The build-up to 13 made it one of the most-anticipated metal albums of the 21st century. Released 19 months after the original Sabbath line-up announced their reunion, the album almost never happened at all. Original members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward staged a splashy press conference in November 2011 to announce a tour and a Rick Rubin-produced album, but the mood quickly soured. The departure of Bill Ward due to a contract dispute, and cancer diagnosis of guitarist Tony Iommi seemingly stopped Sabbath in their tracks. Along with that, the eyebrow-raising news that the comeback LP — the first full studio record to involve more than two members of Sabbath 1.0 since 1983’s Ozzy-less Born Again — would feature Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave drummer Brad Wilk.
Cancer, however, didn’t impede Iommi from writing some of the sickest guitar work of his career, with an extra-bright light tilted toward the riff master’s virtuosic soloing.
And so, we shall dive into the return of the prince of darkness and possibly one of the greatest heavy metal acts of all time.
1. “End of the Beginning”
2. “God is Dead”
5. “Age of Reason”
6. “Live Forever”
7. “Damaged Soul”
8. “Dear Father”
First off, we start with “End Of The Beginning.” Like so many classic Sabbath tunes, it begins slowly with fat chords and poses a bit of a silly question – “Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?” – before picking up speed and density. The song’s ultimate message? “Rise up, resist.” As with songs of classic Sabbath, it feels as if it belongs in an age of the late ‘70s during the progressive era. Heavy on guitar and long tracks are what you should expect from this album.
Next on deck is “God Is Dead,” with lines such as “lost in the darkness” and “rivers of evil,” the album’s longest track, coming in at eight minutes 52 seconds, uses tried and true elements such as the sound of wind blowing and a huge chorus. What’s unique is Iommi using an airier guitar sound as opposed to the usual.
“Loner” is nothing exceptional, just standard-issue Sabbath. It is a good mix of guitar and bass that go great with the lyrics provided by the prince of darkness.
“Zeitgeist” greets us next. This is a big change of pace track – acoustic guitar, hand percussion and Osbourne’s voice put through a trippy ‘70s time machine. Iommi has an electric guitar solo that echoes the work of jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, making Sabbath sound like something you have never heard from them before.
“Age Of Reason” has big riffs, big drums, old school production, and is a track that hits the listener like the Vol. 4 album. Butler, Iommi and Osbourne are all fighting for a larger allocation of space in the sonic spectrum as they rip through fat hooks with Wilk’s drums leading the way. The song is a journey through five movements of various tempos and riffs with no let-up in the thickness of the sound. It is clearly, the album’s most adventurous and rewarding track.
“Live Forever” shows an exceptional Osbourne vocal in which he tackles one of life’s big dichotomies: “I don’t want to live forever, but I don’t want to die.” Ozzy brings up topics of death and when death does come knocking, are we going to have any moral regrets, “Facing death but is your conscience clear?”
With “Damaged Soul,” we get a nearly eight-minute track that displays Iommi’s strengths as a guitarist playing over that uniquely sludgy Sabbath tempo. It concludes with a tempo shift into a boogie blues complete with blues harp, another interesting twist on the Sabbath trademark. Osbourne’s vocal is heavy on the echo; on first listen, the only decipherable words were “evil,” “demons” and “Satan is waiting for the righteous to fall.”
Last and not least we hit “Dear Father,” a nursery rhyme from hell about a request for forgiveness; “Dear Father” hues closer to Osbourne’s solo material than any of the other tracks. A huge melodic hook gives it some commercial potential as it concludes with a bit of the cliché – thunder, rain and a steeple bell ringing.
Overall, I give this album 4 stars out of 5.
Hunter Julius can be reached at email@example.com