A new Black Sabbath record!? That’s pretty epic. And it calls for an epic response. So here we present for you the first ever triple review here at Angry Metal Guy. First up: Angry Metal Guy; then Steel Druhm; and Mr. Fisting Himself weighs in with a third opinion. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll probably find a reason to complain or a spelling error. Break out the flamethrowers, it’s reviewing time!
Black Sabbath // 13
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Worthy of being an epitaph
Label: US: Republic Records | EU: Mercury
Websites: blacksabbath.com | facebook.com/blacksabbath
Release Dates: US: 06.11.2013 | EU: 2013.06.12
Black Sabbath should need no introduction. Regardless of your opinion on the band, there is absolutely no question of their iconic position in metal because of their seminal works of Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Master of Reality, Vol. 4, and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. For many metal fans, these records are iconic, untouchable pieces of work that are beyond reproach. While I don’t fall into that camp, having been largely raised in the world of 1980s heavy metal and having discovered Ozzy’s solo work before I discovered Black Sabbath, I have a deep and hearty respect for the band that popularized the genre I love, and whose work is still being aped left and right to this day.
And while I’m not here to re-hash a legendary band’s discography, I will add this to the discussion: I’ve always found Black Sabbath‘s earliest material to be inconsistent. While Black Sabbath is an amazing record in many respects, the title track and “N.I.B.” are stellar, “Evil Woman (Don’t You Play Your Games with Me)” and “The Wizard” were simply things that reeked of ’60s hard rock and blues and never appealed to me. Similarly “Fairies Wear Boots” on Paranoid, “Sweet Leaf” on Master of Reality and down the line, there are tracks that kind of kill these records for me. While I appreciate them, I do not love them, so a reunion with Ozzy—after all these years in a scene where ’70s doom is just a retro trend, not a viable genre—struck me as largely irrelevant.
I stand corrected.
13 doesn’t really pick up where the band left off, but instead it reaches back to the earliest material, which was fresh, free from drama and pretention. The band was apparently steeped in its earliest records by producer Rick Rubin (sporting a fine Swami look, fitting for being the spiritual leader of this reunion), and 13 clearly benefits from this. References to “Planet Caravan,” and riffs and melodies that seem oddly familiar but that you can’t quite place, build up just the right feel for this record. While some might criticize the record for being too derivative of the band’s old sound, and therefore just being some kind of vehicle for a nostalgia trip, that’s unfair. This is how Black Sabbath should sound if they were doing a reunion record after a clean break in 1973.
Thematically, a band of old guys, all of whom have looked death in the eyes, is the best group in the world to play this kind of music. A 21 year-old kid in a doom metal band, doesn’t know of which he speaks. When Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi grapple with God’s existence (“God Is Dead”), you stop and listen. Mostly importantly, you think. 13 is a deathly serious record, with a feel and lyrical content that reaches deep into the existential crises of aged rockers making their last record. Iommi’s battle with cancer, Dio’s death, and the rough world out there all dance circles in my head while I’m listening to this music, which at times is dark and morose (“Zeitgeist,” and “Age of Reason”).
13 is also a consistent record. While there are moments worthy of criticism—particularly on the editing front, with 5 of 8 tracks reaching 7+ minutes—there isn’t a bad song on the album, and at 53 minutes it’s just a little long. The performances are good and there are real moments of whatever the doom metal equivalent of “ecstasy” is; the build up of opening track “The End of Beginning” is dark and moving, “Zeitgeist” references “Planet Caravan” to great, moving effect, and “Dear Father” is a heart-wrenching masterpiece. The record also plays as a whole album that is meant to be listened to from front-to-back. It opens heavy, has a lull, and closes strong.
Aside from the overmastering (THE PEAKING! OH GOD!), I have to tip my hat to Rick Rubin on this one. 13 is beefy, Geezer’s bass sits perfectly in the mix, Iommi sounds awesome and the choice to keep Ozzy is in his natural range was the right decision. The scab drummer even does a good job, though certainly he doesn’t ape the jazz feel from the early records particularly well. Still, expecting Black Sabbath to put out a record that feels exactly the same as records that are 40 years old is pretty unrealistic, and there’s no guarantee that Ward and Geezer would have had that playful interchange that so defined their sound in the ’70s.
