Thursday, June 6, 2013

Black Sabbath - 13 (2013)
Can't even believe I just typed that heading. The first Sabbath album with Ozzy since Never Say Die! in 1978 was one of my most anticipated albums of the year. Therefore, like the Steven Wilson record, I'll post a track-by track review and then try to get a sense of how everything fits together.

1. "End of the Beginning" - First thing you notice when this song comes on is the crisp, clear production thanks to (surprisingly) Rick Rubin. Next thing is the fact that this sounds a whole lot like the self-titled track from 1969. That's not a bad thing actually. I mean, most bands repeat certain elements in their music and do a good job at it. This is certainly the case here, and it's great that Sabbath are making actual doom again. As for Ozzy, he sounds pretty good even if the vocals sound a bit too forced in this part. Iommi's work is great both here and throughout the entire album. The part that starts around 5:30 really sounds like classic Sabbath as does the second solo.

2. "God is Dead" - The single we've all heard. The structure is pretty similar to "End of the Beginning" and the lyrics are quite dark as expected from Sabbath. There was mixed reaction to this song when it first came out and I think it's the weakest of the bunch. Still very good though.

3. "Loner" - Here's where things really pick up. It has a great driving riff with incredibly catchy vocal melodies and fabulous acoustic interludes. Structurally, it's very creative and diverse and recalls some of the most creative moments of early Sabbath. Plus, the production on the solo makes it sound very vintage. "Loner" may not quite fit with the rest of the album, but I just really love it. For me, it's already a classic.

4. "Zeitgeist" - This song not only serves tribute to the timeless "Planet Caravan," but also takes the sound in new directions and adds a lot of intricacy to it. It's an absolutely gorgeous tune which is capped off by Iommi playing a wonderful acoustic solo - something Sabbath fans aren't used to hearing. This is definitely a highlight of the album for me and one of the best ballads by a metal band that I've heard in recent times. It may not have the same nostalgic magic that "Planet Caravan" has, but it's still incredible as a modern expansion on that song.

5. "Age of Reason" - This one sounds like it was ripped right out of the Dio/Heaven & Hell era. It's an epic song with a big riff that morphs into an even bigger one complete with an orchestral backing track. Then it actually gets a bit proggy with some interesting time changes and complex drumming. It's definitely the most epic song on the album and probably my favorite of the longer tracks.

6. "Live Forever" - Extremely dark lyrics here, probably the darkest on the album. The chorus is very catchy and Iommi delivers yet another awesome solo. As one of the shorter songs, it's not quite as appealing as "Loner" in terms of creativity but it's still a great song.

7. "Damaged Soul" - This song is truly one of Iommi's finest moments in his entire career. For the first time in many years he's back to playing straight-up blues and he's doing a fantastic job at it. Ozzy's harmonica work perfectly complements the guitar as does Geezer's free-style bass playing. All in all, this is the original stoner band showing the modern stoner bands how it's done. Absolutely amazing song.

8. "Dear Father" - This is probably the heaviest song on the album. It has a really mean riff that recalls Iommi's more recent work. It's pretty cool how they repeat the intro to the self-titled song at the end of this one. It's a good track, but I think it could have been a bit more dynamic and not quite as long.

9. "Methademic" - Wait did I say "Dear Father" is the heaviest song? Nah, it's this one. Iommi lays down an absolutely monstrous riff here. This one is an upbeat, headbanging type of song that most fans probably think the band didn't have in them. Hats off to Sabbath for such a wicked track.

10. "Peace of Mind" - This is another Dio/Heaven & Hell era sounding song. It's decent, but nothing really special to be honest.

11. "Pariah" - This track features another awesome, heavy riff and is about as good "Methademic." Iommi really belts it out here especially in the solo. This song's lyrics deal with religion, perhaps, in the most exclusive way of any track on the album. It's another rocking tune that Sabbath should feel proud to have created.

So what's the final verdict on this album? Well, it certainly exceeded my expectations as far as what a group of 60+ year old men (and a 40-something year old drummer) could create. It takes some of the best elements of classic Sabbath and modernizes them. It's an amazing accomplishment for this band and if it's their very last album then they went out with a hell of a bang. 

On the other hand, I'm not prepared to give this album a perfect score as there are some faults. For one thing, I was hoping there wouldn't be as much Dio/Heaven & Hell era material here as there is since it's just not as innovative as the early 70's stuff both in terms of riffs and overall structure. However, there is still some of the latter which makes me very happy. 

Another issue, and this ties in with what the last one, is that there could be more variation. I think there are one too many long songs that could have been shortened down and packed with more varied and interesting material. For example, if you compare any of the epics on this album to "War Pigs" or "Hand of Doom" you'll see how much more inventive the band was back then. I'm not saying they should copy the exact same formula they had back then, but they could have spiced up the songs just a little bit more.

All these issues pale in comparison though to the sheer greatness of this album. It may not be pioneering an entire genre like the first six albums did nor can it match up to those records music-wise, but it's still an incredibly strong effort by a band that has beat the odds to deliver what is certain to be one of the best metal albums of the year and one of the best in Sabbath's discography. 

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