Black Sabbath, 13



Black Sabbath, 13 – It was 1978 the last time Ozzy Osbourne got together with his band Black Sabbath to record new songs, the classic Never Say Die (much-maligned, it’s still full of great songs). They used Sounds Exchange in Toronto, Canada and froze their balls off from January to May putting the album together, a period of much misery according to Ozzy’s book (interestingly, Keith Richards had used the studio the year earlier to record his Toronto Tapes). At the time I was in neighbouring Mississauga, nine years old, and knew nothing about Black Sabbath. I was in grade four at school, with my favorite teacher Martyn Godfrey, and I went to piano lessons. I think that summer I might have started listening to the Beatles in 1978, but I don’t think so – it might have been 1979. Can’t be sure any more. Later, in 1981, I became a super-huge Ozzy Osbourne fan upon the release of “Diary Of A Madman”; “Speak Of The Devil”, where Ozzy records Black Sabbath songs with his own band, was the first music item I ever bought with my own money. I remember hearing Mob Rules play on the radio in 1981 when it was released.

A year after recording Never Say Die, Ozzy was fired from the band, and spent the next 34 years building a monstrous solo career, probably in no small part to the masterful management of his wife Sharon. Good job, girl. He has actually recorded and toured with Black Sabbath over the years, but there’s been no new album with him and the band… until June 11th, 2013!

Of course, Black Sabbath had kept going over the years with Tony Iommi and a rotating line-up of original or new members, which included a great spell with Ronnie James Dio; the last Black Sabbath album was Forbidden, released in 1995 with Tony Martin. It did not get good reviews. Since then Iommi has released two solo albums, and another album with Ronnie James Dio in 2009 that could have been called a Black Sabbath album the way Heaven And Hell and Mob Rules were, but it wasn’t (the band called itself Heaven And Hell to save itself legal grief – nice move, since Heaven And Hell is also a great band name, and the relaxed legal atmosphere probably helped give rise to the current re-re-reunion and its immense productivity).

So lucky for us – now we get this, a new Black Sabbath album, released on June 11th, 2013 and called 13 in honour of the year it was released (and maybe to piss off Anvil and Suicidal Tendencies, who have albums with the same name out this year). While critical reviews that I have seen have generally been positive, there have been some mixed reviews from fans, who have plenty to gripe about for the absence of the magical Bill Ward on skins (apparently he was falling off his drum stool – too old to play?) or Rick Rubin’s production capabilities, but I have no complaints at all. It’s a great album! It gives us everything we want – great riffs, great energy, great teamwork, great lyrics (nobody ever mentions the lyrics – they’re superb!!), great reminders of the band’s sound through its various periods over the years, and funky, fun production elements. Wow!!

I even like the single “God Is Dead?”, which has great mood, great riffs, and a wonderful stomp towards the end (of course, the solo is ultra-short – Iommi more than makes up for that on the rest of the album). And here’s another thing that nobody mentions is the linkage between the recent death of Ronnie James Dio (Dio, of course, means God in many languages) and the obvious rivalry between Dio and Ozzy. Looks like Ozzy won that rivalry, and gets to shout “Dio Is Dead” night after night. A bit creepy, and I might be reading too much into this, but hey – what if?

The songs are fantastic, and extremely varied, as we get songs akin to the band’s 70s sound, 80s sound, 90s sound, and Ozzy’s solo sound. “The Beginning Of The End” starts the album with a pun, as well as big slashes of doom chords, just the way the first album opened up with the song “Black Sabbath”, and then gets into swing. It just goes on and on, before ending up with a positive major-chord chorus. Ultimately, it’s very doom-y, with a long solo. “God Is Dead?” is well known by now – bloody good, with a cool “Hole In The Sky”-ish stomp near the middle, although it does have some cheezy moments on Ozzy’s delivery (no worry, plenty of great moments too!); this the first song to refer to Satan, who is mentioned or is part of the spirit of several songs on the album (“Methademic” seems to be written from his point of view again). I believe that it was the best choice for a single, but could have been improved with a better solo (and one longer than only eight bars). “Loner” is crunchy and cool, a bit of a pop song. A lot of people I know call this their favorite song on the album, but it’s probably the one I like the least, from its over-simplicity right down to the annoying drum sounds. “Zeitgeist” is the “Plant Caravan”-isch tune, right down to the bongos (looks like Rubin showed some self restraint by not putting Ozzy’s vocals through the exact same effect as they did on “Planet Caravan”, clearly; it’s one of the only things that’s different about this recent update of that song). But it’s a great song nonetheless – you can never have too much of a good thing. “Age Of Reason” is a long song that kicks off with a fantastic opening riff, quickly gets into great verses, then goes through lots if huge changes; I thought at first that it sounds rather like a song from an Ozzy solo album, with Zakk Wylde-ish dive-bombing, but I do now believe it’s very Sabbath-y. There’s a great solo, and a wee bit of keyboards thrown in. “Live Forever” is a cool, crunchy rocker again, it could have been on the Devil You Know album the band did with Ronnie James Dio in 2009. “Damaged Soul” is a great bluesy number that gets pretty heavy. A great bluesy stomp that has a cool harmonica solo. As such, it’s the key song on the album for emulating the dynamics of the first album. Great solo too – it just goes on and on! “Dear Father” is a scary song about child abuse, also more like an Ozzy solo song. It has a crunchy riff and a poppy solo. At one point it picks up into a very cool stomp and charges along. Great! It closes abruptly with the thunder and rain sounds that you’d hear on the first album, probably indicating the completion of a cycle of Black Sabbath. It may also indicate that there will be no follow-up to 13 – that’s it from Black Sabbath, thank you very much, and that first song really was the beginning of the end of the band. Eight songs, just like they have on most of their albums.

There are three “bonus songs” on the second disc that’s included in the deluxe edition; bonus songs are great, but I’m not sure why they needed a second disc – there are only 69 minutes of music combined between the two discs, it would have all fit onto one with five minutes to spare. As such, all of the bonus songs are good, and should probably have been better on the album in the place of weaker songs like “Loner” and “Dear Father”. They are also pretty short – in the official eight album songs, half of them are over seven minutes long, but the three bonus tracks are only five minutes long or less (“Peace Of Mind” is only 3:41, nearly as short and tight as “Paranoid”, ha ha). “Methademic” starts with cool acoustic guitar before breaking into that unstoppable riff and some songwriting and lyrics (great Ozzy snicker here). Of course, the anti-drug lyrics are a bit hypocritical, but the song still makes a nice partner song to the anti-heroin “Hand Of Doom”). Later, he reveals that he’s singing the song from Satan’s point of view by snickering again and saying “Hell is where you’re going… heh heh heh, I’ll see you there”). Cool psychedelic sound effects at the end, man. “Peace Of Mind” is a cool mid-tempo rocker full of crunchy guitars that sounds a bit like “Live Forever”. “Pariah” has one of the coolest opening riffs of any song on the album – actually, it’s a double opening with a very nice mellow electric start-up, before breaking out into a killer riff. The song has a very tender, beautiful solo. Great closer to the set – better closer than “Dear Father”, actually… which proves that you need to get the “Deluxe edition” and not the regular release (as an added feature you’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re getting what the vinyl snobs are missing out on, heh heh).

Here’s the song “Naivete In Black”, which can only be bought on the Best Buy version of the album (whatever “Best Buy” is – we don’t have anything with that name in Singapore). It’s a short, crunchy rock/pop number.

Great album – get it if you haven’t already!

13 is the number of times I have listened to Black Sabbath's 13

13 is the number of times I have listened to Black Sabbath’s 13

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