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The blues makes it worth your while - 70%

MacMoney, May 27th, 2010

With the Born Again-lineup falling apart around him, and even Geezer, the bassist who had stood by him since the inception of the band, was leaving, Tony Iommi decided it was time to lay Black Sabbath to rest, at least for a while. Instead, he concentrated on making a solo album; something with maybe a lighter touch than what people had come to expect from Black Sabbath. A return to roots of sorts, taking cues from old blues and rock, while combining them with newer influences emerging in the western world. However, this was not meant to be. Due to label pressure, he was forced to release Seventh Star under the moniker Black Sabbath - not as a solo album - albeit the label conceded to tag on a description to clear up any confusions about the band. The description was "featuring Tony Iommi" which is rather confusing considering Iommi was one of the founders of the band and had always been a member.

Now that the context of the album is established as something of a return to Iommi's musical roots, yet under a lot of pressure from the label, the end product clearly resembles this. The first part of the album plays out like something from a cheesy 80s hard rock album. In for the Kill is made out to be a hit single for the crowds: simple staccato riffs with some long power chords thrown in, something a person who has never picked up a guitar could almost play, singalong melodies with puerile lyrics about the band not backing down from its position at the top of the pack. For the other label-forced hit song there's No Stranger to Love, not that surprisingly a power ballad about being hurt by love yet not being afraid of going for it again. It's appropriately melancholic with its verses, but where it fails is the chorus with its sappy major chord melodies. It would be a good situation to showcase Hughes's higher range, but supposedly with all of his problems at the time, they wanted to avoid that.

The middle part of the album is more of a standard Sabbath fare: Turn to Stone is this album's Neon Knights or Turn Up the Night, rapid pace with drums leading the way and very rocking riffs. The way the song is constructed with the verses subtly changing to the chorus and then back is very reminiscent of the aforementioned Neon Knights. Definitely an album opener if it wasn't for the label single. The title track is the long epic song of the album, sort of like Children of the Sea or Sign of the Southern Cross. It goes forward with a plodding pace with little variation and isn't quite up to the level of its predecessors. While serving as an advertisement for Eric Singer's lack of ability and flair when compared with the likes of Bill Ward or Vinny Appice, the song - together with its intro, Sphinx (The Guardian) is also an advertisement for the rarely heard talent of Geoff Nichols. The cool little intro, wholly his work, builds slowly into a crescendo just like it should and the background keyboards with their majestic sound give the most important part of the atmosphere on the song itself. But even combined with Iommi's great (yet sparse) leads, the song feels a little hollow due to Hughes not being at his best.

It's a real joy to hear Iommi and Hughes really letting it all go for the monster of a blues song that is Heart Like a Wheel. Iommi just never stops. With two extended solo sections and a shifting, bluesy, melodic riff playing whenever he isn't soloing, he is always busy. In the first solo he goes a little flashier than what he usually plays, but brings it down for a blues-type in the end and the second one is almost completely in that vein. But no matter what style, Iommi makes it fit the song with class. Due to its blues roots, the song doesn't feature a lot of changes in rhythm so the bass and the drums are there just to provide a backbone for the guitar to perform against. Hughes gets a couple of emotional, stretched, high screams here, which show that even though he wasn't in good shape, he could still perform well in ideal conditions.

The three last songs, Heart Like a Wheel, Angry Heart and In Memory (though the last two are really one song split onto two tracks), form the best and most unique part of this album. The imbued yearning and melancholy for glories and achievements past is at their core which is why the bluesiness adds a whole lot to them. While Heart Like a Wheel introduces the loss and fleeting nature of all things, Angry Heart/In Memory is how those things affect a person. Angry Heart is the heaviest song on the album and has a lot of forward momentum. It's not going to stop for anything. That momentum is driven by the pounding drums and guitars while a hammond, reminiscent of Perfect Strangers, adds a flair of its own to it. This is the exasperation and fury at the loss of the most important thing in your life, while In Memory is the sadness and melancholy brought on by the acceptance of said loss. A very calm and moody piece, with Hughes singing gently, simple, quiet riffs from the distorted guitar and a soothing acoustic guitar melody in the forefront. Hughes brings the song and the album to a climatic end with some screams where he gives it his all while the audio fades away.

As said before, the trilogy forms what is the core of the album with its blues-tinted melancholy and were the album a single with just them, it would get a very high rating. However, it is preceeded by a bunch of songs which, while not bad on their own, don't fit thematically or musically together and don't reach the same heights as the ending trilogy.