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Back when The Eternal Idol was released, you know somewhere Ozzy was loudly laughing his wasted ass off. What a rough period this was for Black Sabbath and it shows on this album. While not as bad as The Seventh Star and yes, despite that record being originally intended as a solo outing by Tony Iommi, it says Black Sabbath on the cover and hence that's exactly what it is. While the Ozzman's solo career(and to a lesser extent Dio's also) soared as he put out loud, catchy and fun if callow heavy metal albums, the once mighty Black Sabbath languished in the shadows of prosperity. Ozzy had bat's heads while Tony needed a cat's paw. There was none. Yes, it seemed the mid 80's was prosperous for every metal band except Black Sabbath. All our favorite moustachioed metal master was left to record with was his bluesy doom guitar, a nondescript rhythm section and a singer who sounds like David Coverdale trying to do Ronnie Dio vocals. And that brings me to The Eternal Idol.
I always think of The Eternal Idol as that album that no one ever buys. It's ubiquitous for that very reason. Always available on the shelf of every record store I've ever been to in the world and always when I was looking for the Black Sabbath album that I really wanted but was not available for me that day. Hell, last time I checked, iTunes sold very few of the band's albums but lo and behold one of the very few they did offer was..you guessed it: The Eternal Idol (cue the laughter at the end of track six). This album is like that pair of cheap sunglasses that Jeff Foxworthy once described as the thing you could chuck overboard an ocean liner in the middle of the Pacific and a frogman will salvage it up and return it to you on the deck unscathed. And so I finally relented and bought this album and it is with me eternally as I persist in somehow misplacing my Sabbath Bloody Sabbath CD. And by the way, I actually cut myself opening this goddamned album (not that I was in any real hurry to hear it or anything). The jewel case was sealed very tight by a yellow used price tag reinforced not by one but two very transparent pieces of scotch tape on the other sides that I had to resort to using a knife. And when I finally pried the disc out and popped it in the player what did I get in return for my blood in? A power metal album bled out. That's right, I bled for some power metal. You'd think Tyr, the out-of-print, hard to get Black Sabbath album would be the CD wrapped tight like there were Benjamins inside but nooooo.
The first song is The Shining and the opening riff is very unholy melodic doom and I thought "heeeere's Tony!". But then the song kicks upbeat and devolves into Deep Purple by the time the singer belts his voice out and into the chorus. Iommi utilizes that opening doom riff into a rhythm again throughout the song along with another crunch heavy signature. It would have been awesome had he reprised the opening riff as a solo in exactly the same way to the middle of the song but instead the track plays out in a very predictable fashion. I was hoping this record would vary it's speed quite alot throughout the tracklist but even before Ancient Warrior was done playing, I was already resigned to the fact that The Eternal Idol was an album that was going to be very mid-paced most of the way. Sure, some other songs will be noticeably faster or slower than others but they don't get your attention by pummeling you the way other songs from the earlier albums did. One of the things I do like about the album are the way synthesizers are placed in songs like Ancient Warrior. They sound just like they did on Heaven and hell or Mob Rules almost. That crisp sense of desolation and gloom. It's quite a reminder that Tony is pitching this album to fans of that era more than anything else.
The best song probably on the record is the instrumental Scarlett Pimpernel. While it's good and makes excellent use of the synths in the background, the fact that such a track is the best on The Eternal Idol speaks volumes about the lack of traditional doominess throughout the rest of the work. I don't even think Tony should have included the song because it will probably just remind the listener of the earlier more successful albums and they will change to one of those albums before finishing the rest of The Eternal Idol. Lost Forever follows it as the next song like you were daydreaming of the good old days of Sabbath and you just got reminded that those times are over with because this song is just more power metal. It begins with a Judas Priest type riff; fast, heavy but rollicking and the vocals scream with Priest type vigor too but with far less energy and range. Eric Singer is a competent drummer but he has no particular style and seems like nothing more than a session drummer and he was not a very good choice to drum for Black Sabbath. Bob Daisley had worked before with Dio and Ozzy so I guess it is no surprise that Tony Iommi would eventually get around to reaching for his services for Black Sabbath and I stress the word 'reach'. Lost Forever is the only song I noticed where both of those musicians contribute anything as somewhat solid. The bass sounds slightly deeper and reverberates with alot of catchiness. It's the closest thing you will get to being reminded of those types of rhythms from the classic years. The drum hits sound light and perfunctory still but they echo out to something recognizable of Vinnie Appice.
For those who haven't heard this album and are wondering how much of that "doom metal" sound there is to be found, there of course is some scattered about. Not alot but some. The Eternal Idol is an album that you have to really work hard to appreciate it for those moments when they do show up. Mostly the album just teases at it like on The Shining or Scarlet Pimpernel for example. This is a record that might have been good for what it was back in 1987-88 but doesn't quite hold up now. I guess I should point you to the final self-titled track if you are looking for more of that classic doom sound of the band's heyday. It's a fairly decent enough track and the heaviest for certain but I don't know why I am not really all that impressed with it. I think it could be that the album "railroads" me into it. It's like, okay they teased and toyed with classic heavy Sabb riffs while mostly mixing a trad/power sound in the meantime and nooooow they want to finally give me a doom metal song. Better than nothing I guess. It has a somber and forboding riff structure to begin and continues with crushing resonance in that guitar sound. Halfway through the song, there will be no mistaking that riff. If you are a fan of Candlemass, you really will dig this number. Especially how it ends with the deep wailing gloom fade out at the end. Is it any wonder why it's the longest track on the record but seems like the shortest too? It's not the most memorable Sabbath song but it gets the job done.
The thing that bothers me about The Eternal Idol the most however and why it's not a good album is that it all sounds obvious that Tony Iommi is not enjoying playing this material very much. It almost sounds like he is putting out the album because it is a job he has to do and nothing more. I do wonder how long it has been since he actually played any of the songs from The Eternal Idol. Eighteen..twenty years perhaps? This album has not aged very well. If it isn't forgotten, it’s because it went largely ignored too. When the best things that stand out is instrumental song and a riff here and there, it doesn't deserve too much of my time. Maybe the reason why the man on the cover looks so despondent kneeling next to a titty is because said tit (Sabbath) has been milked dry.