio, Gillan and Hughes, some members were either not up to par or the music lacked something. So when they found Tony Martin, the best singer Sabbath has and ever will know, and hearing this albums predecessor(Eternal Idol) one knew the band was only a step or two away from another shining masterpiece.
If you like your metal served with great dark atmosphere, than sink your teeth into this tasteful dish. Because this is Sabbath's best album ever and Sabbath is one of, if not THE, best metal band ever, this deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as not only the other legendary metal albums by other bands. But also compares well with Sabotage, Heaven And Hell, Eternal Idol or their self-titled debut. Some songs are down tempo, while others are lightning quick, delivered with a sense of urgency and forcefulness that had left Sabbath since Heaven And Hell. Others are doom and gloomy epics like When Death Calls and Black Moon, while others are standard power metal tracks, but never lose it's heaviness.
The opening Gates Of Hell is a minute intro that conjures up images of taking a trip into, well, Hell. As you cross the gates you find yourself in Hell where helpless victims are found on a headless cross, which has lost it's head to lightning, a sign of heaven forcing it's way into this place. Devil And Daughter sit atop their thrones, sucking the soul from the victims as death calls, as they sink into the sunken eyes of on the face of death. Your tongue blisters from the sweltering heat burning the victims that the evil shadow takes. As a chilling wind sweeps through the wind, chilling the blood in your veins, the spirit world brightens by the star in the Eastern sky, death leaves his hellish house breaking seals and crossing oaths. You are dragged to the blackened pit of Hell all the while praying for deliverance from purgatory, but just as sunshine seems to happen a black moon erases all chances and the nightwing comes down to remove your soul.
Okay so that play on words may be over the top but it's easy to find a story when the entire album is saturated in death, so much so that it makes the previous tales from the band look like tales of 'flowers' and 'happiness'. The riffs are crunching, drums blistering, bass thick and evil and Tony Martin's voice is more sinister than even the most death metal bands. Even when the band tones it down during Nightwing and Tony plays an acoustic guitar, the atmosphere never leaves, only giving you a chance to reflect on the story too dark to tell and too demonic for other bands to touch.
My only complaint with this record is, unless you buy the picture disk, it leaves out Sabbath's all-time best track in Cloak And Dagger, but if you exclude that minor flaw this is the perfect album. Everything that defines metal and Sabbath is here, delivered by one of the greatest lineups in the history of metal. I shouldn't tell you to buy this, since you are a metal fan you must already have this, if you do not, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU...
NIGHTWING FLIES AGAIN...
After essentially confusing and alienating a large proportion of their fan base Black Sabbath since about 1983 (namely Tony Iommi) decided he needed his credibility back, that’s not to say that ‘Born Again’, ‘Seventh Star’ and ‘Eternal Idol’ didn’t produce some great stuff or weren’t musically credible but the whole ‘Who’s in your band this week, Tony?’ was starting to seriously damage the bands reputation especially in the press who were quite merciless in their ribbing of Sabbath (the cheek! You write for Kerrang!). Also the fact that on ‘Seventh Star’ and ‘Eternal Idol’ Iommi had used a lot of more lightweight material making those albums the worst since ‘Technical Ecstasy’ and ‘Never Say Die’. It’s safe to say it was time for a rejuvenation and a serious return to form…and predictably the two Tony’s and Cozy delivered in the face of adversity and then some, in the same way that ‘Heaven and Hell’ had done almost a decade ago.
