The Eternal Idol (Expanded Deluxe Edition)
Released: 2010, Sanctuary/Universal UK
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
1986 was a tumultuous year for Tony Iommi and Black Sabbath. Earlier that year saw the release of SEVENTH STAR and the unceremonious exit of vocalist Glenn Hughes practically ten minutes afterwards. As the band was on tour in support of the album and in the precarious position of not having a singer, a young powerhouse named Ray Gillen gets tapped from the New Jersey club circuit to step behind the mic and carry on as Black Sabbath’s frontman for the remainder of the tour. Between the end of ’86 and the spring of ’87, that incarnation of Sabbath would lay down the groundwork for what would become the band’s 13th studio album, THE ETERNAL IDOL. However, during the recording sessions for the new album, Gillen exited the band and was replaced by Tony Martin, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As with the spectacular Dio-era reissues from earlier this year, Sanctuary/Universal UK has given the same level of attention to the deluxe edition of THE ETERNAL IDOL. While this period of Sabbath’s existence is often a point of contention among fans, THE ETERNAL IDOL is an underrated gem in Sabbath’s crown. Songs like “Ancient Warrior,” “The Shining,” “Lost Forever” and the title track still hold up today, and if you’re honest enough to put aside your Ozzy/Dio prejudices, you’ll recognize that it’s a solid album overall. And there’s no shortage of fanboy love here with a 2-disc set of treats. Disc 1 is a remastered version of the original studio version of the album and two b-sides, an early version of “Black Moon” (later re-recorded for HEADLESS CROSS), and the swaggering “Some Kind of Woman.” The audio tweaks are subtle, but a definite improvement over previous editions of the album. And as I rediscovered, the songs rock.
Disc 2 features the Ray Gillen studio recordings of the album and is the first time they’ve been released officially. While these cuts have lived in various bootleg forms for ages, their official inclusion here is a nod to the fans who’ve been clamoring for these kinds of rarities to be recognized and acknowledged. If you’ve heard these versions before, you’ll likely not have heard them sound this good. While it’s essentially a pre-production demo, it’s the best these particular takes have ever sounded. And though the lyrics and phrasing don’t differ between versions, Gillen’s performance was so different than Martin’s that in many cases they do sound like different songs. As much as I’ve enjoyed Tony Martin’s collaborations with Sabbath, I found myself imaging what could have been if Gillen hadn’t abandoned ship in mid-stream. Ray Gillen unfortunately passed away in 1993, but he left behind some amazing work as his legacy. Beyond his brief stint with Black Sabbath, the guy also released three stellar albums with Badlands (hint, hint, check those out).
THE ETERNAL IDOL may not be the best album in the Black Sabbath lexicon, but it’s by no means a bad album. Again, if you strip away the ever looming shadows of Ozzy and RJD, you’ve got a powerful collection of well written and expertly executed metal from Iommi and co. This expanded deluxe edition of THE ETERNAL IDOL is for some a great excuse to get reacquainted with an overlooked classic and for others an overdue first introduction.