Black Sabbath Review Countdown #8: Paranoid

Released1970

The High Points: War Pigs, Electric Funeral, Hand of Doom

The Low Points: Rat Salad

The Verdict: Arguably the most influential metal album still stands the test of time.

The Rating: 8/10

Not much changed for Black Sabbath after recording their debut. No big royalty checks, no tour packages… just right back into the same old clubs they’d been playing. It was probably just as well; it wasn’t long before they got signed on with Warner Brothers for future releases, and WB wanted the next album pretty damn fast. Not having a heavy touring schedule gave them time to get an album written. It was their first time working under deadline pressure, and they managed to deliver in spades.

Everyone knows this album. Even if you’re not into Black Sabbath or heavy metal, you probably know Paranoid and Iron Man. The former is short, zippy, and to the point… exactly the opposite of what Sabbath usually does. It was written quickly at the last second because the producer wanted one more song, and it’s the only real radio hit the band ever had. Iron Man also got airplay mostly on the strength of it’s insanely catchy riff. Ozzy takes the lazy road here and just follows the riff with his vocal melody (it wouldn’t be the first time or the last), but the song goes through enough different movements to stay interesting, speeding up to double time for the solo in the middle and then another at the end.

Honestly those are two of the weaker tracks on the album. Wanna hear some badass? Check out the creepy wah-fest Electric Funeral, or the haunting Hand of Doom. Butler’s lyrics are hilarious… Sabbath of all bands writing about the dangers of heroin? Jeez. Planet Caravan is a cool lightweight bit of atmosphere. The idea was that putting something soft on the album would make the heavy shit sound heavier, and it totally works.

The album’s best moment, however, is the mighty opening track. War Pigs is the third really famous song on this album, and it’s a great example of a phenomenon that’s very nearly unique to heavy metal. It was never going to be a hit single; it’s too long, too heavy and lacks a chorus. Nevertheless it’s one of the band’s best known tunes and a must-play live number just because it’s that. fucking. good. It’s one of the best examples of the band’s ability to paste together four or five completely unrelated riffs and craft it into a masterpiece of a song. Amusingly it wasn’t originally War Pigs; the original title was Walpurgis and it was about satanic rituals. Management asked them at the 11th hour if they could change the lyrics; they wanted to put the band on tour in the US where people were still sensitive about that sort of thing and didn’t want to get blacklisted. The lyrics were re-sung on the fly; Ozzy would be in the booth singing a line while Butler was sitting outside writing the next one. The result was the brutal anti-war classic we have today, and it’s still one of heavy metal’s finest moments.

The album missteps in a couple of places. The worst is Rat Salad, which is really just a frame piece for… god help us… a drum solo. Message to all musicians everywhere: unaccompanied solos sound bad. Everyone please just stop. I hate them live, on record it’s unforgivable. Fairies Wear Boots is also a bit of a letdown, although it’s not terrible. Mostly it’s a musically interesting track with bad lyrics. I’ll never understand why they feel the need to play it live every time they do anything with Ozzy.

The record was produced by Roger Bain, who had also recorded the band’s debut. He does a serviceable job but no more, although it’s probably actually pretty impressive considering it was recorded in roughly a week. Performances are raw and exciting but a bit rough around the edges; clearly the band was still finding it’s feet in the studio.

This is the album that put Black Sabbath, and by extension heavy metal, on the map. It could have been the last thing they ever did, and the band would still have been important. In the wake of this album they became one of the most important acts of the early 70s… all the more impressive considering an almost complete lack of radio airplay. It still sounds fresh and powerful today, and is an essential part of any rock record collection.

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Black Sabbath Review Countdown #9: Tyr

Released: 1990

The High Points: Anno Mundi, The Sabbath Stones, Valhalla

The Low Points: Feels Good to Me

The Verdict: An overlooked classic.