So what we have here is a heavy fucking metal classic, a consistent one too. This is easily the bands strongest set of songs since the all out amazing ‘Mob Rules’. Not a trace of the filler that plagued ‘Eternal Idol’. ‘Headless Cross’ is the best known song of the Tony Martin era and not without reason, it’s a killer. From that ‘I play my drums with hammers’ intro, to that classic Iommi riff, to Tony Martin’s awe inspiring vocals, it just sets the tone for the rest of the album; cheesy, epic, heavy and generally wailing on about Satan. ‘Devil and Daughter’ named after a Dennis Wheatley novel (and a rather mediocre Hammer film) is another top notch song apparently inspired by the truly loathsome Sharon and Don Arden, it’s the fastest song here and driven along by what characterizes this album; pounding drums, excellent melodic guitars and Tony Martin wailing about Satan! And it just gets better! ‘When Death Calls’ is the rightful successor to the epic Dio era classics (‘Sign of the Southern Cross’, ‘Falling of the Edge of the World’ etc) and it’s the best of a very strong collection from that eerie bass intro that apparently caused so many difficulties for future Sabbath bassists. It has a great atmosphere even by Sabbath’s standard’s and lets face it they are the masters. We even get a lovely bit of galloping, another flawless vocal performance and even Brian May pops round for a solo (I never liked Queen bare a few songs but he’s a great player). So even 19 years into their recording career Sabbath show they can still school everyone. The albums second side (I have this on tape you see, how very 80’s!) while not as strong as the first is still exceptional with no hint of filler. ‘Kill in the Spirit World’ has Tony Martin adding a touch of class to proceedings, it’s a very cheesy song even on a very cheesy album but still the strong lyrics and soaring vocals really are a treat. ‘Call of the Wild’ continues the mid album cheese fest and its pretty much in the same vain as ‘Kill in the Spirit World’ but with a eastern feel in places and as with the bloody album very catchy and atmospheric. ‘Black Moon’ stands out here as its got a bluesy feel to it, not early Sabbath bluesy but more ‘feel the wind in your mullet as you drive away from the tall man from Phantasm’ bluesy (maybe that’s just me), we even get some nice touches of organ (or a keyboard pretending to be an organ) from the always underrated Geoff Nichols. Ending on a high note (although to be fair the whole album never let up) is ‘Night Wing’ which is the only song not about Satan, but owls and bats instead. There are is some damn fine riffs and leads here Iommi certainly lets rip and Laurence Cottle provides some cheesy 80’s lead bass, a nice touch. And then there you have it another metal classic successfully re-establishing Black Sabbath as a major force in heavy metal, well in artistic terms at least as Headless Cross sold well in mainland Europe, England and Japan but America didn’t really ‘get it’, You Bastards!
Lyrically, this album is almost entirely preoccupied with the occult and all though perhaps an acquired taste I find it very much to my liking. Tony Martin does a splendid job here and although cheesy in places its got great atmosphere and the lyrics are generally well done. He really proves himself as a writer on this album, sadly he didn’t get time to write on ‘Eternal Idol’ but he more than makes up for it here. The title track is perhaps the strongest song here lyrically and it deals with Redditch (a small town where Tony Martin lives) and about the plague in the middle ages where the residents of Redditch went to the hill of the headless cross and prayed for survival and none of them did! Metal or what? So this album has a very high Satan quota, and it really works and lets face it where would heavy metal be without Old Nick?
Musically the whole band is flawless on this release, Iommi is on terrific form and pulls out his best set of riffs in years and then wails, trills and squeals through his always magnificent lead work. New boy Cozy Powell really shouldn’t need an introduction, he was one of the all time great drummers and he shows just why here. Even though it’s not the best drum sound Cozy ever had (Rainbow’s ‘rising’ and Whitesnake’s ‘Slide it in’ come to mind) its still pretty damn thunderous and instantly recognisable. Laurence Cottle is essentially a session bassist, but a good one and he plays imaginatively even though I don’t find his clear tight bass sound in keeping with traditional Sabbath. I suppose I’d rather have Neil Murray on this album just for the sake of continuity. Tony Martin fully realises the potential he showed on ‘Eternal Idol’ and is not only technically excellent but sings with feeling. Sound wise I suppose this is something of a step forward for Black Sabbath but with one foot in the Dio years as its closer to ‘Mob Rules’ and ‘Heaven and Hell’ than any other pre-1989 Sabbath release. You can’t really compare this to any of the Ozzy material and if I’ve ever seen a bad review its by 12 year olds who think Black Sabbath is ripping off Kyuss going ‘This isn’t Paranoid! Meh, meh ,meh…’ So I’m not even going to draw comparisons all I will say is that this, the first six Ozzy era albums and the first two with Dio are all metal classics. Albeit, this isn’t as good as those albums but that’s hardly a criticism.
