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Revisiting ‘Never Say Die!,’ the Last Album by Black Sabbath’s Original Lineup

Much has been made about Black Sabbath’s almost-reunion, minus founding drummer Bill Ward, to record 2013’s 13 album, an astounding 35 years after Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler last collaborated on an LP, Never Say Die!,’ which was released in September 1978.

Despite its defiant title, Never Say Die! ultimately hammered the final nail in the original foursome’s coffin following years of escalating substance abuse and diminishing musical success. But it turns out that cheeky title wasn’t that inaccurate after all; we just had to wait 35 years for its prophecy to be realized.

Unfortunately, during those intervening three-and-a-half decades, Never Say Die! endured heaps of scorn – much of it deserved, some not – from both critics and honest fans – not least once Black Sabbath’s very next album, 1980’s Heaven and Hell, ignited such a remarkable renaissance behind new singer, Ronnie James Dio. After all, by any reasonable comparison, Never Say Die! was clearly the work of an exhausted, crippled musical unit; a unit that appeared to run out of what little head of steam they could muster right around the final power chords of the album’s forceful opening title track.

Subsequent numbers found Sabbath either flying on autopilot (see “A Hard Road,” “Shock Wave,” the serviceable “Junior’s Eyes”) or shoring up their dwindling inspiration with unconvincing experimentation (the lethargic, synth-afflicted “Johnny Blade” and “Over to You,” the inexplicably horns-backed “Breakout,” the Ward-sung calamity “Swinging the Chain”). In the band’s defense, this adventurous streak also produced Never Say Die!‘s most compelling song in the shockingly lovely “Air Dance” (showcasing fluid piano-tickling by session man extraordinaire, Don Airey), but what does such a – let’s just admit it – dainty concoction say about the creative state of heavy metal’s founding fathers?

That’s right, not much! And even 35 years down the line, Never Say Die!‘s modest standing within the Black Sabbath discography has only improved thanks to latter-day disasters like Cross Purposes and Forbidden, which brought the band’s historic career to new lows. So look on the bright side, Never Say Die! apologists: The only way from here on out is up!

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