The Rating: 8/10

Sabbath wasn’t doing so well commercially in 1990. Headless Cross had sold spectacularly in continental Europe, but in those days there wasn’t a lot of money in that market and if you weren’t selling in the US and Britain you just weren’t selling. Nevertheless they pressed forward, taking to the studio with mostly the same lineup that had recorded Headless Cross. The only new face was bassist Neil Murray, who had been brought on board for the Headless cross tour.

Right out of the gate, Tyr is a very different beast than Headless Cross. It’s denser, heavier, darker, and less immediately catchy. Tony Martin’s melodies are darker and more ominous than before, and he’s mercifully dropped the cartoony “devil’s gonna get you” schtick. Instead roughly half of the album follows a nordic mythology theme, which Iommi says he had some trouble getting his head around. Really? Dude… what’s more metal than fucking Vikings? In any event the lyrics are mostly excellent; this is the moment at which Mr. Martin truly came into his own as a writer.

The whole first side is just epic. It starts with Anno Mundi, the kind of slow plodding heavy number that only Sabbath can seem to consistently pull off. The intro reminds me perhaps a bit too much of Children of the Sea, but I forget all about it the moment the riff kicks in. The Lawmaker is a furious burst of power, and Jerusalem is mid-tempo power metal with a dynamite chorus. The Sabbath Stones juggles moods like a gymnast, mixing heavy verses with gentle acoustic interludes before closing out side two with a powerhouse finale at a faster tempo. Brilliant and breathtaking; easily the best track on the album.

The first half of side two is taken up by a collection of tracks I think of as The Valhalla Suite. It starts off atmospheric with keyboard instrumental The Battle of Tyr, seguing gracefully into moody acoustic territory with Odin’s Court. Then the sledgehammer comes down with the thunderous Wings of Valhalla. It doesn’t get much better than this, folks.

The record falls off a bit at the very end but I want to make clear that what follows isn’t bad… it just doesn’t match the solid wall of awesome we’ve been treated to thus far. Feels Good to Me is the worst moment… a power ballad? On a motherfucking Black Sabbath record? Actually it’s not terribly bad as power ballads go. Tony Martin’s background in power pop really shines through here and the band turns in a love ballad that is truthfully one of the better examples of the form. Still wish they’d have skipped it, though. Closer Heaven in Black has a gallop feel a little reminiscent of Children of the Grave, and while not a brilliant track it’s enjoyable enough.

Soundwise the album is perhaps a bit too dense; the guitars seem a bit muddy and Murray’s bass is sadly buried in the mix. It’s a shame, too… he’s such a great player and if you listen close he plays some really cool stuff here. Powell’s drum sound is thunderous. Everyone plays great, and Martin turns in the vocal performance of a lifetime.

Everyone needs to run out and grab this. It’s wonderfully heavy, extremely well-written, and ludicrously underrated.

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Black Sabbath Review Countdown #10: Headless Cross

Released: 1989

The High Points: Headless Cross, When Death Calls, Nightwing

The Low Points: Devil and Daughter

The Verdict: Why didn’t this sell better?!

The Rating: 8/10

Warner Brothers never even tried to promote The Eternal Idol. They’d already written Sabbath off, and just wanted to get the record on store shelves in order to get everyone free of their contracts. Once this was accomplished, Sabbath was dropped. Iommi changed management, and the new people negotiated him a deal with the much smaller I.R.S. records. They also suggested that he bring together a band of known names in order to reestablish some credibility in the eyes of the fans.

The first guy he called was legendary drummer Cozy Powell. They’d been trying to work together for years (apparently it was first discussed in the late 70s when problems were cropping up with Bill Ward), but for the first time Powell was free at the same time Iommi needed a drummer. An attempt was made to bring in Geezer Butler… an attempt that was carried on a bit too long, with the result that Sabbath wound up going into the studio with a session bassist. Management kinda wanted Tony Martin replaced as well, and a few names were bandied about before Iommi said fuck it and decided to give him the chance to participate in the writing and recording of an album from start to finish.