So just when everyone had given up on Sabbath after the whole mid 80’s ‘let’s go to Hollywood, hire hair metal singers, marry Lita Ford and do cocaine’ fiasco Mr Iommi finally got his shit together and delivered what we all wanted to here (no not Paranoid II, you bloody stoner fan!) but a true metal classic of the highest order. Thanks Mr Martin for the Satan factor, thank you Mr Powell for lending your Hammer’s and err its been nice to see you Laurence I hope the jazz fusion goes well. Oh yeah, and if your keeping track this is better than ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ so that’s Iommi 6, Osbourne 0. And just to help things that little bit more the cover art is great (perhaps my favourite along side the debut and ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’) and ‘Headless Cross’ has a great promo video. Further of note what happens if you chop the head off a Cross? A t and t stands for Tyr! hey, don't laugh Tony Martin said that.......I fucking love this album.
Headless Cross finds Black Sabbath returning to form after several years of unstalbe lineups and some less-than-well-received albums. Along with mainstay guitarist Tony Iommi and singer Tony Martin, the album marks the debut of legendary drummer Cozy Powell. Powell's powerful drumming certainly complements the heaviness of the riffs found on the album, which features some of Tony Martin's best vocal work. Longtime keyboardist Geoff Nicholls is also present.
The weak link in the player's lineup is bassist Laurence Cottle, who does a decent job of replicating Geezer Butler's bass style (see the title track and "Nightwing"), but is really only a session member. Aside from that, Headless Cross marks a return to stability that the band had been lacking for sometime.
Musically, "Headless Cross" is in the vein of the classic Heaven and Hell album. After creepy intro "The Gates of Hell," the title track kicks in with a drum intro and some killer riffing from Iommi, followed by the triplet bass sound such as found on the song "Heaven and Hell." Lyrically, the song tells the story of the medieval town called Headless Cross, which was devastated by the black plague. The town's inhabitants went to the hilltop to pray for deliverance, but no god saved them and they died of the plague. Dark lyrics mark this album, indeed one of Sabbath's most Satanic releases.
Tony Martin is in fine form on all tracks, and those who consider him little more than a Dio-clone should listen to "Kill in the Spirit World," where he hits and holds some amazingly high notes. "Devil and Daughter" is another fine vocal performance, and Martin shines on all the tracks, as does the band itself. The albums shows that the band really took their time in songwriting, to deliver a heavy album that would put them back in the public consciousness. A special treat is the appearance of Queen guitarist Brian May, playing the guitar solo on the excellent track "When Death Calls". If you didn't know it was May you wouldn't know it wasn't Iommi, the solo fits Sabbath's style that well.
Tony Iommi once again shows why he is the greatest heavy metal riffwriter of all time. "Black Moon" sounds like it could've been on Heaven and Hell, and the guitar solo is awesome. "Call of the Wild" is a decent track but not as essential as the rest of the album, while album closer "Nightwing" is a fine mix of dark moodiness and heavy riffing.
Some fans have said that "Headless Cross" is the only Martin-era album which can be considered a classic. This is debateable, but in any case it is a fine album from first-class musicians, and this lineup of Sabbath (with only a change of bass players) would continue to tour and record music through the late eighties. If you like dark and gloomy metal with wicked lyrics and otherworldly imagery, Headless Cross is very well worth your time.
After managing to pull off a masterpiece album in the midst of some rather sizable line-up changes, Tony Iommi, his newly recruited front man Tony Martin and keyboardist Geoff Nicholls set out to reclaim the credibility that the Sabbath name still had back in the early 80s. They found it and his name was Cozy Powell, the masterfully insane kit master that brought us the lion’s share of the best music from Rainbow. With his added musical input, Sabbath ceased to be a mere Tony Iommi side project and became a more cohesive metal pounding machine.
This album is probably among the least evil sounding releases carrying the Sabbath name, despite the dark imagery depicted in the lyrics. Although we have some evil sounding riffs on “Nightwing” and “Kill in the Spirit World”, this album harkens back to the more epic sound established on “Heaven and Hell”. The title track has a very similar bass line and overall atmosphere to the 1980 classic Sabbath song, and rivals the musical homage paid to it by Dio’s band “Holy Diver”. The segue between it and the opening keyboard and ambience driven instrumental “The Gates of Hell” is masterfully done, swelling up with an ominous sense of crescendo before Cozy Powell bangs out a classic rock beat.
