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 Psychopobia, which captures Sabbath looking for something different and finding it in a really odd offbeat groove.
There are some killer downtempo numbers 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.