13 is going to get hell. Maybe the reason I like it so much is that I don’t think of Sabbath as being divine, and so I’m ready to take this album for what it is and not what it’s “supposed to be.” But this is clearly one of the most enjoyable albums that I’ve heard in 2013, a year that has been so disappointing in so many ways. This record is very good and it’s grown on me since I started listening to it, and it is a worthy epitaph on the band’s grave. There’s no reason to believe that Sabbath has another one in them, so enjoy 13 for what it’s worth.
Black Sabbath // 13
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Going through changes, yet staying the same
By: Steel Druhm
I’ll admit I was one of the few in metaldom rooting against this reunion album. While the classic Sabbath albums played a huge role in my steely education and I cherish them to this day, I weighed the odds that such a reunion would be far more likely to embarrass than impress. I mean, Ozzy has been releasing questionable music for years and the last respectable Sabbath album came out in 1992. Still, the stars aligned (except for Bill Ward) and the semi orignal line-up came together to release what is likely the last true Sabbath album. Rick Rubin helmed the production and allegedly forced the band to revisit and reflect on the raw power and glory of their 1970 debut and it shows in some of the resulting material. 13 spends a good part of it’s running time looking back wistfully at what Sabbath was and at times it shamelessly plagiarizies past ideas and sounds. However, these old dogs had a few surprises left in them and 13 has some legitimately interesting takes on their trademark bluesy doom metal. While far from a timeless classic (and anyone expecting that is crazyboat nuthouse), there are some really good songs here and thankfully, 13 is a respectable and dignified swan song from a trio of legendary and highly influential metal icons.
The vintage Iommi doom riff that opens “End of Beginning” demands immediate attention and as it segues into ominous strumming, it sounds so close to their namesake song I was expecting Ozzy to ask “What is this that stands before before me?” He doesn’t, but the influence of their debut hangs heavy over the song like a funeral shroud. Ozzy’s vocals are surprisingly clear and vibrant and the whole band sounds quite spry. At a ponderous eight minutes, the song explores various moods and while it isn’t perfect, it’s a successful return to their classic sound. “God is Dead” is both longer and more varied, taking elements of Sabbath and Ozzy’s solo material and fusing them into a surprisingly catchy slice of doom. Elsewhere we get the lighter, more swinging “Loner” which could have appeared on Never Say Die and a nostalgic retread of “Planet Caravan” called “Zeitgeist,” complete with bongos and more lava lamp-y, spacey guitar noodling than can be found on any five Cathedral albums.
If they stuck to copying older classics, I suppose 13 still could have worked, but they venture outside their traditional comfort zone for the straight-up rock of “Age of Reason” and the mega-bluesy “Damaged Soul,” which has a free-form, live feel to it as if they improvised it in the studio. Both songs show the band at their best and prove them capable of injecting fresh blood and new ideas into the beloved Sabbath sound.
While I wouldn’t say any of the songs are bad, “Live Forever” doesn’t jump out at me and though “Dear Father” has real bite, it seems like something from an Ozzy solo platter. A bigger issue is the seeming inability to self-edit (that’s Metallica-itis in industry speak). With half the songs running seven minutes or more, there’s clearly some chaff left in with the wheat and some clipping would have enabled the songs to make their points and move on before dragging or losing focus, which some do.
Iommi sounds great and hearing his familiar riffing makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. He’s always been the undisputed Lord of the Doom Riff and he shows why once again. His solos and jamming are also a delight, be they the spacey variety or the flat-out jamming kind, he sounds born again and brilliant. Ozzy’s performance is perhaps a bigger surprise, since I expected less than nothing from him. He stays in a safe mid-range and doesn’t try to overdo things, steal the show or give in to clownish vocal antics. While I’m sure he had a great deal of studio aid, he sounds feisty, focused and full of prunes. Naturally, Geezer holds up his low end and he and Iommi key off each other as naturally as can be. While it’s a war crime that Bill Ward isn’t playing on the album, Brad Wilk does a more than respectable job approximating his style as the legends do their thing.