“Black Moon” and “Devil and Daughter” are both heavily atmospheric numbers, the former being highly blues driven though with a dark sounding church organ, while the latter is a more speed oriented track with a classic power chord riff reminiscent of the better parts of the Ronnie Dio era. “Kill in the Spirit World” and “Call of the Wild” are both cut from the heavily epic vain of the Dio era, complete with memorable verses and choruses and a few dissonant sections.
Although everything on here rocks out and reeks of early epic power metal, the two highlights are so exceptional that they demand several listens by themselves. “When Death Calls” is probably the closest thing to a scary sounding song on here, with a gloomy keyboard driven verse and a heavy riff driven chorus. The middle section is fast, and contains the best solo on this album courtesy Queen axe man Brian May, a man whose guitar work has had probably the most impact on every lead guitarist in the Power Metal genre who isn’t a Malmsteen worshipper. “Nightwing” has all the right elements to make it an obligatory listen for any fan of the Power Metal genre. Iommi has 3 amazing guitar solos, one of them a classical guitar solo, which has rarely been encountered since the Mob Rules release. But this song’s real appeal is the lyrics, describing the vampire the way I’ve always picture him, a powerful yet regal creature of the night, rather than the horrid caricature that is the modern vampire depicted in Blade.
In conclusion, if you like Power Metal, if you liked the Dio and Gillian eras, this album is a must have. It stands tall as the greatest achievement every realized by Tony Martin in his long career as a vocalist, and it challenges the perfection established on “Sabotage”, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, “Heaven and Hell”, and “Mob Rules”. I listen to it often and I can assure you this, it never gets old, it never waivers, it is a definitive masterwork for the consumption of melodic metal fans.
Tony Martin era Sabbath is a thing of beauty. Just when you thought heavy metal's most respected force was about to evolve into some trendy vessel of mainstream 80's garbage, they hire a completely unknown but brilliant vocalist and release a powerful string of albums that are worthy successors not only to the Dio years, but to the classic Ozzy years as well. This is the second in that string, taking the new power metal sound showcased on the masterful Eternal Idol album, making it doomier and gloomier, and adding just a tinge of 80's mainstream rock to produce an album that doesn't quite surpass it's precursor, but at least manages to live up to it.
Headless Cross is most notable for its killer atmosphere. From the first seconds of the intro track "The Gates of Hell," a solemn, evil mood is set, one that maintains itself throughout the album. The songwriting is varied, but generally sticks to a down tempo version of 80's power metal. The keyboards tend to give this impression the most, making songs like "Devil & Daughter" sound like a lot like early Yngwie Malmsteen songs, if you replace the neoclassical aspects with doom metal riffs. The riffs provide a lot of variation as well. A lot of the riffs comply with the 80's power metal sound, with a few that are catchy enough to draw parallels with 80's pop metal, namely the verse riff of "Kill in the Spirit World." But no matter how much the band evolves with the times, there's always a shitload of riffs that could not have logically been written by anyone else than Tony Iommi without constituting thievery, namely the chorus riff of "Kill in the Spirit World," which more than makes up for the catchy verse riff. Iommi's solos are top notch here as well, nothing short of what one would expect. The other instrumental parts are performed competently, but the only other member of the band that stands out here is the mighty Tony Martin. His voice hasn't suffered one bit in between albums. He still gives off the occasional Dio vibe, but his range and tone are still very much his own, perfectly suited for metal of this caliber. Very much appreciated.
The lyrics on this album are darker than they've been in a while, touching on topics Satanic in origin with a sinister tone throughout. These are perfectly sung by Martin and fit the mood the music sets just as perfectly. Every song on here is pretty sweet, with the only mediocre one being "Call of the Wild" (not sure why I don't like it, I just don't). The version I have comes with a bonus track, "Cloak and Dagger," from the "Headless Cross" single. It's presence doesn't really affect the album's score, but it's another good example of the songwriting power this Sabbath era had. Highlights include "Headless Cross," "Devil & Daughter," "When Death Calls," and "Kill in the Spirit World."
In short, another great album from a great lineup of a great band. You can't really compare it to the band's most classic albums, but it's real fucking far from deserving the recycle bin.
