Review by Rick Ossian
In a digital age such as ours, where ancient ‘dinosaur’ rock bands such as Uriah Heep, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple are not only iconic figures, but indeed still going concerns, perhaps it is not so unusual to find your humble listener reviewing the latest Black Sabbath recording.
Not so surprising, unfortunately, is the inherent drama that ensues when said icons finally reform to record again.
Though there were two studio tracks done when they regrouped in 1998 for the Reunion album (Psycho Man and Selling My Soul), there has not been a full-blown studio reunion for these amiable Brummies since 1978’s Never Say Die!, an album which held it’s own in-band drama as well.
Let us focus on the product we have in hand. If you have the basic version, which comes in a smart, 2 LP gatefold vinyl (180 gram audiophile, no less), CD and mp3, then you get eight tracks. Not just any old eight tracks, mind you. These are all killer, no filler, and many of them will no doubt rest comfortably alongside the classics of the Sabbath canon.
Before we get underway, however, I would like to just go on record as saying that Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine) has a colossal set of cajones just to attempt to sit in Bill’s chair here. I can think of no one (save Vinny Appice, perhaps) who could have done such a thing, let alone achieve his goals with such aplomb. Though he may ‘lack the swing of Bill Ward‘ (Rolling Stone), he still manages to fit in somehow, and at times even rises above the din to be heard himself. This is no mean feat when you consider the thunderous cacophony which can still be laid down by Messrs. Butler and Iommi. Whether he’s brushing the bongos via the jazzy ambience of Zeitgeist (which not-so-subtly recalls Planet Caravan from the Paranoid album), or executing the skin-pounding fury of Loner, he shows time and time again that he was not just some random choice. He was meant to be here. He also has the same initials as our hero (Bill Ward/Brad Wilk). A mere coincidence, you say, but one would not be remiss in wondering why, considering the world of the band we are listening to.
When first we heard rumblings of new Sabbath studio work, many of us were first aurally anointed with the lead-off single (there are still singles?), God Is Dead? It is the longest track here (8:52), and consequently may not get the airplay of ‘everyday’ FM stations, but I’m sure they’ll do their best to cobble together a 3-or-4-minute version to appease the millions of programmers who wouldn’t dare play anything over 5 minutes. Geezer recalls his former lyrical glory by asking questions of his readers/listeners – NOT your every day questions, obviously. These are the ones we struggle with on a monumental scale. After all, who hasn’t honestly wondered about the status, of you will, of our deity. Geezer asked similar questions, if you’ll recall, as far back as Lord of This World from the brilliant Masters of Reality. Those who aren’t paying attention will, as per usual, squawk that Ozzy and company are devil-worshippers. Those who actually listen to the lyrics will, of course, know better.
End of the Beginning, another eight-minute epic, finds the boys from Aston in fine form again, and rolls back the years and ears for this listener. Once we reach Loner, however, we get a brief respite from the long, introspective tracks. Clocking in at just five minutes (short by ‘13”s standards), it would be advisable to strap in and buckle up for this one. Although it does bear certain Sabbath trademarks (including one corker of a riff from Tony), and would have fit in beautifully somewhere on, say, Heaven and Hell, do not be dismayed. It may sound like Iommi is copping his own riffs, but it is exciting nonetheless. Hang on for the ride and don’t blame the boys for any speeding tickets you may incur whilst traveling with this tune on your box!
The aforementioned Zeitgeist also recalls Sabotage (amongst others) with Ozzy’s maniacal laughter the only intro, and weaves us through a virtual ‘downtime’, if you will, that will be the only such number on the whole disc. Everything else is uptempo, to say the least.
Age of Reason, a seven-minute stomper, features a mid-song shift into second gear that is also typical of the Sabbath of old, but not in a bad way. Iommi disciples will rejoice, as will Geezer’s lyrical fans (politics, religion and love of money). Live Forever (who wants to?) warns us that ‘just before you die/you see your life flashing by’, while Damaged Soul is obviously another Iommi vehicle. There are many on offer here.
Dear Father‘s main man finds his ‘life in ruin’, and, again, for those of us who really listen, old Sabbath afficianados will rejoice on hearing the closing bells and storm from the very first LP. If, by chance, you happen to have purchased the deluxe limited edition CD or mp3, then you get three extra tracks: Methademic (a scathing, six-minute indictment for speed freaks – ‘you live too fast’), Peace of Mind and Pariah. All are excellent tunes, and well worth a couple of extra pounds or dollars, depending on which side of The Pond you reside. For those of you who revel in the idea of extras, and have a few extra bob burning a hole in your trousers, there is also, I’m told, a box set that will set you back about a hundred or so. I would be willing to bet there are some extras here, as well – no doubt including a DVD of the making of the album.
There you have it, then – finally, after all these years. New Sabbath. Do not treat this opportunity lightly, as it may be our last. Had Bill Ward been on board, I may have been tempted to award full marks here. No slight to Mr. Wilk, you understand, but it’s just NOT Black Sabbath without Bill. Still enjoyable, still very hard rock/heavy metal, and still excellent material; just not all original. I suppose I should be thankful for what we have!