Released: 2013, Vertigo Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
So here it is, the first new material to feature Ozzy Osbourne fronting Black Sabbath in over three decades. Or at least since 1998’s REUNION depending on whose version of history you’re referencing. On the real, “Psycho Man”? “Selling My Soul”? Bueller? Anyone else remember “Scary Dreams” from the Ozzfest comp? No, we don’t talk about those…
By the time you read this, 13 will have been available for almost a full month. Everybody’s heard it and everyone has an opinion. I was bound and determined not to join the peanut gallery and add yet another unsolicited two cents to the discussion, because if we’re being honest with each other, chances are you made your mind up about 13 long before hearing it. Another review from some dude sitting at his laptop isn’t going to sway the way you feel about it. But I’m giving in against my better judgment to pen my thoughts about the latest and what will most likely be the last album from what is unquestionably my favorite band. Readers of Metal-Rules, this one is more for me than it is for you.
I like 13, but I don’t love it. All things being what they are, it’s an above average album that doesn’t do any damage to the Sabbath legacy, but it doesn’t do anything to propel it either. And you’re fooling yourself if you think that 13 holds a smoldering candle to any of the original Ozzy-era canon. When everything works, it works TREMENDOUSLY well. When it doesn’t work, 13 sounds like a cover band trying to do their best impression of what they think that Black Sabbath is supposed to sound like.
Here’s the thing – most associate Sabbath with the almighty doom riff; dark, heavy, and slow. But Sabbath, particularly Ozzy-era Sabbath was so much more than that one trick pony. For every “Iron Man”, there was “Fairies Wear Boots.” For every “Black Sabbath”, there was “Megalomania”. For every “Symptom of the Universe”, there was “Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener”. Yeah, there was the dark, heavy, and slow, but that was all counterbalanced by bluesy, big band swing, and simple experimentation. And it’s that brilliant counterbalance that’s noticeably missing on most of 13. Anyone can write a heavy riff, but Black Sabbath is capable of so much more.
The Good: “End of the Beginning” – the opening riff instantly recalls the devil’s triad that opened their eponymous debut LP 40 some years ago (don’t think that wasn’t intentional), but 2 and half minutes in, Iommi’s swinging riffs and screeching solo lets you know that this is unmistakably Black F@#king Sabbath. Ozzy mumbles a bit through the track, with the lyric “you don’t want to be a robot ghost” sounding more like “you don’t want to be a rope-a-dope” or “you don’t want to be a robot goat”. Some of that’s due to the ham handed production, but it takes you out of the moment a bit. Thankfully the Iommi/Butler/Not Bill Ward wall of sound quickly lures you back in. “God is Dead?” - The first single, everyone should be familiar with this track by now. It’s a pretty solid tune, especially the “Nowhere to Run” bounce towards the end. “Age of Reason” – Primarily the second half of the track with its staccato off time stagger that segues into a sweepingly epic Iommi solo to carry the tune away.
The Great: “Zeitgeist” – Planet Caravan Part 2? This spacey, percussive jam is closer the true Black Sabbath sound than any of the crunch that surrounds it; highly recommended. “Damaged Soul” – Total freakin’ Sabbath blues. I would have given my pinky finger for an album full of tunes like this one. Arguably the best track on 13.
The Not So Great: “Loner” – “He’s Just a Loner/He Never Says Hello”. Iommi’s riff reminds me of the B-side of MOB RULES, but this track has filler written all over it. “Live Forever” – The main riff sounds like a slowed down, slightly nudged “I Witness” from CROSS PURPOSES, and doesn’t elicit much of a reaction one way or the other. “Dear Father” – Oz sounds like he’s running out of breath trying to keep up with Geezer’s lyrics. Musically it sounds eerily close to what ended up on THE DEVIL YOU KNOW, and you can’t help but wondering what Ronnie could have done with this track. Miss you Ronnie.
I’m not even going to justify the various bonus tracks from the “special editions”. Either they’re important enough to include on the finished product or they’re not. But let’s talk Rick Rubin’s production work on 13 for a moment, or general lack thereof. Don’t expect any kind of aural nuance or texture, ‘cause there ain’t none to be found. Basically all of the levels are pushed to their max with a heavy dose of compression on everything. For which Rubin showed up 15 minutes a day and was paid handsomely, thus proving that I am indeed in the wrong line of work.
So there it is. As the saying goes, opinions are like certain orifices; everybody has one – and this one is mine. If I had a choice to listen to 13 against any of the Ozzy-era “Great 8”, it’s gonna lose every time. That’s not a slag on 13, if anything it’s a testament to how f@#king amazing Black Sabbath was in their prime. If we’re all being honest, Christ himself could’ve come down for a guest spot on the album and it still wouldn’t have been as good as VOL. 4, that’s just the truth and we all know it. Where 13 really succeeds is in providing some much needed closure to a heavy metal journey 40+ years strong. The fact that Ozzy, Tony, and Geezer felt like that they still had one more in them is reason enough to give 13 a fair listen. Decide for yourself.