The result was a three-way writing team. Powell was very involved, helping Iommi put the musical aspects of the album together. Martin wrote all of the lyrics and vocal melodies. The result is quite a different Sabbath album. Martin had been working in more of a pop-rock setting before Sabbath, and that line of thinking comes out in the melodies, particularly the mostly excellent choruses.

Iommi lays back quite a bit on this album; it’s not nearly as riff-intensive as much of his previous work. The riffs are excellent, but much more sparingly dished out. He seems to almost deliberately be backing off a bit and allowing the vocal melodies to take on a greater prominence. Is the result a more radio-friendly effort? Yes, but at the same time it manages to be really GOOD. Besides, none of this was destined for mainstream radio… Martin’s melodies might be singsongy, but lyrically he goes for the demons, witches, and warlocks subject matter that Sabbath had mostly avoided since the first album and takes it to a cartoony extreme. It manages to not come off as stupid mostly because of the man’s ability to wield a metaphor… but it’s borderline at times.

Overall the songs are just excellent. Kill in the Spirit world has one of the best vocal melodies on the album and Martin sounding earily like Dio. Headless Cross has a killer riff, a great chorus, and an almost Heaven and Hell vibe during the verses. Check out the blues-metal assault of Black Moon Rising. Only Devil and Daughter falls at all flat, and it’s still enjoyable enough when it’s on.

It’s sort of a tie for best track. When Death Calls is the most Sabbathesque, moving adroitly through a few different sections until kicking in full bast with a powerhouse riff. Nightwing is semi-acoustic and ballady and features the best solos on the album along with perhaps Martin’s best recorded vocal performance. Speaking of solos, this album features the one confirmed instance of a guitarist other than Iommi on a Sabbath album. When Death Calls showcases Queen’s Brian May as a guest soloist.

The performances are great all around. Geoff Nichols is given more room than usual, and his keyboard parts are simple but inspired. Iommi and Powell are their usual brilliant selves, and Martin sings like what he is: a man with something to prove. Session bassist Lawrence Cottle does an understated but effective job. The album was jointly produced by Iommi and Powell, resulting in one of the best-sounding records in the catalog.

This is a little on the singsongy side, but the songwriting is so strong you wont mind too much. The whole thing is a consistently enjoyable experience with plenty of replay value. Get it.

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Black Sabbath Review Countdown #11: Heaven & Hell

Released: 1980

The High Points: Heaven & Hell, Children of the Sea, Die Young, Lonely is the Word

The Low Points: Walk Away, Lady Evil

The Verdict: Overrated but still very good.

The Rating: 8/10

I’m erecting a flame shield here… rating this album in the bottom half and below a couple of the Tony Martin records is going to get me crucified. Let me state for the record that this is an excellent album for the most part, but it’s also an album that is mostly remembered for it’s high points. Some of the low points kind of stink.

Most metal fans know what happened here: Ozzy was fired, Ronnie James Dio was brought in to take his place. Almost immediately thereafter Geezer Butler fucked off back to England to deal with his pending divorce, leaving Sabbath to carry on without him. His return was left an open question.

There is a LOT of controversy about who wrote what on this record. Butler is credited but it’s pretty much agreed that he did very little of it. There are apparently some demos of early versions of some of the songs with Ozzy on them (which Dio always denied existed), but Butler’s contribution there would mostly have been lyrics and Dio re-wrote all of that. Bassist Craig Gruber, who had played with Dio in Elf and was working as a high-pofile session man, was called upon to stand in during the writing and recording. There is some question about what if anything he might have contributed… either way he is uncredited.

Speaking of Craig Gruber… shit. He claims that he was supposed to be a permanent replacement, and that he played on all of the tracks except Neon Knights but was fired when Butler asked to come back. The band claims that Butler was pulled back in BEFORE the bass tracks were recorded, and Gruber was never intended to be more than a stand-in. My opinion: that’s not Geezer Butler on most of the tracks. Whoever it is does a good job of duplicating the style… but not a perfect one. I think Gruber probably did play on most of the album, making this the first instance of Black Sabbath recording without Geezer Butler. This is also the first to feature Geoff Nichols on keyboards.

