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Originally intended to be fronted by the late Badlands vocalist Ray Gillen, this 1987 album is typically seen as being Sabbath's lowest point in terms of commercial success and reputation. It was the first album to feature underdog vocalist Tony Martin, the last to feature current KISS drummer Eric Singer, and the only album to feature Ozzy Osbourne bassist Bob Daisley in the group ranks. It also marked a new direction in the reborn band's sound while still retaining a few older elements.
Musically, this album combines a mix of Sabbath's signature doom metal style with a newly discovered power metal influence that makes for an interesting listen. Songs like "The Shining" and "Ancient Warrior" combine upbeat riffs with a dark atmosphere, "Glory Ride" brings to mind Iron Maiden with its more uplifting tempos and dogfighting imagery, and the title track hearkens back to Black Sabbath's self-titled anthem with its intensely sinister guitar lines and foreboding build-up. There is also a great deal of blues influence heard for the first time in the band since the days of "Volume 4" that is used to great effect on tracks such as "Hard Life to Love," "Born to Lose," and "Lost Forever."
Even with the member confusion and slightly faceless rhythm section that surround this album, the band itself still manages to put on a solid performance. Iommi is in his element as always and churns out plenty of great riffs and keyboardist Geoff Nicholls occasionally jumps in with some interesting atmospheric touches. In spite of Martin's obvious emulation of Gillen's Robert Plant-inspired wails, he manages to pull off a great vocal performance though it is fairly obvious that the material isn't always in his natural range...
While this is a very good album overall, it doesn't have too many songs that could be considered classics and often gets overlooked in favor of such albums as the more focused "Headless Cross" and "Tyr." It's certainly worth hunting down for fans of the band and it makes me wonder how the recordings would compare if they had kept GIllen's original vocal tracks...
1) An interesting new direction in terms of style
2) Great riffs, vocals, and keyboards
3) Solid songwriting
1) Faceless rhythm section
2) Not too many "classic" songs
3) It is fairly obvious that Martin is outside of his natural range
My Current Favorites:
"The Shining," "Hard Life to Love," "Glory Ride," "Born to Lose," and "Eternal Idol"