Release Details

LABEL Vertigo
RELEASED ON 6/11/2013
GENRES Doom
  • Black Sabbath still has the ability to draw in young kids, kids that are necessary to keep it all alive.


Black Sabbath

13

posted on 6/2013   By: Dave Schalek

If there ever was a record where everyone’s inflated expectations and preconceived notions going in are going to be hard to dislodge, 13 by Black Sabbath is it. Even more so than the release of Death Magnetic a few years back, the only other album in recent memory that has evoked such anticipation and, let’s face it, unease.

Let me get this off my chest right out of the gate: 13 is a much better record than you would expect, and is better than Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die! Let me also say this: it’s not as good as the first six (face it, folks, nothing ever will be), and I’m NOT going to compare 13 to the Dio-fronted albums (or those featuring Gillan, Martin, etc. for that matter), so forget it.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first (sadly, there’s a lot). The first is the obvious missing piece, Bill Ward. Sure, Sharon Osbourne leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, but, if certain rumors are true, Ward’s absence was a practical necessity. That said, Brad Wilk fills in well enough behind the kit as a session musician. However, a dynamic quality to the percussion is absent. Wilk does not own his instrument, and merely provides accompaniment to Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler. Drum hits do not occur with much authority, nor do they stray from the basic pattern of what are fundamentally simple songs. I can just imagine Wilk’s tentativeness, almost as if he is continuously looking to Iommi and Butler for guidance and approval as he plays. Wilk never strays from the songwriting template that is so obviously laid down by Iommi and Butler. He is not a participant in the songwriting and it shows. This also demonstrates Iommi’s and Butler’s lack of understanding of percussion and, perhaps, even what Ward brought to the table in the first place. But, that’s an argument for another day.

Ozzy is showing his age. He down tunes his voice, sings with melody, and accompanies the music nicely, but I can also very obviously “hear” him reading his cue cards as he records. Although he doesn’t sound forced, he sounds tentative, almost as if he’s afraid to just let it all out with raw emotion. Moments of that emotion do appear, however, and, when those moments occur, the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end just as they do when you listen to the first six (which, still occurs in my case, and I’ve been listening to Black Sabbath since 1976 or so).

Stylistically, 13 is probably most similar to the self titled album and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. What is fleeting, though, is that sense of foreboding; that grip-your-chair-and-feel-your-hackles-rise sensation in Black Sabbath that is backed up by raw emotion, power, and resonance. Those fleeting moments are what you adhere to; those are the moments that we’ve all been waiting for. Those moments do occur on 13.

Realistically, only a few albums truly deserve a song by song breakdown. Any new album from Black Sabbath is worthy of such analysis. The opening track, “End Of Beginning”, does not start off well. Ozzy is at his most tentative here, so obviously reading from the cue cards. The simple riff that opens the song is also seemingly lifted straight off of the band’s eponymous title song. I must admit that I cringed, getting ready for what I thought would become a disappointing experience. But then, something happens about five minutes into the song. A pleasing melody begins and Ozzy soars, singing with natural emotion, unheard of on an Ozzy-fronted Black Sabbath album since Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.

Most of you, I’m sure, are already familiar with the previously released single, the second song on the album “God Is Dead?” Pop culture Nietzsche references aside, I like the song’s sense of doom, and the powerful riff that comes from Iommi starting around the six minute mark. “God Is Dead?” also marks the beginning of Butler’s authoritative stamp on this album, as his performance emerges in this song as the album’s true dynamic force. Sure, the song is probably a minute or two too long and reworks ancient ground, but it works, nonetheless.

“Loner” is one of the weaker tracks on the album, and may be the “bailout” point for many listeners turned off by the album, and with what I’ve had to say thus far. A pedestrian riff accompanied with a plodding cadence, the song is somewhat salvaged by a pleasing melody that makes intermittent appearances.

“Zeitgeist” is this album’s soft track, and is bound to draw criticism with its obvious thematic and stylistic similarities to “Planet Caravan”. The eeriness of the classic song is rather poorly recreated here, but the melody is pleasing. The bass, bongos, and hints of Native American woodwinds that accompany give the song some emotional weight.

“Age Of Reason” opens with the biggest riff from Iommi seen thus far on the album. A powerful song, Ozzy also sings with natural authority, and Butler’s bass thunders in the background. A nice melody with muted synths accompanies, and “Age Of Reason” is one of the best written songs on the album. “Age Of Reason” is also probably one of the three or four songs worthy of inclusion in a live set.

“Live Forever” is an average song with simple riffs and an up tempo cadence. Ozzy’s performance also falters a bit here, and the “cue cards on the music stand in front of him” feeling that I get occurs once more.

“Damaged Soul” features Iommi straying into serious stoner metal territory with his most bluesy oriented riffing seen on the album. The album’s nod to “Sweet Leaf”, perhaps, the song also features the best performance from Wilk and feels like the most complete song, evoking a strong performance from each musician. Iommi’s soloing to close out the song is also his best on the album.

The album closer, “Dear Father”, is an average song with a crunchy riff, an up tempo cadence, a melody, and so on. The song finishes in a strong manner, though, with a change in riff and tempo.

You’ve been reading the review of a better than average album. Any band other than Black Sabbath releasing such an album would’ve merited 300 words or so, at most. But, never has the phrase “Listen to Black Sabbath” become more pertinent. Mainstream rock music may as well be dead, and metal is aging. No, I’m not talking about the hordes of kids into all things “post” and/ or “core”, I’m talking about the stuff that really matters. Black Sabbath still matters; Black Sabbath still has the ability to draw in young kids, kids that are necessary to keep it all alive. I know, because I see them in my classroom. Kids that are, in fact, excited about a new Black Sabbath album and like what they hear.

Black Sabbath also still matters because I find myself greatly looking forward to the upcoming U.S. tour this summer, just like hundreds of thousands of other fans across the country. No, it won’t be the same without Bill Ward, but, those days are probably gone for good. But, Osbourne, Iommi, and Butler are still here, and they still matter. Know this: if the release of 13 gets kids excited and gets them to the arenas this summer, then the future may still be bright.