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Black Sabbath - "13" (2-CD Set)

Black Sabbath - "13" 2-CD Set cover image

"13" track listing:

CD 1:
1. End Of The Beginning
2. God Is Dead?
3. Loner
4. Zeitgeist
5. Age Of Reason
6. Live Forever
7. Damaged Soul
8. Dear Father

CD 2:
1. Methademic
2. Peace Of Mind
3. Pariah

Reviewed by on June 17, 2013

"I didn't want to hear Black Sabbath ask the question 'Is god really dead?' – I want them to know it - with a middle finger shrouded in red and cloaked in an upside down pentagram."

So it’s finally here. The most “anticipated album of the year.” The album that will bring back the “glory days” of Black Sabbath - when drug intake was higher, Tony, Geezer, and Ozzy were younger and “Iron Man” was on continuous play to monotonous levels. Tony’s battle with cancer heightened the intrigue….does he still have it? Oh my lord almighty, it cannot possibly go wrong! Everyone, from atop their ivory soap boxes or in their dark dingy holes gathered around for the mere whiff at Osbourne’s triumphant return to the founders of all that is metal. Road blocks and heightened tensions between the band and Bill Ward delayed the writing and releasing, but news of Ozzy’s alleged return to drug use and cooling relationship with marketing queen wife Sharon raised the expectations that this would indeed be the moment we all have been waiting for.

Try as I might, I simply cannot not buy into the hype of an Ozzy reunion, especially in light of the fact that Ronnie James Dio's death was the demise of Sabbath's greatest incarnation, whether that is believed by the masses or not. “13” is more proof of two constants: A) Tony and Geezer are fantastic team for creating classic riffs and doomy tracks and B) Ozzy is still not Sabbath's best singer; in fact he really is the worst, classic or not.

For the automatons…hear me out now. No matter how much peer pressure is cast down from the metal community, it is alright to criticize Ozzy-fronted Sabbath. With all due respect for all the great work back from 1969-1978, Ozzy is simply not the same today. You aren't going to get the low, drugged drawl of old, but more of the whining "autotuned" to death for as long as you can remember. Taking Dio out of the discussion for just a moment, it is also alright to enjoy the albums with Ian Gillan, Tony Martin, and Glenn Hughes without automatically dismissing them for the fact that "Ozzy is not on them." Iommi is Sabbath and the years prove that without a doubt. All of Black Sabbath’s incarnations may be very different, but they all represent eras of the band that produced great music.

As for “13,” it is by no means a bad album. As a matter of fact, I was actually surprised at how good it was given how much I detest Ozzy’s whining drivel. However, there are many points on the release where the material just doesn’t rise above boredom. When “God Is Dead?” was released as a single, there was much hope, especially when the pace picks up in intensity on the second half. As it turns out, this is one of the better tracks on the album. Iommi still has such immeasurable talent at creating the most classic groovy doom riffs of anyone ever, single-handedly spawning thousands of guitarists who attempt to follow in his greatness. Perfect examples include “Age of Reason” and “Loner,” which I can envision being the subject of a “mashable” with “N.I.B.,” since the lyrics of the classic fit right along with the beat of the new track. Others are "End of the Beginning" (more on this later), “Peace of Mind” and “Pariah” – classic Iommi/Butler brilliance. Where the band loses attention is with songs like “Zeitgeist,” a trippy insomnia curing track that has no real direction (or purpose) and “Dear Father,” which comes across as mere mind numbing repetition.

Sound wise, Rick Rubin did a brilliant job at capturing the classic 70’s sound of the band, however, it lacks the overall darkness that I expected to hear from this lineup. Notwithstanding the vast improvements in recording technology since 1969, when you listen to the debut release, there was a presence looming that lulled you in and drugged you with the irresistible pheromones of “eeeeevil.” This is the one missing ingredient on “13.” I didn't want to hear Black Sabbath ask the question “Is God really dead?” – I want them to know it - with a middle finger shrouded in red and cloaked in an upside down pentagram. It could just be that age has beaten the devil out of the band, or just a lack of jagged sharpness to the riffs.