A decade of stumbling and flailing ended on a high, demonic note with ‘Headless Cross,’ the finest album from Black Sabbath after a string of mediocrity following Ronnie James Dio’s departure. As guitarist Tony Iommi is the only original member left, this album can’t be expected to live up to the band’s classic period in the early seventies. Nevertheless, the style repeated across these songs represents an excellent fusion of the band’s tried-and-tested strengths with a more contemporary and very eighties edge, resulting in one of the most accessible doom metal albums ever recorded.
The Black Sabbath line-up was in constant flux over that decade. Original vocaliat Ozzy Osbourne had been kicked out, and replacement Dio departed after a couple of good albums. Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan was involved at one particularly unremarkable point, while old-timers Geezer Butler and Bill Ward left Iommi to struggle alone. At least no one was spontaneously combusting. Tony Martin handles vocals for the second album in a row here, his Dio-esque voice sounding at its very best, aided by over-dubbing effects to make for a really powerful screech. Well-known session drummer Cozy Powell makes less of an impression with his anthemic plodding, but Geoff Nicholls adds an extra quasi-epic dimension to the music with his period synthesisers. Add the unknown Laurence Cottle and you get something that doesn’t really resemble a classic line-up, but could certainly come up with something unique.
The flaws with ‘Headless Cross’ lie in its incredibly dated, period-specific sound, although for many this would be a considerable improvement over the increasingly obscure metal the band had previously been playing. The all-English band adopts something of the American hard rock sound, ironically stemming from fellow transatlantic Brummies Judas Priest a decade earlier… although to less commercial success here. The sludgy guitars are distinctly Iommi (apart from a guest solo by Queen’s Brian May), but the drums in particular and the keyboard varnish overlaid serve to distance this release from classics like ‘Paranoid’ and ‘Master of Reality,’ as Black Sabbath look back over the decade and strive to forge the most generic 1980s metal anthems possible. With lyrics about bats and stuff.
1. The Gates of Hell
2. Headless Cross
3. Devil and Daughter
4. When Death Calls
5. Kill in the Spirit World
6. Call of the Wild
7. Black Moon
Almost asking for trouble, Sabbath’s subject matter has never been so deeply entrenched in the occult. Sadly for enthusiastic record burners, the lyrics are all in the uncommitted and objective, ‘human-speaker-scared-by-demons’ vein of the band’s own ‘Black Sabbath’ and Iron Maiden’s ‘Number of the Beast.’ Opener ‘The Gates of Hell’ is a nice, short interlude to the title track, featuring plenty of distorted guitar and vocal samples amidst a general hum of horror show sound effects. This would remain the band’s live opener for the next few years, as the exciting guitar build-up at the end could conceivably lead anywhere. Here, it opts to give way to a slow and generic drum-beat intro introducing Iommi’s lead guitar riff for ‘Headless Cross.’ Flooded by synth and featuring an incessantly catchy chorus, it’s no surprise this was selected as a single, despite the slight interchangeability of most of these songs. The production is clear enough to distinguish all the instruments, even the neglected bass in the ambient sections, and despite the long running length, the refrain of Martin’s gruff chorus is nicely done. This is one of the band’s finest songs outside the Osbourne and Dio eras.
‘Devil and Daughter’ opts to use the Satanism metaphorically, allegedly a stab at the band’s former producer and his daughter, Sharon Osbourne. The album’s second single release, this is in precisely the same style as its predecessor, but with an increased focus on the guitar. The solo is a tad boring and the drums really go nowhere, but the chorus is cool, and there’s nice use of backing ‘woahs’ as Martin improvises in the studio. The album thankfully changes direction somewhat with the more sinister ‘When Death Calls,’ not so much a power ballad as a slow song that’s played very loudly. As expected, the song is dominated by faux-acoustic guitar and the drums are used sparingly, apart from the distorted chorus sections. This track kicks into a faster rhythm half-way through in the classic Sabbath tradition, with some excellent instrumental sections. May’s solo is in there somewhere, but it’s not the best on the album.
Perhaps the most technically interesting track, ‘Kill in the Spirit World’ moves from the most pop-oriented sound so far to a dingy, chilled-out instrumental section in the middle before returning to the commercial thing for the conclusion. The guitars are at their best here, and although the song’s very uneven, it’s one of my favourites. ‘Call of the Wild’ has a nice chorus, but that’s not enough to save it from mediocrity; at track six, the album begins to sound really samey. The riff is unfascinating, and the loud bass acts as little more than a metronome. ‘Black Moon’ opens with an interesting and very doom-laden riff, comparable to some of Iommi’s best work. It’s pretty clear that the guy can come up with them on demand, and he grants himself a few fast solos in this otherwise average song.
