|Posted on June 30, 2013 at 3:00 AM|
Naïveté in Black – A Review of ‘13’ by Black Sabbath
Written by Jim Sky
Black Sabbath’s groundbreaking heavy metal sound was my childhood staple, so a measure of excitement and trepidation ran through me when I was greeted with ‘13’, the first studio album since ‘Never Say Die’ (1978) to feature three of four original Sabbath members. First track “End of the Beginning” set the scene with unexpected immediacy.
Carrying distinct echoes of a career-defining title song (“Black Sabbath”) Iommi’s inspired masterminding of a distorted Devil’s Interval, Osbourne’s distinctive vocal style and Butler’s fat riffage are immediately recognisable. Somewhat surprising for a band with such a rich musical history however is the equally familiar song structure, featuring rhythm changes almost too reminiscent of their debut release. The chorus-drenched verse of second track “God Is Dead?” would from any other group seem an obvious nod toward Metallica, yet in this case Iommi’s melodic signatures explode to reclaim the proud musical place of a band previously thought to have one drug-addled foot in a TV sitcom grave. Reassuringly the lyrical emphasis is on thought provoking issues and religious iconography rather than cringe-worthy catch phrases.
Tracks “Loner”, “Age of Reason”, and “Live Forever” form the meat of the album, supplying an equally familiar and entertaining blues-rock bite with a modern twist, yet none stand out as all-time Sabbath classics. “Zeitgeist” serves as a poor man’s ‘Planet Caravan’, a mid-album rest hovering on the wrong edge of euphoric and emotive. “Damaged Soul” sees new drummer Brad Wilk launch into a series of dropped beats and snare rolls in a fantastic tribute to Bill Ward’s phenomenal rhythmic tradition. Rounded off with some impressively crunchy licks and old-school Ozzy vocal effects, (not to mention some impressively distorted first-album harmonica) this track starts slow but builds a surprising level of momentum. Closing track “Dear Father” seems a fitting end to a strong if too-familiar sounding album; it’s a distortion-saturated yet somewhat haunting track with a down-tempo bridge that echoes but doesn’t live up to a somewhat similar space in “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”. If you were lucky enough to get hold of the deluxe edition, “Methademic” is a Helmet-esque bonus, while “Peace of Mind” and “Pariah” will delight both traditional heavy metal and die-hard Black Sabbath fans.
On the production end, producer Rick Rubin’s focus on modernity and loudness take the fore. Flawlessly executed, the production is typical of Rubin’s approach since peaking with ‘Californication’; it’s big, compressed and without respite. Columbia’s legendary mixing man is capable of more imagination, but faulting the production isn’t really an option.
Overall, ‘13’ is a strong offering from a legendary band and stands up to the test of a changed and challenging musical landscape. The sound, lyrics and song structures are obvious Sabbath staples and therefore undeniably enjoyable; but Black Sabbath in 2013 may just be a little too reminiscent of a couple of vinyls from 1973. As a result, ‘Paranoid’ still holds pride of place on the metal mantelpiece.
Categories: Album Reviews