Release Date: Jun 11, 2013
Record label: Republic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal, British Metal
There's a lot of pressure involved with being the rulers of the underworld, and nobody knows it better than Black Sabbath in 2013. Inarguable legends and at least partially responsible for creating heavy metal as we know it with their classic '70s material, Sabbath have spawned generations of followers and become one of the final words of the genre. There have been countless reunions and mutations of the band following vocalist Ozzy Osbourne's first dismissal in 1978, and even 13 doesn't quite deliver on fans' decades-long desires to see all four original members back together.
The big deal here is that 75-percent of the original Black Sabbath line-up, including the perennially confused Ozzy Osbourne behind the mic, have reunited (sans ostracised drummer Bill Ward) for a new studio disc. Crunching the numbers, it's the best percentage/line-up we've seen from this long-suffering legends for a long time — the last album with the classic line-up being 1978's Never Say Die. Here, ex-Rage Against the Machine dude Brad Wilk is behind the kit, and he plays it straight, almost to the point of no personality, doing his best Bill Ward, but taking it down a notch.
When three-quarters of Black Sabbath announced that they were about to record their 19th studio album with producer Rick Rubin – whose modus operandi has always been to get bands back to their peak form – ears pricked up in the metal community. Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler haven’t recorded a full album together in 35 years, and if Bill Ward chose to back out because the contract wasn’t right, well, that’s a shame, but it was assumed that Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk would do a good job. What was less certain was whether Iommi could come up with the right riffs after so many years of toil, battling cancer as he is.
13—the first album in 35 years from Black Sabbath’s original lineup—ends the same way their 1970 self-titled debut begins, with the proto-doomy sound of falling rain and a distant church bell. It signals that this is the bookend to the recorded output from the band that invented heavy metal. If that’s the case, it’s not a bad way to go. Producer Rick Rubin—as he’s done with many artists with varying degrees of success—took it upon himself to help resurrect Sabbath’s classic sound.
Black Sabbath’s history, like their mightiest songs, is long and complicated. Formed in Birmingham in 1968 by guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Bill Ward and singer Ozzy Osbourne, the metal pioneers have undergone numerous transformations. The first, and most significant, came in 1979. After the band had finished touring eighth album ‘Never Say Die!’, Iommi kicked Osbourne out of the band because of his alcohol problems, replacing him with Ronnie James Dio.
The current Black Sabbath reunion has been star-crossed almost from the start. Original members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward staged a splashy press conference in November 2011 to announce a tour and a Rick Rubin-produced album, but the mood quickly soured. Subsequent months brought a lymphoma diagnosis for guitarist and sole consistent member Iommi, a contract dispute involving drummer Ward, high-profile gigs with a fill-in behind the kit, and, finally, the eyebrow-raising news that the comeback LP-- the first full studio record to involve more than two members of Sabbath 1.0 since 1983's Ozzy-less Born Again-- would feature Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave drummer Brad Wilk.
13 is not the thirteenth Black Sabbath album. It is the nineteenth. It does not have 13 tracks; it has eight (11 if you plump for the deluxe model). Regrettably, 13 is not a track-for-track cover album of Blur’s artsy 1999 break-up record. The number 13 does look cool when made out of wicker and ….
Review Summary: 3/4 of the classic '70s line-up reunite for a relatively successful comeback.Despite being an avid fan of Black Sabbath for many years, I can admittedly confess that my intrigue for 13 was initially tepid at best. To witness Ozzy Osbourne finally return to his rightful place as the voice of Black Sabbath, has been one of the most highly anticipated events within the rock and metal communities. Although I myself have long desired to witness the original '70s lineup return for at least one more studio album, the increasingly lackluster quality of their individual efforts in recent years had led me to believe that such an event would perhaps be more devastating than momentous.
Black Sabbath13(Vertigo/Republic)Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars If any band deserves a victory lap, it’s Black Sabbath. The quartet may not have invented heavy metal when they exploded on the scene in the early 70s but they were the first to popularize it, release million selling albums and are the touchstone for nearly every metal band since. This well publicized reunion for three of the original foursome (drummer Bill Ward sits it out, reportedly due to contract disputes) is their first studio set of new material since 1978.