13 could have been many things, but ends up an enjoyable, yet melancholy trip down memory lane with old friends you know won’t be coming back again. It isn’t a modern day doom classic, yet it’s plenty good enough to stand on it’s own without diminishing the band’s enduring legacy. I’m sorry I doubted you guys and now I’m in a shame spiral. ALRIGHT NOW, won’t you listen?
Black Sabbath // 13
Rating: 3.0/5.0 — The Final Word
By: Fisting Andrew Golata
Black motherfucking Sabbath. How the hell do I review a record that people have been waiting for longer than I’ve even been alive? There are entire generations of metalheads who have been holding out hope for this album. I’ve personally been waiting for this since about 1998, but other than a few cockteases here and there, it looked as though a new Sabbath album was unattainable. Decades later, 13 has finally surfaced, featuring 3/4ths of the original Sabbath and produced by renowned career-reanimator Rick Rubin. Original drummer Bill Ward sat this one out (due to either contractual disputes or not having his shit together, depending on who you believe), and was replaced by Rage Against The Machine‘s Brad Wilk. Worse still, guitarist/metal godfather Tony Iommi was diagnosed with cancer last year, and spent 13′s recording sessions undergoing treatment. In this compromised state, can the inventors of metal music still deliver?
Right from the start, 13 is packed with blatant references to Sabbath‘s past. Massive opener “End of the Beginning” is remarkably similar in structure to the song “Black Sabbath,” with a hint of “Dirty Women” (seriously?!) in the outro. “Zeitgeist,” the album’s sole ballad, is clearly modeled after “Planet Caravan,” with bongos, a jazzy Iommi solo and some heavily-treated Ozzy vocals. It’s as if they want to constantly remind you of who they are — a surprisingly insecure move for one of the most identifiable bands of all time.
For all the songs that wink at the past, the best cuts here are the ones who do not. “Age of Reason” is anchored by an anthemic Iommi riff and some pounding drums from Wilk. The 8-minute-long “Damaged Soul” is as close to straightforward blues as Sabbath has ever attempted, boasting some decent harmonica work from Ozzy and a kickass jam at the end. And closer “Dear Father” finally tackles some worthwhile lyrical material, with Ozzy playing the role of executioner to pedophile priests. It’s easy to see how the subject matter would resonate with these guys, and Ozzy tackles the song with an appropriate mix of venom and mournfulness, while the band delivers some of the heaviest music of the entire album.
Brad Wilk is sure to catch a lot of shit simply for not being Bill Ward, but I personally think he was a brilliant choice. His past associations aside, Wilk is an old-school hard hitter with a sense of swing, which is exactly what Ward was in his prime (face it, “Hand of Doom” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep” were funky as hell). Who else were they gonna get? [Jon Dette? — Steel Druhm]. Realistically, no drummers from Sabbath‘s generation are up to the task, and that includes Ward. Deal with it.
As expected, Iommi and Butler sound excellent on 13. Their instruments blend in a way that can only come from playing together for the better part of 40 years — and by staying active musically, the two are still at the top of their game. Iommi sounds more live, more off-the-cuff than on The Devil You Know or his recent solo stuff, which is refreshing to hear. And props to Ozzy Osbourne for keeping it real in the vocal department. He could have very easily relied on studio trickery, or gotten all-out cheesy (see: “Psycho Man“), but he didn’t. On 13, he sounds unashamedly old and weathered, singing in a lower range, and the results are surprisingly good.
If I am making this album sound flawless, trust me, it isn’t. A number of tracks are way too long, and could have benefitted from some editing (which Rubin forgot how to do somewhere between Death Magnetic and that fucking Chili Peppers double album that no one needed). I also wish the album had a few faster songs on it. There’s a definite need for a “Children of the Grave” or “Symptom of the Universe”-type track that is not being filled.
And there you have it—the first Black Sabbath album in 34 fucking years or so. Does it sound fresh and groundbreaking? No. Does it live up to expectations? That would be impossible. The original architects of heavy metal just gave you one more for the road. That’s it. If this is indeed the final Sabbath album (which the album’s outro strongly implies), then it’s a more than respectable way to go out.