With this being my thirteenth article I thought it’d make good subject matter. Not the number itself, often termed as “unlucky for some,” but the Black Sabbath album. An album that didn’t rely on luck and certainly suffered from no ill fortune. Also we’ll take a look at how it has placed Sabbath in the modern world of music.
Even with the absence of Bill Ward the current incarnation of the band is widely seen as a return to the past, a last hurrah of the old boys. There have been calls from fans all over to get Bill on board but the contract dispute makes it seem unlikely to occur now, so we should enjoy and examine this Sabbath for all it is.
I can see both arguments for and against Bill Ward’s inclusion. Yes, he was a founding member and enjoyed a long run of success in the band. Many see him as much as Sabbath as Ozzy or Iommi. Sharon Osbourne would counter this by claiming Ozzy could make more money touring solo with Ozzfest and his appearance in the band now is for the fans – but he needs a higher cut. Iommi is Black Sabbath. The only member to appear on every single Sabbath album. His riffs not only make the band but defined a genre. Geezer Butler provides the signature bass and all the lyrics. When laid out like that it’s easy to see why they thought Bill was expendable.
The album the reunited members (with Brad Wilk as the sessions drummer) gave birth to was 13. It would have been so easy to produce a record that played by the numbers and offered nothing new or relevant. Instead it acknowledges its past, the lineage, whilst becoming as necessary as anything in the current metal scene. “End of Beginning” opens up with hints of NIB’s DNA before kicking up a gear or two. From the off the album gives the feel of an authentic effort. The popular “God is Dead” follows and the decades fall away. Iommi’s ability to produce a tune is reemphasised time and time again.
There are no weak songs on an album that isn’t afraid to change tone and pace. They could have taken the easy route and produced forty minutes of songs like the first two. Instead they are happy to play and twist all the sounds in their arsenal. “Loner” could have been taken from the Dio era with Ozzy adapting more than ever previously heard on a Sabbath record.
If “Loner” was revolution then the slow paced “Zeitgeist” is pure evolution from Paranoid’s “Planet Caravan.” Evidence of advancement is further found in “Age of Reason” which wouldn’t sound out of place on Metallica’s Death Magnetic. It’s fitting how a band that created a sound can progress further in the atmosphere developed by their students.
Geezer Butler over the decades has provided some great lyrics and this album equals most of them. “Damaged Soul” could well be his deepest metaphor yet. Age may have mellowed the players involved and it’s offered Geezer more introspective views on the world.
The album ends with rain and church bells, much like their debut album began. In doing so it gives a sense of completion, a circle that is now complete. If it is to be their last album I approve of the gesture – I’m a sucker for things with a cyclical nature.
But I have a feeling there is much more to come. The idea the last album loops to the first is great, but the gesture can also be seen as a nod to the past, confident they are rightly placed moving forward. It’s commendable that on this album they provided enough flavour of their former glories without becoming a parody of themselves. Whilst one shouldn’t get too carried away – it’s does lack the textures and depths attained in Vol 4 and Sabotage – they have pulled off the trick of being a genuine article of days-gone-by and something modern.
Like true legends, that have faced adversity before, the process of them coming together again hasn’t been easy, but they have managed to make it work. Contract disputes and well-documented illnesses aside, the feel of them live was missing as recent as 2012. I saw them perform when they headlined the Download Festival. It’d be easy to make excuses (Iommi was in recovery from his treatments; Ozzy had fallen off the wagon) but the fact was they hadn’t found their sweet-spot. For lesser bands they’d have called it a day. Seen it as a sign that perhaps they were past their best.
Not Sabbath. They carried on. 13 was completed and a world tour began. During the process they grew organically again. When I saw them in Manchester at the end of 2013 it was like being transported back in time. Ozzy sounded like he was on an LP, not a live mic. Iommi played effortlessly with great enthusiasm. Butler played as well as he did at Download – and for my money he was on fire there. Tommy Clufetos also provided the best drum solo I have ever witnessed, and I’ve seen Cozy Powell live and Roger Taylor play a bass with his drum sticks.
At one point Ozzy asked, “Should we come back and do this again?” The crowd roared approval. “I think we may,” he replied. Let’s hope they do. There’s still a role in the world of music for Black Sabbath to play.