Black Sabbath – 13

sabbathTime is the enemy of us all. That sneaking and quiet specter that ushers life along at an alarming rate sure does have a way of descending upon us when we least realize or suspect it. For me, having a child is one way to really comprehend time and how quickly it flies by. The other is music. I tend to hold on to albums I love and cherish them as dearly as the day they were released (or the day I discovered them). I’m sure this could be even more alarming to those that are creating the music. Correction… to those who have inspired an entire genre and movement of music. Heavy metal. Black Sabbath. The 2 descriptive terms speak volumes, are synonymous with each other and mean so much to all of us who willingly sway within the hammering purification of sound. I’m sure the 3 original members of Black Sabbath who gathered to create their latest opus, 13, all had a nervous laugh or 2 over the fact that it had been 35 years since their last proper full-length release together (Never Say Die), 13 years since their last attempt to tour and record together, and a staggering 44 years since the madness all began. Deep down, I’m sure that realization of the passage of time had to be terrifying and a wake up call/great motivator. In spite of what you have read from waves of music journalists eager to tear this album and the players behind it apart for personal reasons, from the opening moments of “End of the Beginning”, carrying through all 53 minutes of this album, I hear the rekindling of a spark that defies the fact that Black Sabbath members are into their 60’s. Also an encircling joy can be witnessed in the room for Sabbath to complete the circle and play together again in spite of all that has happened over the years. I don’t hear this album as an obvious “cash in”, though we all know that element is there, rather a youthful gleam of longstanding brothers connecting in a familiar comfort zone that we all can relate to as lifelong fans of their efforts. Regardless of what you’ve heard, 13 to this writers ears anyway, sounds like Black Sabbath. Granted, it nowhere near reaches the apex of life changing albums that empower this bands lifespan, but it is an enjoyable effort that holds up over repeated listens and grows even stronger.

As I endlessly spin 13, it is obvious the band has loosely modeled this album after their eponymous debut and Paranoid. You have the track that gives a nod to “Black Sabbath” in End of the Beginning, “Planet Caravan” in the beautiful spacey trip of Zeitgeist, and not to mention “The Wizard” found in the great bluesy jam of Damaged Soul where Ozzy once again brandishes the harmonica (and quite masterfully I may add). There are other instances of stylistic modeling, but the good news is, the similarities struck me as a fond reminder and not a blatant foul like so many others have endlessly bitched about. If anything, it allows this material to embrace that warm 70’s era of Sabbath effortlessly, while focusing on a subdued doomy crawl throughout the whole of 13. Would I liked to hear more of Sab’s creative and experimental side? Sure. But they have already done that. This album needed to be a good collection of riffs and most importantly, “songs”. Granted a lot of the riffs on here are pretty laid back, but still rock solid as obvious creations from the mind and fingers of Iommi. Where the riffs themselves may leave some of you cold, Tony should win you back on the fact that his solos are all amazing on here. Such mind blowing and inspired playing can be found in these solos. The man still has it and knows what to do with every note. Such a confidence in ones instrument is rarely enjoyed to such a lofty level. Geezer remains the rock solid foundation in Black Sabbath with his creative flourishes and passionate fills empowering and offsetting every movement in Tony’s riffs with ease and amazement. The real surprise for me on 13, has been Ozzy’s performance. This is easily the best he’s sounded since the 80’s. Perhaps he knew what was at stake, but I feel this is simply the best material he’s had to sing over since No More Tears and the fact that he’s back in a band he belongs in. The missing puzzle piece fits in perfectly in this formula. I say this as a devout Ronnie James Dio in Sabbath fan. Ozzy may not be able to hit those high notes anymore and some have said that he sounds old here…. well…. he is, but the pipes sound strong and his vocal muscle memory knows exactly what to do with Iommi’s impenetrable melody lines. There is a youthful fire in his performance that isn’t trying to emulate that over the top “prince of darkness” persona the fans stupidly hold him to, rather he’s digging into the soul of this material and offering very tasteful harmonies and lyrical twists that span a chasm of modern topics. Again… it all fits and works well together. He isn’t overly processed. It’s an in your face vocal production where he isn’t hiding anything or behind a wall of effects. Ozzy is such a strong and charismatic singer and his performance on 13 should be applauded.

Of course one cannot review 13 without mentioning the drama surrounding the lack of Bill Ward’s involvement. The media jabs between the 2 parties were well documented. It is sad he isn’t a part of this, but the reality is, watch “The Last Supper” DVD from the last Sabbath reunion and tell me it doesn’t look like Bill was dying trying to play those old songs and hold on for the entire set. A youthful Bill is one of the best drummers ever. Time and abuse hasn’t been kind to him physically. Skills needs to be maintained over the years to be in album and touring shape. I get the feeling he couldn’t do it and needed to save face, blaming a poor contract. Do I doubt it was a bad contract? No. But I do think it was his easy out. In his place enters Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave skinsman Brad Wilk as a “Special studio musician”. A talented drummer in his own right, I feel in a lot of ways his playing on 13 feels pretty Bill Ward influenced, though extremely subdued. One wonders if Sabbath had him hold back in case Bill enters into the picture at some point and be able to pick up and actually/hopefully play the new songs. It is all speculation. The truth is, the feud between all the members of Sabbath really isn’t any of our business. I know the media hounds and the PR companies alike have made it our business. They have been friends and brothers longer than many of us have been alive. There is a weird dynamic at play here that isn’t meant for us to understand or really have a lot of say in. as humans, we fantasize that our idols are one big happy family, but that rarely is the case when reality is at the helm. What is important here is that Iommi and Geezer have soldiered on after the death of Dio, mended fences with Ozzy, and made a damn fine album worth listening to. And it is.

Again, 13 is in no way in league with Sabbath’s classic era, but I have connected with this album enough for it to be in daily rotation since I have bought it which says a lot. I purchased the 2 CD digipak which has 3 bonus tracks of varying quality (none are quite as good a the album proper, but still enjoyable) so the investment was worthwhile. If anything it has inspired deep obsessing over the impressive Sabbath catalog once again which always unlocks hours of endless enjoyment and wonder. 13 strikes me as the rebirth… I hope they can keep it rolling, further connect with one another again, and follow this up with something even better. -Marty
Vertigo/Republic Records

~ by martyworm on July 3, 2013.

3 Responses to “Black Sabbath – 13”

  1. Perfect review.

    All I’ve got to say about this album, in the end, is that…I hope I can still play like this when I’m in my 60s. And yeah…Iommi can still solo with the best. 🙂

  2. So I guess this album has sold near 250,000 copies already. In this day and age, that is impressive! It’s obviously connecting with a lot of people, as it’s too easy in this day and age to listen to everything before buying.

  3. I still need to buy this. Honestly, I have been approaching this release with more cynicism than excitement and I am a big Black Sabbath fan. I have heard mostly positive things though.

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