As for the material… the good stuff here is fucking EPIC. There are three or four cuts here that rank right up amongst the best Sabbath has ever done, and no less than four that became concert staples going forward. Neon Knights is the kind of fast rocker that Dio is so good at writing, and it kicks off the album in rousing fashion. Children of the Sea is more traditional Sabbath territory, a downtempo crusher that starts of with pretty acoustic arpeggios before Dio’s whisper becomes a snarl and the riff appears to grind your poor unworthy soul into the ground. Die Young is another fast one, with most of it’s considerable power coming from a godlike vocal melody. Beautiful and underappreciated is closing track Lonely is the Word, featuring one of Iommi’s all-time finest moments as a soloist.

Then of course there is the legendary and awe-inspiring title track. One of Iommi’s best riffs, some of Dio’s best lyrics, a slow careful build in intensity through three verses and then a breathtaking fast outro… holy shit. I’m not sure this is Sabbath’s best song ever, but it’s damn close. When it’s over you can’t believe six minutes have just gone by.

Sadly, there’s a fair amount of filler here. Walk Away sounds like an Elf leftover and not a good one. Lady Evil features some really bad lyrics and lacks enough musical excitement to make up for it. Wishing Well isn’t really bad… but it isn’t really good either.

Martin Birch produces here, and it sounds just like him. Listen to any of Iron Maiden’s 80s output to understand what I mean. Everything is well-balanced and crispy sounding, but the drums lack punch and power. The band plays spectacularly… Ward sounds interested in his job for the first time in like five years, the bass playing is groovy and interesting whether it’s Geezer or not, and Dio sings like a man possessed. Immediately Geoff Nichols makes his presence felt to good effect, supplying exactly what is needed but never anything more.

The real prize has to go to Iommi… the man just plays his ass off on this. He plays a lot of lead guitar here, and it’s all just spectacular. If I had to pick one album to point to as his finest recorded performance it would have to be this.

Overall… the good stuff is unbelievable, which is the only reason this album gets such a high rating because frankly the ratios aren’t that good. Out of eight songs there are three that are pretty stinky. The only saving grace is that four of the other five absolutely fucking rule and the other one is pretty damn good. These tracks are legendary and epic and there is a reason this album has been so heavily featured in the Sabbath live show down through the years. Recommended.

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Black Sabbath Review Countdown #12: The Eternal Idol

Released: 1987

The High Points: The Shining, Glory Ride, Ancient Warrior, Eternal Idol

The Low Points:  Hard Life to Love

The Verdict: Beats the hell out of anything Ozzy was doing at the time…

The Rating: 7.5/10

Iommi learned his lesson from the Seventh Star debacle; despite the absence of the other three original members there was no way the record label was going to allow him to release an album under his own name. The follow-up was conceived from the outset as a Black Sabbath album… the 13th released under that hallowed moniker. All of the superstition surrounding unlucky thirteen was born out by the convoluted mess that recording the album turned out to be.

Iommi went into the studio with the same band that had recorded Seventh Star except for vocalist Glenn Hughes, who fell out of the tour for that album after just five shows. He was replaced by unknown New York singer Ray Gillen, who turned out to be a great singer and an entertaining frontman. Iommi decided to keep him around, along with bassist Dave Spitz and drummer Eric Singer. Ever-faithful keyboardist Geoff Nichols was still in tow.

