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I'll never forget this one time standing in line to report back in from a liberty port call in Singapore when I was in the service overhearing a conversation between two other guys sharing what they did that night. Usually such exchanges have to do with their drinking experiences that night and where the best "masseuses" reside and how many they did. On a Navy ship, blather about such indulgences are as casual and mundane as housewives shooting the shit at a tupperware party. I wasn't struck by tales of strippers pulling razorblades out of their twats or bar fights with Royal servicemen. No, what caught me by attention was the sailor who was matter of factly reporting that he and so and so went and saw Black Sabbath play a gig in a club that night and got the autograph of Tony Iommi and singer Tony Martin afterwards. He was met with an "oh" and the conversation moved on to other persons, places and things of relevancy. "Oh". And hence, I will always associate that little second hand moment with this era of the band as very "oh." After all, this wasn't any old heavy metal band that may or may not have been heard of by the average Joe. This was Black fucking Sabbath. Or at least what was left of them which sorry to say was not much because if Tyr is the best album from the Tony Martin days, then you need not be bothered unless you are satisfied by name brand appeal alone which I suspect is the case with many people.
Not that this record is bad by any stretch but it really isn't much more than average heavy/power metal with predictable melodies and plenty of filler. That may be good enough for most other bands that play this type of thing but it is NOT good enough for Black Sabbath. Am I putting too broad a perspective on this band after all these years of them having been around? Perhaps. Fellow Brummie Tony Martin is a workman like vocalist with a good set of lungs for heavy metal and I can see why Tony Iommi hired him even if he really is just a second rate traditional metal wailer in the vein of Ronnie Dio. I suppose it also explains alot that Martin wrote all the lyrics on the album. Norse mythology is one of my favorite subjects but I'm not certain that the band plays it up all that well here on this album. Black Sabbath may be Tony Iommi's band but listening to Tyr, I realized just how much Geezer Butler was important for musical vitality in some of the band's heavier sound. He worked well with Iommi in those classic times. Geezer was very much a contributor on Born Again and that was the last album that could be said to be truly "heavy". Ian Gillan's half-ass performances for that tour still outshines anything Tony Martin does on Tyr. No disrespect to Martin but it just illustrates the haves and have nots that the guitarist had to work with because one thing that this album strikes me as is that it's kind of soft and quiet. More importantly, Iommi's riff writing is very pedestrian here. There is nothing on it that will make you go "yeah, that's Black Sabbath right there!" Where's the heaviness and energy? Well I guess I could point out some examples but they are more in the power metal vein but it's not as heavy as Born Again or Mob Rules.
Anno Mundi starts things off with an opening chord nearly identical to Children of the Sea. Just one more reminder that everything here sounds like the band is trying to rehash Heaven and Hell to very mixed results. I will admit this is a good song to listen to on it's own merits. It's very catchy and melodic. But when a Black Sabbath album sounds more like Manowar and Crimson Glory, it's a problem. Anno Mundi is much more progressively textured than the song it tries to emulate but that doesn't mean it's any better. The second track called Law Maker is quite the lame filler song. Cozy Powell was a great drummer and his rollicking hits similar to what he did on Rainbow's Rising is quite recognizable on this song but as much I love that band, it sounds way too much like them than Sabbath. Even Tony Iommi's progressions and speedier soloing are highly derivative of Blackmore. In of itself, that's kind of cool but the song just doesn't do anything for me one bit.
Now as for Jerusalem, I will admit this a very good track with wonderful catchiness to it. It's still stuck in my head. I know I am one to rag on Tony Martin alot but he is the best part of the song. His singing sounds so much like David Coverdale on this track that it's scary. So I guess he can do more than just RJD impressions after all. Again, a good song but is it a good Black Sabbath song?
The Sabbath Stones has a couple good bits to it but I think it's yet one of the weaker songs on Tyr. I would say it's closest in feel (slightly) to Black Sabbath's doomier sound that the band was much more known for. It has one of those transitions into melancholy with the mellotrone and acoustic guitar passage and the song sounds like an admixture when the riffs and chorus speed up like that found in the final passage of Heavan and Hell. I didn't like the opening however. I felt Martin's delivery sounded forced and prosaic. This track sounds like it would've worked better had it been done on Born Again.
The centerpiece of Tyr is really the next three songs. The Battle of Tyr is a pretty majestic instrumental to introduce the suite Odin's Court and Valhalla. These are pretty good songs actually and I wish they would have worked this whole Old Norse concept longer throughout the record although in the first minute or so into Odin's Court with that soft acoustic passage I kept expecting to hear "fade away, fade away, break the crystal ball." Neil Murray is hired help but I really enjoy his bass work on Valhalla. His four strings are engineered quite impressively into the track giving it an epic quality into the stormy forefront of sound. Are these three songs awesome? Almost. Are they classic Sabbath? No. To deem any Tony Martin era material classic would be to marginalize the impact the term "classic" has when used in that fashion ESPECIALLY when applied to such a band as Black Sabbath. It's indefensible.
And contrary to what you might believe, it doesn't have all to do with Tony Martin because yes, I like Tyr better than the Dio fronted Dehumanizer album which I thought was perfunctory in its heaviness in that it sounded as if what worked for Judas Priest with Painkiller might work for Sabbath with Dehumanizer. It didn't. So there is no pure Dio bias either. Tyr has it's moments(Jerusalem, Odin's Court/Valhalla). It has some catchy songs(Anno Mundi and Heaven in Black) but mostly it has too much of an aftermarket feel with this lineup. The filler songs are too distressing to overcome because it sounds like a band grasping for relevance. Seriously, who ever gets excited about albums like Tyr or worse, The Eternal Idol? It's all very "oh."