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There’s a very odd sense of nostalgia attached to this album as far as I’m concerned, because it was released at around the time that I had first discovered Black Sabbath’s lesser known Tony Martin era albums. Unfortunately, just like the later randomly ordered “The Best Of Black Sabbath (Platinum Disc)”, this doesn’t quite do justice to what was accomplished during that era of the band despite what idiotic music critics and the masses think to the contrary. But it is much better ordered, does due diligence in representing the godly “Headless Cross” and “Tyr” albums, and stands as a much better collection overall.
Since this, much like MEGADETH’S “Capitol Punishment” was a final release to end Sabbath’s tenure with their label I.R.S.; it is put forth with the best foot of the band’s work while under said label. Things kick off with the amazingly memorable and somewhat similar to “Heaven And Hell” classic “Headless Cross”. It never fails to amaze me that the magical atmosphere that was created on this album was done in the cheapest studio that Iommi and company could find, and that he himself produced it. Throughout the whole listen of that album there was a sort of pristine 80s darkness feel established through the heavily reverb drenched drums, thick keyboards, effects steeped bass and crunchy guitar sounds that perfectly set the tone for any compilation.
As things progress the often forgotten consistency of the entire Martin era unfold from one song to the next. Although “Anno Mundi” and “Heaven In Black” did not make this compilation, the super epic “The Sabbath Stones” comes in with its blazing yet doom oriented main riff and an epic mix of Deep Purple and Ozzy era Sabbath influences, along with the Nordic trilogy that followed it on the “Tyr” album, which has thankfully not been broken apart and robbed of its flow. Then after a brief interlude back into the Dio era of the band in the up tempo, heavy ended, yet lyrically witty “TV Crimes”, things segue perfectly into the bleak sounding “Cross Purposes”. The two songs in congress here are among the darkest in the band’s career, let alone the Martin years, drawing similarities to the likes of Alice In Chains. “Virtual Death” is actually cited as a classic Sabbath song by both Tom Warrior (Celtic Frost) and Trey Azagthoth (Morbid Angel).
Things take sort of a drastic turn during in the production department when the songs from “Forbidden” come in. The album’s really rough and drum heavy production robbed it of some of its power, but the album still had a lot of excellent songs and the ones included on here are good representations of that. “Loser Gets It All” was only available on the Japanese import so its presence here might be a good incentive for anyone who might have all of the Martin era albums to get it, though this is a bit hard to come by so one might want to consider whether one nice straight up, mid tempo riff monster is worthy $18.
Unfortunately, the flow and consistency of this album falls away when a handful of token songs from the turbulent 83-87 era come in at the end. “Disturbing The Priest” and “The Shining” are excellent songs from this period, but their placement is a little bit awkward given the pace established earlier. Likewise, the blues/rock grooving “Heart Like A Wheel” is completely out of place here. Just about any other song from “Seventh Star” would have fit the mood of this album better, though “Sphinx (The Guardian)” followed by the epic title track would have been my personal choice.
Nonetheless, if you are going to get a non-Dio, non-Ozzy compilation, this is the one that you should get. In fact, I’d recommend it over more than half of the Ozzy compilations floating around since the mid 70s. It’s a final testament to one of the most underrated eras in metal history, an era that was bogged down in brainless demands for a return of the original band based on some sort of misguided nostalgia that was likely brought on by the rediscovery of their 70s material via the grunge explosion. Not long later the mainstream got their wish, which was 10 years of studio silence and the de facto end of Black Sabbath as a force in the recording studio. May all of those who shelve this era be damned to Hades and be tormented forever by little demonic imps wearing “Headless Cross” t-shirts.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 10, 2009.
Well, my wish to represent the post-Ozzy catalogue has been fulfilled, in fact, this doing me one better by skipping the original Dio records in favour of Martin, Gillan, one late Dio, and uh, more Martin.
Well, I can't really recommend it. There is just waaaaaay too much from of all things, Tyr, and zero Ozzy and one Dio is absolutely unheard of. It's like taking the problems with the previous comps and turning the dial entirely the other way, a greatest hits set with no hits (save "TV Crimes), and few songs that are familiar to anyone. I don't know what audience this was aiming for, because whatever fans Martin has got should already have bought the bunch he had up this point, but if the initial Sabbath compilation We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n' Roll was released after an acceptable length of time, than I guess this is too.
So yeah, points for being strange, said points and more taken away for covering five crappy albums (Born Again, Tyr, Dehumanizer, Cross Purposes, and Forbidden).