"We decided to write horror music" is how Ozzy Osbourne describes Black Sabbath's birth in the great new heavy-metal oral history, Louder Than Hell. And that's exactly what they're doing, once again, on 13 – a reunion set with three-quarters of the original band – that revisits, and to an extent recaptures, the crushing, awesomely doomy spectacle of their first few records. Needless to say, this is kind of a big deal.
As the producer of Black Sabbath's first album since 1995 and first with original singer Ozzy Osbourne since 1978, Rick Rubin said his goal was to get the band back to jamming. He succeeded. 13 is built on titanic riffs that prove Tony Iommi at 65 is still terrifically inspired. They march forward at length, interwoven with Geezer Butler's robust bass lines, only to suddenly take a progressive or bluesy twist or feverish, righteous solo.
While Black Sabbath helped pioneer heavy metal over 40 years ago by melding distortion with lyrical themes exploring war, religion, and the occult, just to name a few, the band's legacy was tarnished by a revolving-door lineup that resulted in several albums devoid of Sabbath's signature bite. 13 is the band's first studio album since 1978 to feature three founding members (frontman Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, and bassist Geezer Butler, with drummer Bill Ward declining due to a contractual dispute), attempting to recapture some of the audacious spirit of their heyday. The opening tracks—“End of the Beginning” and “God Is Dead?”—exhibit classic Sabbath traits: slow-building arpeggios; heavy, sustained chords; and simple, morbid rhymes (“The blood runs free, the rain turns red/Give me the wine, you keep the bread”) in perfect sync with the bleak subject matter.
Conceived against a backdrop of conflicting personal projects, contractual disagreements and guitarist Tony Iommi's debilitating lymphoma, 13 could so easily have been an exercise in old metallers making do. But Black Sabbath's first album with Ozzy Osbourne since 1978 is bluesier, leaner and substantially less cringe-making than a great many reunion cash jobs. Guru/producer Rick Rubin has herded this band of querulous Brummies (plus Rage Against the Machine's drummer) back to doomy first principles.
It ends with the aforementioned thunderstorm and tolling bell: the way their debut album began, giving 13 a sense of finality. In contrast to the usual reformed legends' bluster about their new work being the best of their career, Osbourne has talked, a little more realistically, about wanting to end his recording career with Black Sabbath "the right way", as opposed to with 1978's Never Say Die, an album he was too incapacitated even to finish. For all 13's flaws, it would be churlish to suggest they haven't succeeded in that aim.
We didn?t need another Black Sabbath album, but we should celebrate that we have one. Its existence — and the reunion of ¾ of the band?s original lineup — defies conventional wisdom and improbable circumstances. It started in 1979: Sabbath was in shambles. Never Say Die! was met with indifference by fans and critics; meanwhile, the band fired Ozzy Osbourne for excessive substance abuse during the ensuing tour, the culmination of an already testy friendship between Osbourne and guitarist Tony Iommi.
There’s a slew of factors that will likely have tainted or heightened your expectations around the arrival of Black Sabbath’s new album, 13. Obviously, with the band’s latest release being the first Ozzy Osbourne-fronted album in 35 years, a fond sense of nostalgia is there—forming a large part of the pre-release anticipation for die-hard fans. Combine that with Sabbath’s stated desire to return to its roots on 13 and things get even more promising.
Tolling bells and falling rain are the last things you hear on the new Black Sabbath record, just as they are the first things you hear on the band's 1970 debut. That’s not the only echo on “13,” the first full-length Black Sabbath studio album since 1978 to feature singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, and bassist Geezer Butler. The Rick Rubin-produced reunion of the classic Sabbath lineup — minus drummer Bill Ward, with Brad Wilk in his place — rekindles the tones and themes of the band's first few albums.
Black Sabbath 13 (Universal Republic) "God is dead," proclaims Ozzy Osbourne in the eponymous, debut single from 13, the first Black Sabbath studio album in 35 years to feature the singer alongside original demons Tony Iommi (guitar) and Terry "Geezer" Butler (bass). Nietzschean proclamation or ham-fisted provocation? As with all things Sabbath, it's difficult to say. The balance between sinister conviction and cheap thrills remains the UK quartet's most ingenious trick when they pull it off successfully.