It sure fell apart in a hurry. The first casualty was Dave Spitz, who was booted during the writing sessions for spending more time on the phone trying to keep his girlfriend than working with the band. Iommi called in Bob Daisley, known for his work with Rainbow and Gary Moore and this guy you probably never heard of by the name of Ozzy Osbourne. Yeah… this is the man who played bass on most of Ozzy’s 80s albums and apparently wrote all the lyrics. He had a full-time gig in Gary Moore’s band but had time to come in just for the album. The timing was fortuitous; Iommi was in the process of finding out the hard way that his new vocalist was NOT a songwriter. Daisley took over the lyric writing responsibilities and probably saved the album.

Unfortunately he wasn’t interested in staying; Iommi asked but he liked his job in Moore’s band. Worse, drummer Eric Singer decided to jump ship… Daisley arranged him an audition with Gary Moore and he got the gig. Like the true professional that he has always been he stuck around until the drum tracks had been recorded to everyone’s satisfaction… and then handed in his resignation. Someone else was brought in later to add some percussion. The album went through three producers as well, finally being  polished off by Chris Tsangerides. But the real icing on the cake came when singer Ray Gillan got into an 11th-hour disagreement with Iommi and found himself out of a job.

The vocals had been recorded by that time; they could have released what they had and in fact you can now buy a deluxe edition of the album that comes with a second disc featuring Gillen’s vocals. However Iommi didn’t want to be in the position he’d been in last time, touring with a singer who hadn’t done the album. Vocalist Tony Martin was brought in at the last minute. He re-sang the whole album in roughly a weeks worth of studio time.

Given all of the above you’d expect the album itself to be a convoluted mess, but you’d be wrong. The Iommi-Daisley songwriting partnership worked out spectacularly… honestly what strikes me about the Sabbath catalog as a whole is Iommi’s ability to sit down with any lyric writer on the planet and make a great album. It sounds a bit 80s in places, most notably fast rockers like like Born to Lose and Lost Forever. But for the most part these attempts to fit in, while perhaps a bit contrived, work well enough and don’t seriously drag down the best material.

Which is, by the way, spectacular. Opener The Shining screams Sabbath with a big bold riff that could only have been written by the man himself and marries that to a great chorus. Ancient Warrior has a weird eastern vibe and one of the best vocal melodies on the record. Glory Ride is another standout, and check out the weird stop-time riff on Nightmare. Scarlet Pimpernickel is one of Iommi’s nice little acoustic instrumentals, something that had been missing for awhile and was nice to hear again.

The real winner is the slow, doomy title track. Eternal Idol closes the album by hearkening back to Sabbath’s early beginnings, and manages to capture that spirit without sounding forced or contrived. This, my friends, is what Sabbath is supposed to sound like. Bob Daisley seems to agree; he calls it one of the most interesting heavy tracks he’s ever been involved with.

The performances range from good to excellent. Daisley and Singer form a solid, professional and occasionally exciting rhythm section. Iommi delivers as usual, and Tony Martin sounds fantastic… why do Sabbath fans hate this guy so much? His tone is similar to Dio’s, but he has more range and when he goes high he sounds a bit like Don Dokken. Despite the rush to re-track the vocals he sings with power and conviction throughout. Production-wise it sounds like the 80s… not enough bass guitar, and the drums are loud enough but sound small.

For the most part this is a collection of killer songs, and works a lot better than anyone could have hoped for given the circumstances under which it was recorded. The only real loser here is Hard Life to Love and even that’s not terrible. It proved to be Sabbath’s nadir sales-wise, but is being rediscovered by rock fans almost thirty years removed from it’s inception. Don’t miss this one.

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Black Sabbath Review Countdown #13: Cross Purposes

Released: 1994

The High Points: Cross of Thorns, Psychophobia, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

The Low Points: Back to Eden, Evil Eye

The Verdict: Bold and unique.

The Rating: 7/10

When Ronnie James Dio left the band (again) and took Vinnie Appice with him (again), Iommi was once more left holding the bag… and this time it was unquestionably his fault. What the fuck was he thinking, allowing Sabbath to be booked as Ozzy’s opening act for the last two shows of the No More Tears tour? Odds are he already had those reunion dollars gleaming in his eye, and Dio saw the writing on the wall and quite rightly refused to do the shows.

