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There is a basic rule of thumb that is often followed when releasing compilations of well established artists, particularly in the case of Black Sabbath, and it is “why release one when you can release two and have twice the amount of pointlessness in the process?” That rule was elevated to something of an art form when it came to the two Tony Martin era compilations that were put out in extremely close proximity to each other in 2001. They both feature a grab-bag approach to song selection that doesn’t make much sense from a sales perspective given that “Headless Cross” tends to be the most well known album and the rest of the albums had radio hits that aren’t represented on either compilation, so the motivation of these releases make little sense except for as a song sampler, which would normally put them at a lower price level, but not in the case of these two.
“Rock Champions” differs from the “Platinum Disc” compilation only in that EMI took a route of song selection that made a little bit more sense. It’s far from being a good listen, however, due to the track ordering coming across as randomly done and the flow of the album being extremely disjointed. Sabbath went through various stages where they would begin an album with either an epic intro or a fast paced song to open things up, but “Heaven In Black” leading off and being followed by “Anno Mundi” doesn’t make much sense from a pacing standpoint. One minute your high on a solid upper tempo song with an extremely catchy chorus and a punchy set of rock riffs, and the next you are compelled to sit back and listen to an elongated choir intro with something of a “Children Of The Sea” styled guitar line followed by an epic reinterpretation of “Zero The Hero” with the tempo staying largely slow. One might guess that EMI was trying to create a feel similar to what was accomplished on “Heaven And Hell”, but unfortunately these songs don’t work the same way.
From here on in there’s a back and forth between epic songs off of either “Tyr” or “Headless Cross” with lower fidelity and rougher but still solid songs off of “Forbidden”. It’s almost like the experience of being jerked back and forth during a storm while at sea, inducing a sense of musical motion sickness that instead of making you vomit, induces a state of confusion. There’s no doubting the absolute quality of songs such as “Black Moon” and “Jerusalem”, nor with “Get A Grip” and “I Won’t Cry For You”, but their placement works against the experience of listening to this album all the way through, which is a must for any sort of sympathy being given towards a compilation by someone who already has all of the albums in question. The fact that “The Battle Of Tyr” leads into a song off of “Forbidden” is the final nail in the coffin of a very troubled best of, let alone mentioning that there are no songs on here representing “Cross Purposes” or “The Eternal Idol”.
There’s still a few of these floating around here and there despite being in circulation for 8 years, but there isn’t any point in getting this. I have a bit more sympathy for this one than the “Platinum Disc” because they had the good sense to include “Anno Mundi” and “Jerusalem”, two of Sabbath’s more underrated yet high quality songs, but any self-respecting fan of Sabbath who is curious about the Tony Martin era will save up his money to purchase the entire “Tyr” album and tell Allmusic.com to piss off in the process.