Black Sabbath, ’13’ – Album Review
It’s unfair to ask, and highly unlikely, that ’13’ will ever achieve any kind of equal footing alongside the group’s masterful six first albums. But it’s definitely cut from the right cloth, and it’s probably the best effort from anybody on either side of this camp since Osbourne’s ‘Diary of a Madman’ (R.I.P. Randy Rhoads!) and his former bandmates’ ‘Mob Rules‘ came out in 1981.
It’s definitely the most mature thing Ozzy’s been a part of in years. His vocal range is diminished, but he uses what he’s got wisely, and it’s great to see him playing songs made for adults instead of trying to get the kids at Hot Topic to ‘Scream‘ along with him. It’s also wonderful to hear him together with guitarist Tony Iommi again — the re-ignition of their chemistry is obvious from the very start of the album.
You miss original drummer Bill Ward‘s swing, sure. Some of the lyrics (such as the pointless paradoxes “Is this the end of the beginning / Or the beginning of the end?” or “I don’t want to live forever / But I don’t want to die”) are groan-worthy. But the participating original members sound fantastic together. Thankfully, the record is not over-produced — it sounds like three guys playing together in the same room, especially when Geezer Butler’s bass gloriously rumbles just a bit outside of the expected lines.
Naturally, the album’s highlights find the band quite nakedly revisiting some of the peaks of their past. The riff from ‘N.I.B.’ gets a re-write for the storming ‘Loner,’ but good luck staying mad about it for more than about a minute. Similarly, the gorgeous ‘Zeitgest’ harkens back to ‘Planet Caravan’ right down to the hand drums, processed vocals and spanish guitar accents — and again, you won’t care.
Black Sabbath really go back to their beginnings with the heavy blues of ‘Damaged Soul,’ an eight-minute long harmonica-accented monster which is one Hammond organ short of being among the nastiest Allman Brothers Band songs ever written.
’13’ ends with the same church bells heard at the start of Sabbath’s self-titled 1970 debut, and this would indeed be a fine ending to their recording career if that’s what the group intends. But Iommi proves — as he did on 2009’s Ronnie James Dio-fronted ‘The Devil You Know‘ — that he’s still got plenty of riffs left, so if everybody’s still getting along here’s hoping we get ’14’ or whatever it’s called sooner rather than later.