With that said, there is one song where calamity still exists - “End of the Beginning.” Here, the absent darkness shadows through with all its villainous might, with eerily similar tones to the classic eponymous opus that started it all. Ozzy sounds his best here, but what could have been had he recreated that creepy low tone of the past. This song is the only one that represents an instant classic, which will easily make the next 600 best-of albums that are surely to come.

When it’s over, you may ask “Was it all worth it?” Of course it was. With Dio sadly gone, Tony Martin not the band's current “marketing plan,” and Ian Gillan on the heels of the finest Deep Purple album in recent memory, then the time was right for Black Sabbath with Ozzy. For die hard Sabbath fans and collectors, this is a must buy. For those on the fence, you might want to give it a full listen before making your decision. For this reviewer, the album is a good release that gives me a great night's sleep.

Highs: Iommi still creats doom riff brilliance. 70's feel abound.

Lows: The "beginning of the end" of the darkness and evil. Many parts don't rise above boredom.

Bottom line: "13" represents a largely good release, but where is the special deluxe edition with the pillow?

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Reviewed by on June 17, 2013

"Fans of the band’s first few albums, which included early-’70s gems like “Paranoid” and “Master Of Reality,” are going to find plenty to love here, with lots of crushing riffs that harken back to the early 1970s ..."

Singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi and bass player Geezer Butler have conjured their old black magic on “13,” Black Sabbath’s first studio album with Osbourne in 35 years.

Fans of the band’s first few albums, which included early-’70s gems like “Paranoid” and “Master Of Reality,” are going to find plenty to love here, with lots of crushing riffs that harken back to the early 1970s, as well as the band’s trademark lyrical gloom and doom.

Given the precarious state of the band members’ health (Iommi was undergoing cancer treatments as “13” was recorded, while Osbourne relapsed into alcohol and prescription drug addiction), as well as acrimony over contracts that had the band’s original drummer, Bill Ward, sitting this one out, it’s surprising how well this album came out.

Iommi and Butler had been on a creative upswing since their reunion with ex-Sabbath singer Ronnie James Dio, which yielded the superb “The Devil You Know” in 2008. Osbourne, on the other hand, had sleepwalked his way through his last few solo releases, with 2007’s “Black Rain” and 2010’s “Scream” featuring vocals so processed they verged on robotic.

Fortunately, Osbourne is fully engaged on “13,” delivering his best vocal performance in more than a decade. Granted, Ozzy doesn’t have half the range of Dio or any of the other singers that replaced him in Sabbath after he was fired in 1979. What he does have is the ability to make tunes like “End Of The Beginning,” “God Is Dead?” and “Dear Father” feel even creepier, with a not-quite-in-or-out-of-tune feel that perfectly complements Iommi’s minor-key madness on guitar.

Iommi and Butler add a fair amount of blues bounce to tracks like the harmonica-laced “Damaged Soul,” which balances out the skull-crushing heaviness of songs like “End Of The Beginning.”
Osbourne and Butler collaborated on the lyrics, with “Dear Father,” the tale of a man who confesses an impending sin to the priest who molested him — and then commits that sin by murdering him — having a splendidly skin-crawling effect.

Replacement drummer Brad Wilk, who normally plays in Rage Against the Machine, does an admirable job of emulating Bill Ward’s jazz-influenced style on “Damaged Soul” and the hard-hitting “Age Of Reason.”

It’s obvious that the band was aiming to replicate its early sounds (“Loner,” in particular, feels like an early-years outtake). Sometimes, though, that impulse is taken too far. “Zeitgeist” hews far too close to “Planet Caravan” from the “Paranoid” album — right down to the space travel theme, bongo drums and jazz guitar solo.

Given age and health concerns, as well as the volatile personalities that make up the band, it’s little wonder that this album feels like a coda of sorts (a feeling accentuated by the all-too-familiar thunderclap and church bells that end “Dear Father,” just as they began the song “Black Sabbath” more than 40 years ago). If that proves to be the case, “13” is a splendid blast of hellfire for Black Sabbath to go out on.

Highs: "Damaged Soul," "Dear Father" and "End Of The Beginning"

Lows: The too-familiar-sounding "Zeitgeist."

Bottom line: An excellent return to the band's early-'70s form.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)