The High Points: Angry Heart, In Memory, Seventh Star
The Low Points: No Stranger to Love
The Verdict: Pretty good if you can ignore the name on the cover
The Rating: 7/10
Following the departure of Ian Gillan in 1984, Black Sabbath was thrown into chaos. No singer, and drummer Bev Bannon (who had been hired to do the tour after Bill Ward fell off the wagon) went off to do whatever Bev Bannon does. So once again it was just Butler and Iommi with Geoff Nichols sort of tagging along, trying to get a band together. A few drummers came and went; Bill Ward was back in for awhile and then gone again. They went through three or four singers, going as far as to get some demos recorded with Dave Donato. They did some pre-production work with Quiet Riot’s producer, none of which came to anything. Finally, Geezer Butler threw up his hands and walked.
Iommi was left with kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, he was now sole owner of the Black Sabbath name. On the other, he had a contract for two more albums and no friggin’ band. After some deliberation he decided to put Sabbath on hiatus for a year and do a solo album while he figured out what the next move was. The idea was to have a different vocalist on every track, including a couple of former Black Sabbath singers.
Didn’t turn out to be so simple. The idea of having a bazillion singers on the thing was the first thing to go; it wasn’t going to work logistically. So he wound up with ANOTHER former Deep Purple singer. This time it was Glenn Hughes, who had played bass in Purple while splitting lead vocal duties with David Coverdale.
There’s some confusion over who wrote what here. Seems Hughes had a songwriting contract elsewhere that precluded him being credited on this package. Apparently he did write some lyrics for this record, but by all accounts Geoff Nichols did too. It’s easy to tell which is which; Hughes style is so obvious you can easily tell when it’s NOT him. That being the case it’s a real pity Nichols didn’t get to do more writing during his time in the band… he’s really pretty good.
That seems like enough complications for one record… but fuck me, there’s one more. Once the finished product was turned in to the label they informed Iommi that they would only release it if the Black Sabbath name was on the cover. He was all like wait, it’s not a Sabbath record! and they were all like well, if you want us to release the damn thing it is now! They settled on a compromise; the jacket says Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi which may be the dumbest thing ever… all Black Sabbath records feature Tony Iommi. The jacket “art” is just a picture of the man himself… looking as if he’d rather be elsewhere.
And now for the good news: this is much, much better than you have been led to believe! It kicks off with a burst of power with the hard rocking In For the Kill which really sets the pace for the album; contrary to Sabbath tradition there are a lot of fast rockers on here. It’s more hard rock than metal; more 80s than 70s. Hughes dives in for the first verse doing what Glenn Hughes does; it’s his full on White Boy Funky Soul (TM), love it or hate it.
There are several similar tracks, and while they may come off as a bit generic they are better than 80% of the crap that was calling itself metal at the time. Danger Zone in particular is interesting, being built around a very cool riff. But where this album really shines is when it slows down a bit. I’m thinking of the title track, which also happens to be the most Sabbath-like; dark, atmospheric, and built around a killer riff. Hughes is a bit more restrained here than usual (that’s not saying much BTW). There’s a nifty little blues tune on here called Heart Like a Wheel… hey, we haven’t heard Sabbath get all bluesy since the first album! And this time, there’s a singer that really gets the blues. Cool.
The best moment, however, is the last two tracks taken in combination. The first is a mid-tempo rocker called Angry Heart which segues into a lush, gorgeous slow closer called In Memory. Stunning.
There’s only one real stinker here; the odious power ballad No Stranger to Love. Naturally it was also the first single and featured a weird-ass video of Iommi wandering around some city streets. Where the hell is this even coming from?
Some of it comes off sounding a bit contrived, but if you aren’t thinking of it as a Black Sabbath record it’s actually much better than you’ve been led to expect. It’s mostly enjoyable, has only one real loser, and there are a few gems. Worth getting.