The album ends on a high note (well, not literally), with the mostly-acoustic ‘Nightwing.’ Iommi really shines on acoustic guitar, especially in the acoustic solo half-way through, and there’s even some acoustic bass to back it up. Martin’s bellowing vocals don’t vary a great deal from the louder songs – he certainly doesn’t try to sing. Even the keyboards work well here, enhancing the wicked atmosphere as they did for the title track. Iommi’s electric riffs towards the end sound like a nod back to Sabbath’s early days, and this song is certainly comparable to the softer offerings of the seventies.
This album was well-received by fans and critics, despite its position outside the Osbourne and Dio periods, perhaps because Tony Martin’s wails are a passable impersonation of the latter, with an added hint of Michael Jackson-style ‘breathiness.’ The band snuck their inherently eighties album in right at the end of the decade, before the bland nineties rolled around and the polished synthesisers became conspicuous. The title track and ‘Nightwing’ are both excellent songs, it’s just a shame that the majority of the album sounds like a second-rate attempt at reproducing them, although some songs are acceptable imitations simply due to the great choruses. This album has potential appeal to both long-time fans and hard rocking Sabbath virgins alike.
Despite possessing the ingredients for a ‘sell-out’ album, ‘Headless Cross’ is Black Sabbath to the core, even down to the title track’s focus on a plague in Headley’s Cross, Birmingham. The keyboards and tedious drums might seem a little unnatural in Sabbath’s sludgy music, especially in light of earlier disasters involving both, but Iommi and his newest friends finally got it right, for one time only, in 1989. And never again.
Let me first start this review off by saying that this is the best Sabbath albumn with Tony Martin. It just edges out TYR but a hair. His vocals give me goosebumps everytime I listen to this masterpiece.
Well the first track (The Gates of Hell) is an intro leading into the title track Headless Cross which dominates the whole way through. Start off with some drums and add a nice heavy riff and the rest is history. Devil and Daughter picks up the pace and really gets you going. Quite like the material off of The Eternal Idol record. Then we have When Death Calls a more slower approach that shows off Martin's vocals ability and displays it well. Kill in the Spirit World and Call of the Wild are both in the same vein. They both possess mid paced rythyms that show off the whole bands performance. Black Moon - haha this one makes me laugh it is so good. In fact I'll say that this is my favorite track. "I see a Black Moon rising and its calling out my name." Does'nt get any better, and the solo is monstorous! Well the closer Nightwing starts off with Iommi playing a little acoustic intro and then it pulverises with its heaviness. Man who knew you could write something like this amazing!
Classic record all the way around. There isn't a doubt in my mind that this is one of the best of all time.
While not quite as good as its legendary predecessor (Eternal Idol), this is still quite a decent album. Unfortunately, it fades a bit at the end, but when it's on, it's dead on, and some of the best stuff Sabbath has ever done.
Those highlights are the tracks Headless Cross (with its absolute soul-crushing main riff... sure at times the production is 80s-metal, but by the gods, that's TONY FUCKING IOMMI on the lead guitars, so ... fucken A this is HEAVY!)... then there's the slower, more atmospheric When Death Calls, with its completely amazing "don't look...." part at the end, which could be THE highlight of Sabbath's career, though Into the Void and the concerts with Rob Halford want to be mentioned too.
Other than the guitar, the other great positive thing to notice is the vocals. Tony Martin is THE MAN - his vocal tone is perfect for this, and he can hit pretty much any note that he wants to. Other highlights include the closer, Nightwing, and probably the most commercial sounding song on here, Devil and Daughter, with its first notes after the drums sounding a bit like Blondie's "Call Me"! Still, a great fucking song.
Unfortunately, the album isn't quite perfect... at times it seems to meander along, especially on Kill in the Spirit World - still, not a bad song at all, especially that "murder!" part. While the previous album (to which it will perpetually be compared, damn it) is just coherent as fuck, this one is more a collection of songs than a masterpiece as a whole. But that said, it is still a VERY good album, and certainly worth hearing... don't slag the Martin era, you punks!