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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Black Sabbath

13

Review by Mike Korn

Well, it seems like time to tackle this monumental release. Expectations and anticipation for 13 have been so high that a review is a daunting prospect. It has been more than 35 years since the last Black Sabbath album featuring Ozzy Osbourne on vocals. Think of how much the music scene and the world itself have changed since those days. Never Say Die was released in the absolute heyday of vinyl records, when record shops were king and paper magazines ruled. In 2013, all of those things have just about disappeared (a situation which I despise), but would Sabbath be able to turn back the clock? Or would they lay a colossal egg?

13 emerges as a 100% Black Sabbath album. No, I would not quite put it on the level of the legendary first five albums, but it certainly is nothing to be ashamed of and it has more of the classic early Sabbath sound than Never Say Die or anything since has. A lot of this can be chalked up to the steady hand of producer Rick Rubin, who manages to get a vintage sound out of the band and yet still provide a modern edge. If Sabbath had had access to 21st century technology in the 70s, 13 may have very well been the result.

The reunion is not complete as Bill Ward was unable to fill the drumkit. That's disappointing but understandable. Brad Wilks from Rage Against The Machine does a fine job filling in, but no doubt it would have been cool to hear Ward's unique style. Osbourne's vocals have been cleaned up and improved as much as is humanly possible. His early Sabbath stuff had an eeriness that can't be replicated, but Rubin is a miracle worker and gets a decent performance out of the old boy, who was said to be relapsing into booze and drugs big time during the recording sessions. As for Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi, their performances are pristine and intact. Butler's juicy bass is top notch and Iommi puts on an amazing display of fretmanship, playing a style he basically hasn't dabbled in since the Nixon administration. I can recommend 13 to all fans of early Sabbath without reservations. Pick it up and enjoy it, because it may very well be the last we get from this line-up.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
End of the Beginning

No fanfare or build up, this first track opens up with a ponderous, thick and lumbering riff that is a deliberate throwback to the very first song ever heard from this band: "Black Sabbath.” This is by design. As simple and basic as this is, it worms its way into your head. Osbourne's vocals do indeed sound different than on any of his solo records - more laid-back and yet sinister. The pace picks up for a killer bluesy groove that gets the head nodding. Then Iommi cuts loose with an absolutely smoking guitar solo that buries any thought that his recent health problems may have affected his playing. In the last third, the song takes a turn into a kind of soaring feel that's super cool and allows Iommi to take the song out with more guitar ecstasy.

God Is Dead?
This is the song that has gotten the most exposure from 13 and I'm not sure why, because it definitely isn't the easiest or most memorable track here. Yet as I listen to it more, it does begin to sink in and make more of an impression. It's a somber, down-tempo ballad with moments of thunderous doom. Geezer's bass sound here could cause earthquake monitors to go crazy, that's for sure. There's also something about Osbourne's vocal cadence that gets under your skin. The lyrics are pretty pointed as well, and have that classic early Sabbath gloom. The last part of the song injects more of a driving pace and it gets real heavy, but overall this is far from my favorite song here.
Loner
This cut has a got a real strong rocking feel to it and a powerful groove that induces headbanging right away. Osbourne's vocals are a total throwback to the classic era - not just the sound of his voice, but the way he puts words together as well. There's even an "all right now!" in there to reinforce the idea. It's not to the level of his best work, but boy, he is sure trying hard! Brad Wilks does some of his best drumming on this track as well.
Zeitgeist
Here's the real ringer on 13 - a mellow, psychedelic return to a kind of "Planet Caravan" sound. A simple but very effective acoustic guitar riff mixes with subdued bongo and highly spaced out vocals from Osbourne that sound like they are coming from underwater. This is real head-tripping music, unlike anything Sabbath has done since the early 70s. Iommi indulges in some totally bluesy and chilled out lead guitar that shows beautiful restraint.
Age of Reason
Here's a cut that brings the classic Sabbath song into the modern age. It's the most complex tune of the set and has a hammering groove to it that reminds me of what Geezer Butler's project G/Z/R sounded like. I think Geezer's hand is pretty strong on this one. There are some unusual twists and turns to the song that give it a unique feel, including some keyboard touches. If there's one song on 13 that looks more to the future than the past, this is it.
Live Forever
This cut rocks like hell and might just be my favorite. The opening riff is classic Sabbath doom that segues into a fast, driving, headbanging pace. It's pretty traditional metal and is the closest to what Osbourne did on his early albums with Rhodes. It's not the most ambitious or original song, but is as satisfying as a good meal of steak and fries.
Damaged Soul
I don't know what was going on when the band wrote and recorded this song, but if you could bottle it and sell it, you'd make a billion dollars. This is so much like the very earliest Sabbath that it will bring tears to your eyes. It has that murky "evil blues" sound in spades and the production is absolutely vintage 70s tube amp stuff. This is the roots of heavy metal and hard rock right here, friends. Check out that nasty harmonica sound that could have come right off the out-takes of "The Wizard.” It's perfect. Speaking of perfect, I don't think I've heard Iommi solo like he does here since the days of "Warning.” If it's grim, bluesy retro-Sabbath you're looking for, you'll find it in spades here.
Dear Father
The album winds up with this long epic, which has a very grimy feel to it. That’s very fitting, since it deals with child sex abuse by the clergy. It's a little too long for my taste, but there are some tasty riffs along the way and it stays true to the darkness of the Sabbath sound. The best thing about this song is the sudden ending, which gives way to the sound of wind, rain and a tolling bell. And, that is where Black Sabbath began more than 40 years ago. That moment will put chills up your spine.

 

 

 
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