After being undecided one way or another, once I heard the Heaven and Hell Live CD I became a big fan of the revamped version of Black Sabbath. Geezer Butler (Bass) and Tony Iommi (Guitar) seemed to be playing with renewed vigor and confidence with Heaven and Hell, this resulted in some pounding metal riffs and some powerful, heavy rock songs. Dio (Vocals) was the icing on the cake but unfortunately it all came to an abrupt end in 2010 when Dio died of stomach cancer.
For those of you don't know who Heaven and Hell is or was, it was the highly successful version of Black Sabbath from the early 80's in which Ronnie James Dio sang lead vocals. Heaven and Hell was the name of the debut album released by the new lineup. Due to legal conflicts over the name Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler decided to take on the name Heaven and Hell when the pair of Heavy Metal legends hooked up with Dio again in 2007. Vinny Appice completed the lineup on Drums. Heaven and Hell was a great band but, as far as I'm concerned, the best version of Black Sabbath, by far, is the original version which released it's first recording way back in 1970. Much like most of the powerhouse, stadium rock bands of the 70's, the end of the 70's resulted in the end of the original lineup of Black Sabbath. The band released it's last album, Never Say Die! in 1978. The album, Heaven and Hell was released in 1980 and featured Dio on lead vocals after Ozzy left the band.
There have been several reunions in the past but the original lineup of Black Sabbath finally agreed to record a new CD in 2011. Several things happened to the band between now and then but more on that later...
On with the BLACK SABBATH - 13 CD Review.
The first track, "End Of The Beginning" starts off with a crushing, doom and gloom, heavy guitar riff. The band quiets down as the tempo slows down and Ozzy takes over singing like only Ozzy can sing. "Reanimation of the sequence..." is a standout line from the slower verse lyrics. The tempo picks up and builds resulting in a aggressive, wah-wah filled guitar solo. "End Of The Beginning" sounds like classic Black Sabbath at it's best with Ozzy and Iommi taking turns sharing the sonic spotlight as the song winds down. Alright, OK. The slamming drums on the first track sounds like Sabbath's original drummer Bill Ward but it isn't.
The drums on 13 were provided by Brad Wilk. You might know Brad from Audioslave and Rage Against The Machine. Brad has the classic metal drumming style of Bill Ward down pat. Bill was originally slated to record 13 with the band but a contract dispute and a sense of urgency ended Bill's involvement with 13. Brad was suggested by the producer of 13, Rick Rubin. After an audition Brad was chosen to record with the band, on with the review...
"God Is Dead?" asks a classic question. The dark, heavy music seems to answer this question with power and conviction. The lyrics challenge traditional values and are sure to cause a ruckus with several religious organizations, which shall remain nameless. The music rises up and down, seemingly resting up for the final explosion that is the final, heavy riff that takes the song out. The bass on this song sounds very raw and aggressive, something no one is heavy metal does quite as well as Geezer Butler.
The 3rd track, "Loner" sounds like it would fit right in on the classic Sabbath album "Master Of Reality". The guitar riff sounds massive with it's heavy power. The lyrics describe a twisted person who's on the outside of society looking in. An updated version of the lyrical content that is heard on "Iron Man". The phased out sound on the guitar solos is really cool and it differs slightly from the rest of the songs which makes it really pop out at first listen.
The 13 second intro to "Zeitgeist" is spacy and it leads into an updated version of the sounds on the Sabbath classics "Solitude" and "Planet Caravan". "Zeitgeist" comes complete with it's bongo track, mellow, reverbed-out guitar and bassed-out, low bass guitar runs and fills. I really enjoy the feel of this track because it shows a different side to the band. I never knew Black Sabbath were really coffee-shop bohemians at heart! Great Song!
"Age Of Reason" is the next song. The riffs almost sound busy and the tempo shifts are hypnotic, with their twists and turns. The track still manages to retain a sense of power and simplicity, like something you might hear on "Technical Ecstacy". Not one of the most popular Sabbath records but still a great album nonetheless. The song plods on ominously and the extended guitar solo is classic Tony Iommi at his finest. The solo is quick and sharp with fleeting emphasis on certain passages.
Speaking of Tony Iommi, Tony had to deal with a couple of serious health problems before the recording sessions even began. First, the diagnosis and treatment of an enlarged prostate and then his doctors found a far more serious health problem, cancerous lymphoma. The second diagnosis delayed the albums recording sessions. Tony began aggressive chemotherapy sessions to attack the cancer which made him extremely weak. Tony began to feel better but recording sessions were stopped and started depending on Tony's energy levels. A sense of urgency took over the band and Bill Ward was replaced because the band wanted to get on with the album realizing Tony couldn't wait forever due to serious health problems. Tony was bound and determined to finish 13 despite his health problems. The end result is a timeless performance on 13 by Tony and the band. Hats off to you Tony, May God Bless You. On with the review...
The crashing riffs of "Live Forever" are next up on 13. An quick, up-tempo guitar riff takes over and Ozzy works his vocal magic starting with the line "Just before you die they say you see your life go flashing by" setting the mood for the rest of this bone crushing track.
The creepy intro to "Damaged Soul" lasts for 12 seconds and it leads into a dark, bluesy sounding, heavy guitar riff. The guitar and bass work together to create a foreboding, ominous sound. An excellent, distorted harmonica solo catches the listeners ear right away. Once the harmonica solo is done Tony takes over on one of the most bluesy solos I've heard Tony play to date. The bass sounds thick and raw, the notes bend in and out of the guitar riff and pop out of the mix at several points. The tempo quickens and the blazing guitar/harmonca solos take over on the outro. Classic Sabbath!
"Dear Father" is a song about a pedophile priest but the story contains an unexpected, evil twist. Geezer says "Dear Father" is about this guy who goes to confession, and it's the priest that molested him. He confesses that he's about to murder and he gets his act of contrition. And once he's got it, he kills the priest." The sound of the music accompanies the lyrical content perfectly. The ending of this song recalls the beginning of "Black Sabbath" with it's lightning crash, rain and bell tolls. "Dear Father" ends the standard version of 13.
The deluxe version contains 3 bonus tracks which are included in this review.
"Methademic" starts off with a lone acoustic guitar, this intro makes the hard-driving, bass-filled track seem even heavier in contrast once the up-tempo, pounding riff kicks in. The lyrics describe the nightmare that is drug addiction, something that all 3 of the original members of the band are familiar with. This song contains a couple of Ozzy vocal trademarks, the sly, evil laugh and another evil laugh with a spoken line "...Ha, Ha, Ha, I'll take you there..." For some reason when Ozzy laughs and speaks on record it sounds sincerely evil. Other singers attempt this but only Ozzy seems to know exactly when to throw his humor in to make the most impact on the music. This song kicks ass and is one of Sabbaths finest moments on 13.
"Pariah" closes out the deluxe version of 13. The riffs shift from hard-driving to soft and mellow just before and during the guitar solo.
13 is highly recommended and any past or present Black Sabbath/Ozzy/Heaven and Hell fan who doesn't pick this absolutely, awesome CD up has got to have a screw loose...it's that good. 13 is an outstanding addition to the 19 albums that make up the Sabbath catalog. It's safe to say that 13 is not only some of Ozzy's finest work to date but also the one of the best and purest Black Sabbath albums of all time. I know I'm dating myself here, but I guarantee that 13 will remind you of the old Sabbath albums that always seemed to find their way onto the record player during my old, high school house party days.
Black Sabbath plans to tour in support of 13, hopefully they'll make a stop in Buffalo and here's to hoping they'll make a stop at a city near you.