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Birmingham Mail reviews Sabbath’s “13”

 

“I have to admit that it’s not what I expected,” says Tony Iommi , “In a good way, that is. I could never have imagined that the album would turn out so well, but it has. I think it sits comfortably with our first three albums – Black Sabbath, Paranoid and Master Of Reality. We wanted it to sound like the way we played in our early days, back to basics, and we recorded pretty much all of it almost live as a band. We didn’t want to go through the usual trip of recording the drums, the guitars and the vocals separately. So we played together.”

Birmingham Mail’s Paul Cole listened to the new album and this is his track by track verdict:

End Of The Beginning

Sabbath’s return is announced by an explosive power chord leading into a four-note mirror image riff as Ozzy pleads: “Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?”

It’s a classic Sabbath plod for close on three minutes until a faster rock and roll riff kicks in, topped by a tightly controlled guitar solo one minute spitting more bullets than a Kalashnikov, the next sparingly melodic.

“All right, OK,” chants Ozzy as the song winds down, a surefire stadium response ploy. It’s old school Sabbath but dressed in crisp contemporary production rather than the muddy mixes of old.

God Is Dead

The album’s longest track, at almost nine minutes, boasts a similar reverse riff to the opener but is a more doomy, gloomy affair.

“Is God alive or is God dead?” sings Ozzy before rambling on about “rivers of evil through the dying land” and warning that “sinners will be damned” somehow stretching the last word into three Brummie syllables.

It’s inspired by the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Centre, not that you’d necessarily know it.

Again, there are time changes aplenty, including a kickass stop-start boogie which gets the adrenaline flowing round about the three-quarter mark, and a near-progressive riff at the close that is destined to defeat Guitar Hero wannabes.

Loner

Easily accessible and radio-friendly, Loner ups the pace, driven by Geezer Butler’s bass and Brad Wilk’s tight drumming. Classic Sabbath hallmarks are still in evidence but it’s the album’s most lightweight contender.

Just when you think you’ve got it figured as a good highway song, Tony Iommi pulls the rug from under your feet with a tricky riff and searing solo.

Zeitgeist

Remember Planet Caravan from the Paranoid album back in 1970? Well, here it is again. Sort of.

Opening with Ozzy’s manic laughter, it’s all acoustic guitar and bongo percussion given a psychedelic twist. Think the sort of songs Led Zeppelin offered on their third album but without the blues roots.

Iommi’s flanged guitar adds to the period piece, until he breaks into some Wes Montgomery-style jazz licks. If you listen again to early Sabbath, there’s a surprising amount of jazz amid the monolithic metal.

Age Of Reason

Stadium rock drumbeats herald another huge riff on the album’s best track. “Always felt there would be trouble,” sighs Ozzy, perhaps mindful of Iommi’s lymphoma diagnosis, Bill Ward’s departure and his own addiction.

Musically the most ambitious outing here, there are tricksy time turnarounds, and Wilks adds drum fills all over the place much in the way that Ward once wandered. There’s a tighter middle section that smacks of his day job in Rage Against The Machine.

It’s a song Sabbath fans Metallica would love to cover, old school but shiny new at the same time. Iommi tops it off with a clean, stylish solo set against the murmurings of a heavenly choir.

Live Forever

Phew! What a scorcher! Opening like Iron Man, this motors along like a runaway Eddie Stobart truck before slowing down for Ozzy’s anguished “I don’t want to live forever but I don’t want to die!”

The troubled frontman has rarely sung better in recent years, and is in far better form than on his ill-advised outing with Slash a couple of years back. It’s short but sweet – by Sabbath standards – at under five minutes.

You could imagine this having been released around the time the Sabs stormed the charts with Paranoid, and Deep Purple replied with Black Night.

Damaged Soul

Sabbath board the Tardis and make an unashamed trip in time right back to their beginnings.

It’s a slow, slow riff shot through with the blues, even adding blues harp to the nostalgia. It’s also the first track to escape the polished production process, more organic than the rest.

“Satan is waiting for the righteous to fall,” whines Ozzy and there’s an Iommi solo so natural, warts and all, that it sounds it was done in one take, just like the old days. Diehards will love it, newcomers may be unconvinced.

Dear Father

The album closes with a chilling tale of child abuse, seemingly condemnation of the sex scandals that have dogged the Catholic church.

“You preyed upon my flesh then prayed for my soul,” seethes Ozzy.

But, and here’s the surprise, it’s actually the most melodic song on the album, with an unlikely hook that might have emerged from The Beatles’ classic White Album sessions.

That wouldn’t be enough, of course, so there’s another runaway riff in the mid-section of the song, which finally closes to the sound of thunder and rail amid which a church bell mournfully tolls.

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Paul Cole for Birmingham Mail, 8 June 2013

 

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