Black Sabbath – 13

Black Sabbath
13
Released June 10th, 2013
Heavy Metal
Released Via Vertigo Records

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In 1970, this Birmingham quartet created the first Heavy Metal album and gave birth to the genre that would go on to conquer the underground music scene for the next four decades. Legend has it that the band took their name from Boris Karloff’s horror film Black Sabbath after wondering if people would pay for a similar Gothic and disturbing experiencing from music. What resulted was an unholy orgy between Hard Rock, Blues Rock, Prog, and no small parts of Psychedelia, Lovecraftian horror and nuclear anxiety that today is infamously known as the Devil’s music: Heavy Metal. Tony Iommi, having lost the tips of some of his fingers in an accident at a sheet metal factory created his own unique style of playing guitar with dropped tuning and incorporating the so-called “devil’s tritone”, leading to the creation of the heavy, riff driven music the band would go on to define. Thus it can truly be said that the music of Heavy Metal was quite literally created in an industrial accident.

After going through many line-up changes, and releasing over ten albums throughout their decades long career, the band have finally returned in (almost) their original line-up. Sadly, Bill Ward declined to join due to contract negotiations going sour, and is replaced here by Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk. The end result is surprising and pleasing.

13 has a lot of things going for it. After the lacklustre Sabbath albums of the 90s, Tony Iommi has fortunately found his stride once more, following on from the well-received Heaven and Hell album The Devil you Know, the album features some of the band’s strongest song writing since Born Again. Once more, the gothic, occult theme has returned, with many of these songs resembling the band’s first eponymous song, and with recognisable progressive elements that made Vol. 4 and Sabotage innovative. Having Ozzy back is a big plus also, and the band effortlessly step back into their roles as a cohesive unit. Despite these strengths, the album often comes across as slow and plodding, which isn’t so much of a problem for long term fans and those that recognise the band’s influence on Doom Metal, but won’t win the band any new converts. It’s unlikely that any of these songs will become regular rock radio staples or appear on the Iron Man 4 soundtrack, but that’s OK, as this album is full of good moments and will sell well due to band’s deserved rabid cult following. Those new to the band would be better off sticking to the anthems on Paranoid that made the band into revered legends.

There are also certain trademark Sabbath elements that are missing. The album could certainly benefit from some more of the acoustic work that livened up previous Sabbath albums and showcased their underappreciated versatility. The album also lacks a solid, no-frills headbanger like Paranoid, instead making its statement to the world with the single God Is Dead. A great song no doubt, but at eight minutes long and with a tedious pace it is unlikely to have great appeal to the average festival-goer who just wants four minutes of catchy riffs and a sing-a-long chorus. The fact that this song is the second on the album, and follows on from the similar and also eight minutes long album opener End of the Beginning is proof that the band is doing things on their own terms and isn’t interested in reinventing the wheel or creating an album of radio hits, instead making an album that feels more deep and contemplative. And why not? After all if anyone deserves to take this route, it should be a band as influential and successful as Black Sabbath who don’t really have anything to prove to anyone except that after all this time, the original line-up can still make decent music; and they have definitely succeeded. This album will likely grow in its appeal over time and contains much of what made the band great – epic, apocalyptic riffing, gloomy atmosphere, and most importantly a sense of dread and anxiety that distinguished the band from the love and peace hippy bands that saturated the sixties and seventies. Best moments include End of the Beginning, God Is Dead?, Age of Reason, Zeitgeist, Dear Father, and Live Forever. It may not match their 70s masterpieces, or become a legendary comeback album resembling Painkiller, but this is a great record that features a band returning to what made them great and will most definitely please long term listeners.

4.5/5

Paul Gibbins

 

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