This coming Friday we are off to London’s Hyde Park to see Black Sabbath play, what is rumoured to be their last “reunion” show. To celebrate our trip to the show, we wanted to take a look back at 13, the album the newly reunited band released last summer.
13 is considered the first Sabbath album with the original band since 1978. Yet it’s not the original band, rather three-quarters of the “classic” line up are here in the shape of Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, and Ozzy Osbourne. Bill Ward’s replacement comes in the shape of Brad Wilk the fantastic drummer from Rage Against The Machine; a band I rate highly. The fact Bill isn’t here has divided opinion on the band working together again. But like it or not, a ‘classic-era’ Black Sabbath album has been with us for twelve months now.
Let us take a moment to recap the story of the recording which was not without its own trials and tribulations. As mentioned Bill Ward pulled out of the reformation, Tony Iommi has cancer and continued treatment throughout the recording process. Ozzy Osbourne fell off the wagon and (from what was reported in the media) went back on both alcohol and drugs to the detriment of his and his family’s life.
The last album recorded with Ozzy was Never Say Die and by all accounts it was not the best ending to the founding incarnation of the band. As such, 13 provides the opportunity of better closure.
The album gets started with the eight minute track ‘End of the Beginning’ which feels heavy from the outset. You know the heavy to which I refer – that one which Sabbath invented. Not Slayer-fast heavy or Metallica-groove heavy, the slower and imposing heavy which sounds like a juggernaut. That’s Black Sabbath heavy.
Next up is ‘God Is Dead’ was the first track that was made public, released early to considerable acclaim, and I have no doubt some relief that it wasn’t a terrible song. Lengthier than the opener, coming in just under the nine-minute mark we have another slice of classic Sabbath. Everything from the band’s legacy is here in this song alone, and there a few times I want to yell “oh Lord yeah!” or “all right now” in my best Ozzy voice as the pace kicks up a gear and the groove changes.
13 is not fully packed with a heavy doom-laden sound, and by the time the gentler ‘Zeitgeist’ arrives we are reminded of the softer side of the band which existed on 70s tracks such as ‘Planet Caravan’ and ‘Changes’. A beautifully written and played track with intricate guitar playing and lyrics which talk of “Astral engines in reverse…” and “…faded dreams and nuclear fission spent”. This song became a favourite of mine from early on.
The music on this album is stronger than many albums the band has produced before, in any of their incarnations. The musical contribution sees Tony and Geezer play some exemplary pieces which only highlight what it is about them that took Black Sabbath above their peers in the first place. The participating original members sound fantastic together here, just like they once did.
If this is the last thing Black Sabbath ever does (and considering health issues, and ageing it could well be) then I believe they would be gratified to have 13 as their closing lap in the race. Sure, there is one or two average moments on the album, but as part of the larger piece they do not drag the album down enough to detract from the superior songwriting. Besides, the album ends with the same tolling church bell as debut album Black Sabbath opens with, so we have perfect bookends to their career.
It took a long time to bring (as near as) the original Black Sabbath into the studio again, but it was most definitely worth the wait. This album is as good a rock and metal album as any released in 2013, and better than some of the late 1970s output from Sabbath.