Geezer Butler agreed to stick around, and Tony Martin was brought back into the fold to take over the vocal duties (after being unceremoniously fired to bring Dio in he must have either been a saint or desperate for cash). Bobby Rodinelli of Rainbow fame was brought in to play drums and the ever-faithful Geoff Nichols was still tickling the ivories.

The result of this odd mixture is one of the most unusual and interesting Sabbath records ever. All guns are blazing on the lead-off track I Witness, with Mr. Martin singing in his midrange voice and sounding oddly like David Coverdale. There are a lot of short rockers like this on the album, and most of them are excellent. The pick of this litter is the excellent Psychopobia, which captures Sabbath looking for something different and finding it in a really odd offbeat groove.

There are some killer downtempo number here as well. Virtual Death is creepy in the best sense of the word, and features the only Geezer Butler lyric on the album. Cross of Thorns is lovely, balladesque in the verses and heavy in the chorus. Check out Cardinal Sin… Geoff Nichols is heavily featured in this very effective nod to Led Zeppelin.

The album’s best moment comes in the by turns haunting and rocking Hand That Rocks the Cradle, with Martin telling a chilling and apparently true story of a maternity ward nurse who was killing newborns. This kind of thing is all over the record. Martin tries his hand at both the personal and the topical here, to remarkable effect. Seriously, why isn’t this guy better known? He’s really a great writer.

There are a couple of lesser moments here. Back to Eden is generic and lame, and album closer Evil Eye just sucks. It’s known that Eddie Van Halen came by the studio and jammed on this song while they were working on it, and rumors have abounded for years that he played the solos. It could be him, or it could be Iommi in that pseudo-shred space he occasionally occupies. But who cares… the solos on this track are dreadful.

The album is recorded well enough, although the drums lack punch. Performances are solid, although sadly Iommi’s soloing seems a bit stale here. He’s still got the riffs, though. Mostly this album is really solid and enjoyable collection of songs, many of which represent a bold departure from the Black Sabbath norm. There are only a few true standouts here, but not much that will drive you to the skip button. Get this one.

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Black Sabbath Review Countdown #14: 13

Released: 2013

The High Points: God is Dead, Age of Reason, Damaged Soul

The Low Points:  Live Forever

The Verdict: Much better than it had any right to be.

The Rating: 7/10

Over the past fifteen or twenty years we’ve been having our poor little ears assaulted by bad reunion albums. You know how it goes: four or five guys who haven’t spoken in a decade get together and try putting together a record that sounds as much as possible like what they did in the past, and they manage to capture the style but not the substance. Every single track is a lesser imitation of something they did twenty years ago. Worse, a bunch of asshats on the internet give the record ridiculously high ratings and go on about how unfair it is to hold an older band to the standard it set in it’s heyday.

That’s about what I expected out of Black Sabbath 13. The Devil You Know had already been something of a disappointment; a handful of killer tunes does not a great album make. Then there was the horrible shit Ozzy has been releasing ever since No More Tears… not that I ever was the biggest fan of his solo career. I figured this thing was going to suck, and suck hard. I’ve never been more delighted to be proven wrong.

Right away it’s clear that the band is trying to recapture their glory days. The first song rhymes more than a little with Black Sabbath (the song). Similar slow, doomy riff, weird reverb soaked toms, Ozzy warbling over it in his lower midrange voice… then it kicks into high gear and explodes into something entirely other. Clearly they’re trying to recreate the sound and style of their early records… but this is maybe the first example I’ve ever seen of the approach actually fucking WORKING. Rather than being a lesser imitation, End of the Beginning manages to be a kick-ass song in it’s own right.

Sometimes it rhymes a little too much. The Loner has a main riff that is clearly a recycling of the N.I.B. riff… although to be fair it’s attached to a good enough song that you probably won’t care too much. Zeitgeist is clearly trying to be Planet Caravan part 2, but once again it’s quite ingratiating in it’s own right.

