The High Points: Kiss of Death, Rusty Angels
The Low Points: Illusion of Power
The Verdict: Not much really bad, but very little that’s really good.
The Rating: 5/10
Time to review all 20 Black Sabbath studio albums from worst to best! Today we scrape the bottom of the barrel… the worst the band has to offer.
The year is 1995, and guitarist Tony Iommi has a dilemma. He’s back in the same position he found himself in during the latter half of the 80s: the only remaining original member and lacking a bassist and drummer. So he naturally does the sensible thing by bringing back the all-star rhythm section that toured and recorded with Black Sabbath in the late 80s. Enter Neil Murray on bass (mostly known for his work with Whitesnake), and Cozy Powell on drums (known for his work with Rainbow/Jeff Beck/Whitesnake/Everybody Else). Added to the existing lineup of Tony Martin on vocals and Geoff Nichols on keyboards it was a full-on rebirth of the band that gave us the grotesquely underrated Tyr… what could possibly go wrong?
Damn near everything, I guess. There was record company pressure to rectify the borderline-nonexistent sales of the previous release by modernizing the sound a bit, and Iommi’s mind-boggling response was to recruit a rap producer to oversee the recording of the next Black Sabbath opus. You heard me right; a motherfucking rap producer. Ernie C to be specific, famous for his work with body count. The result is a record that sounds like absolute dogshit. I mean seriously, this sounds like a bunch of cheap-ass demos. Iommi’s Epic Guitar of Thunder is blunted in it’s assault, Murray’s bass sounds fuzzy and indistinct, and Powell sounds like he’s just bangin’ on the pots and pans.
All of which I could forgive if the songs were there. Unfortunately this sounds mostly like a record of not-quite-developed good ideas. It was apparently written very quickly; the idea being to go for spontaneity or some shit. The truth is probably closer to what Tony Martin has suggested… that the point was to get it over with quickly in order to fulfill Sabbath’s obligation to IRS records thus leaving them free to pursue a reunion with Ozzy Osbourne. But if that was the case, why go to the trouble and expense of bringing in Murray and Powell when a couple of cheap session players would have done? The world may never know…
There’s a lot of good riffs here; Iommi has an inexhaustible supply. Few of them are developed into memorable songs. Very little is BAD here, mind you… but not much will blow your mind, either. Most of it’s just the kind of unmemorable crap that you have to hear 80 times before it starts to stick in your head. Tony Martin is at least partially to blame; his lyrics sound like he’s just scribbling down anything and singing it, and his vocal melodies are flat and unmemorable with few exceptions. And his voice… it just sounds gruff and unpleasant. It’s largely owing to Martin’s subpar writing that songs with like Get a Grip and Can’t get Close Enough, while showing promise, never quite seem to live up to their potential.
Cozy Powell sounds very uninspired here as well. His usual thunderous drumming sounds very reigned in, and by all accounts it was. Ernie C apparently kept pushing him to play more simple things, and it probably didn’t help that unlike his previous time in the band he was basically given the role of session drummer and denied any creative input.
That said, few of these songs are really BAD… they’re just rarely really good. The only real piece of shit here is the lead-off track Illusion of Power. It starts off great; the intro gave me chills the first time I heard it. Then Martin comes in with his vocal and does a complete butcher job. Ugh. Then it gets worse! Midway through the song Body Count rapper Iced T comes in with a spoken word segment. Yes, you heard me right. A rapper. On a Black Sabbath record. Sweet bleeding chocolate Christ.
But you know what? No Black Sabbath album is a total loss. Even this mostly craptastic offering has some good shit. I like Shaking off the Chains, which is really heavy and just a touch progressive in the best Sabbath tradition. I Won’t Cry for You is a kinda cool ballad. Rusty Angels… hmm. It comes off almost sounding like cheeseball 80s hair music, but for all that it’s actually pretty damn good! The riff sounds like something George Lynch would play. Yeah so… a Dokken song. On a Sabbath record. Fuckin’ weird. Pity Martin mostly stays out of his high register on this album because when he goes up there he even sounds a bit like Don Dokken! Still, for some weird reason it works. Cool song.
I saved the best for last… a small slice of epic called Kiss of Death. It’s the last track on the album, and it starts out slow with Iommi arpeggios (TM) and the best vocal melody on the album. Then it gets heavy, then soft again, then in the latter third it gets fast and furious, finally settling down into an outro that’s to die for. It doesn’t get any better than this; I’d happily place this track amongst the best of Sabbath from any era. Sadly it’s the only one of it’s kind on this album.
You know what’s funny? One godly piece of music, three pretty good songs, one stinker, and a half album of unobjectionable filler that at least has a few killer riffs to offer (check out the riff the title track is built around)… barring the bad production work lots of bands would kill to ever put together a package this strong. Especially with that badass jacket art! But this is Sabbath; we expect a bit more than this. What we have here is easily the worst record in the band’s catalog, and one that everyone involved seems to unanimously hate. Martin calls it the worst thing he was ever on, Iommi has said negative things about it, and Powell left the band mid-tour because he couldn’t stand to keep lying to interviewers about how good the record was. It’s not quite as bad as all that, but nonetheless this is really for completists only. But everyone needs to hear Kiss of Death: