Released: 2013, Universal
Roughly two weeks ago, Black Sabbath’s nineteenth studio album 13 was released. First full length Sabbath album to feature the Ozz man in 35 years, Geezer Butler’s first since 1994, Black Sabbath’s first since 1995. Sure the band has reunited for live dates from time to time, but Bil Ward is again a no-show, still unhappy with contractual issues. Nevertheless, a new full-length studio album is a big deal. Two weeks in and already a voluminous army of reviews has been compiled by the Metal community. Considering that Sabbath has probably had more books, documentaries, and critical attention devoted to it than any other metal band in history, a hefty accumulation of reviews was inevitable. Which begs the question, why another review? I had to ask myself that a few times, and the only answer I could come up with that made sense, was simply “Because it’s fuckin’ Black Sabbath man!”
So let’s talk about the salient points. Rick Rubin was brought in to handle production, reprising the role he played as the codger resuscitator on Metallica’s DEATH MAGNETIC. Lots of people hate the production, lambasting Rubin’s catering to the “loudness war” which is similar to the reaction to DEATH MAGNETIC's production. Most folks though will just hear what is a fairly typical modern sounding album; nothing more, nothing less. More important than his actual production quality, Rubin represents a back to basics on this album for Sabbath and according to Geezer Butler in The Guardian, Rubin directed the band to ‘unlearn everything’ from the subsequent 43 years: "That was his thing. Pretend this is your second album." Admirably and bravely, chancing the tarnishing of a legacy to recapture the sound and vibe of what would eventually evolve into the style we call heavy metal music, Black Sabbath has made that return.
“End Of The Beginning” is the trumpeting of that direction, unrepentant and blatant in its mirroring (self plagiarizing) of the title track off the 1970 album BLACK SABBATH, in tempo, style, and order of construction. Next up is “God Is Dead”, the one that has been out forever, a plodding 9 minute epic that is a pure doom construct. Signature high point is Geezer’s bass as an integral part of the song during the verses, eschewing the simple mimicking of the guitar that has become the standard rote of most modern metal bassists. “Loner” is a great tune, hearkening back to the chord progressions of “N.I.B.”, the nickname given to the sadly absent Bil Ward. One of the few missteps is the next song, “Zeitgeist”, sure to be Phil Anselmo’s favorite on the album, but I never cared for “Planet Caravan” and this is essentially Caravan's heavy lidded and snoozing sibling.
Performance wise, Iommi crafts heavy and thick riffs, if a bit predictable and lacking any sense of adventure. However, his blues inflected solos are from a bygone era, inspired and steeped in knowledge. As for Ozzy, the death defying man whose blood became a scientific study to uncover the reasons that have helped him survive years of excessive alcohol and drug abuse, he lends gravity and solemn reflection through his unique timbre to the songs meant for him alone to sing. Age has lowered his range, but not deterred his delivery, and Geezer is still the rock solid foundation of the band’s sound and chief lyricist, penning themes of religion, conflict, inner turmoil and philosophy. Brad Wilk capably fills Ward’s shoes, though no doubt the drums would have been different with Ward.
Credit the band for getting it together and putting this album out, perhaps the passing of Dio and other metal icons along with Iommi’s cancer providing the impetus needed and realization that there might be no tomorrow. Ultimately, 13 contains many of the trademarks of early Sabbath while coming across as more consistent than say the debut. Perhaps a bit too slow, and lacking any real experimental dash, 13 cannot deliver Sabbath back to the glory days, and really who could expect it, even though it is the first Sabbath album to ever reach #1 on the U.S. Billboard charts. However, there is no question that this comes very close to the sound of the early 70s with a different and modern production. The standard edition of the album clocks in at 8 tracks, but you can hear the three bonus tracks on Spotify or the Deluxe edition of the album.