It’s clear that the Iommi/Butler songwriting team is firmly in control here. They’ve retained their stunning ability to weld together seemingly unrelated bits of music into a single cohesive package, creating songs that frequently ignore traditional song structures yet feel like a cohesive whole. Choruses? Who needs ’em? This approach is fully realized in the first single, the stunning nine minute monster God is Dead. The band shifts gears seamlessly, and Iommi cranks out riff after riff with practiced ease. Another example is the epic Age of Reason.

The other real standout is the complete oddball; Damaged Soul is weirdly bluesy in a dark creepy way that even Sabbath has never really achieved before. Ozzy pulls out the harmonica for the first time since the debut, and Iommi outdoes himself with some godly lead guitar. His tone is interesting here as well; is that a Strat he’s using? Sounds like it, although it’s the most demonic Strat tone you’ll hear this side of the nether regions.

Speaking of Iommi, the man plays his balls off on this. The riffs are fantastic, and the leads some of his best work ever. It’s particularly amazing when you realize he was being treated for lymphoma during the recording of this album. Nevertheless he pulls out all the stops and turns in one of the best recorded performances of his impressive career.

Geezer Butler sounds very inspired here as well, serving up his trademark melodic but groovy lines. The drums… ummm… well, here we get to the big elephant in the room, don’t we? This is NOT an original Black Sabbath reunion; Bill Ward is conspicuously absent. He left before the recording sessions and left a rambling, disjointed, and lengthy rant on the internet about “unsignable contracts” that could really be boiled down to one sentence: “Sharon Osbourne is being a cunt”. How true it all is I don’t know, but regardless he ain’t here.

Ward was replaced by Brad Wilks of Rage Against the Machine fame. He does a serviceable job, but not much more. He’s a better technical drummer than Ward, but his attempts to cop the classic Sabbath drum style mostly fall flat. In truth, I doubt if Ward could have been his old self at this point either so I guess it’s fine.

As for Ozzy, well… it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to hear that he’s getting a lot of help from studio trickery. Even so, he stays in his lower midrange voice. It works OK, but it sure isn’t the Ozzy we remember. That aside, the album could have been recorded better. I don’t know why Rick Rubin was chosen to produce given some of the epic fuckups he’s been responsible for (Death Magnetic, cough cough), but the bass is too low in the mix and the whole thing is overcompressed. The effect becomes painfully obvious listening on a good system, although I imagine Rubin and the band reasoned (correctly) that most listeners would be listening on their cellphones with cheap-ass earbuds.

The songwriting mostly makes up for the above deficiencies. It falls a little flat in a few places, but the only track I actively dislike is Live Forever. I know I’m rating this record pretty far down the list at number 14, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good album. In fact everything from here on out is strongly recommended; Sabbath has been nothing if not consistent down through the years. That’s why they’re my favorite band.

In short, I’ve rarely seen such a good example of an older band grabbing their younger imitators by the collar and saying look son… this is how the shit is done. This album does suffer a bit from inconsistent songwriting, the production is less than spectacular, and at times it seems the band is trying maybe a bit too hard to pretend they’re the same guys that recorded Master of Reality and Volume 4. The calculated nature of the beast hurts the end result; part of the magic of those old albums is that the band really didn’t seem to have any idea what the fuck they were doing or how significant it would turn out to be. But in it’s best moments this record manages to serve up music that can stand unashamedly alongside those hallowed platters, and most of the rest is pretty good as well.

One little side note: get the deluxe addition. It includes a few bonus tracks that really should have just been on the album. How often does that happen? Bonus tracks usually suck. Not the case here; if Methademic and Naivete in Black had been on the album proper instead of Dear Father and Live Forever I would have given the record a higher rating. Meanwhile here’s God is Dead in all of it’s evil glory.

 

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