Just a few weeks ago, I found myself actually listening to the radio and being pleasantly surprised by the song choice of the local station: War Pigs. The politically driven hit from Black Sabbath’s Paranoid; the year was 1970, and 43 years later, the song still rocks like few others. This is the legacy of Black Sabbath for me; the hits from an era I never lived through and only experienced during moments like this; either on the radio, or played from my Father’s stereo system. The history of Black Sabbath is not something that I am very familiar with, except that Ronnie James Dio and Ozzy Osbourne fronted the two most successful iterations of the band. In more recent history, the former teamed up with the remaining members of Sabbath to release an incredibly atmospheric and downright fantastic album in “The Devil You Know,” as members of Heaven and Hell. A voice like Dio’s can rarely be matched, and the music was vintage Sabbath; dark, down tuned, gloomy, and most importantly, heavy. With rumors swirling that the original members of Sabbath were finally going to reunite and release an album of new material, sure there was some trepidation; Ozzy has become a shell of his former self, bordering on parody at points, though The Devil You Know proved that Iommi and the guys can still rock and rock hard. There were a lot of questions about how the reunion would pan out, and with the departure of Bill Ward before the damn thing even started, even more no doubt followed. Now, with Brad Wilk as their drummer, 13 has been released to the masses. How does it affect the legacy of Sabbath? It certainly does not hurt it, that’s for damn sure.
Anyone that is surprised that 13 is a success either had no faith in Ozzy or clearly did not listen to The Devil You Know; the group was in top form for that album, and with Dio fronting it, there was no need to be worried about the lead vocalist. In this case, the only truly notable difference is Ozzy doing vocals. Since his recent solo works have basically made him a parody of himself, it was definitely curious to see how he would sound with Iommi doing what he does best; writing doomy, bluesy, down tuned riffs that should make any Sabbath fan happy. For the most part, Ozzy does a fine job; though I have not heard much of his recent solo work (anything after Black Rain), everything I heard about Ozzy was not good. As far as anyone should be concerned, Ozzy has redeemed himself (at least for now).
Look no further than the first track to see that this album is not just a quick cash grab on a hugely popular name. End of the Beginning is a track that is seemingly random, but in a very good and very Sabbath way; the music is heavy right off the bat, then slows down to near nothing as Ozzy is introduced with the fitting line “Is this the End of the Beginning/Or the Beginning of the End?” then the heaviness, and subsequently the whole tempo, picks right back up where it left off, and peaks with an incredible Iommi solo right around the halfway point. The song is over 8 minutes long, but it does not feel like it; it’s vintage Sabbath and a damn near perfect opening for a true Sabbath reunion. It’s just so awesome to hear Iommi and Butler team up to create the nightmarish uneasiness and disquiet characteristic of most Sabbath songs.
Following along these same paths is first single and second track God Is Dead?. The music essentially takes a back seat to Ozzy for about the first two minutes, then just takes right off, then slows back down; these tempo changes challenge the listener to pay attention to each member of the band and help keep it fresh while still taking the listener back to Sabbath’s glory days. Butler and Iommi completely blew me away these first two tracks, because it really feels like they have not missed a beat, and they are now into their 60’s, with Iommi recently undergoing treatment for lymphoma. Quite frankly, these men are metal legends and these first two songs (and the album as a whole) simply remind us that they can still rock, and rock hard.
Those first two tracks are clear indication that these men went into the studio to make a legitimately heavy album, and they succeeded, and even added a bit of experimentation, to top it off. Somewhat off a different track on the album, but still a song that has some staying power in the grand scheme, is the “ballad” Zeitgeist. Featuring an acoustic guitar and even bongos, the song is just so different that it is difficult to not enjoy, especially that bluesy outro for the last minute or so that is simply a treat to listen to.
The tempo changes have been noted within the first two songs, but it’s Age of Reason that is the most intricate song on the album, though one that is very accessible. The song is reminiscent of the Sabbath that dabbled in progressive rock, and is broken up into five separate segments which includes a remarkable bridge and another vintage solo from Iommi. Age of Reason cements itself as one of the highlights of the album, as it showcases just how great each member of this group can be.
Musically speaking, the album is incredibly satisfying as a fan of Sabbath; by no means am I a Sabbath scholar, but I know what to expect from these guys when they fire on all cylinders, and this album has not only succeeded in satisfying my lust for hard rock, but it makes me long to go back and listen to classics like Paranoid and jam.
Lyrically speaking, the album is quite good, as well; they are well written and fit the dark nature of the music and the nightmare inducing voice of Ozzy. Lyrics with dark symbolism about death, extinction, religion and more death not only fit right in with the riffs of Iommi and Butler, but make them in fact more satisfying and effective; look no further than God is Dead? with lyrics like “Run through dying land/ Swimming in sorrow, they kill, steal, and borrow/There is no tomorrow/ For the sinners will be damned.” It’s only fitting that this band, of the name Black Sabbath and featuring a man like Ozzy Osbourne, sing about such dark and despondent subjects; nevertheless, the lyrics are so well done, so fitting, that to imagine this music with anything else would just be foolish.
Quite frankly, it is not a shock that 13 turned out well; what’s shocking is just how great the whole package really is. The riffs are great, the lyrics are fittingly dark and despairing and Ozzy puts forth a very solid effort. Fans of Black Sabbath, and hard rock in general, need to pick this album up. It will not be regretted.
1. End of the Beginning
2. God is Dead?
5. Age of Reason
6. Live Forever
7. Damaged Soul
Final Rating: 4.5/5