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Black Sabbath’s 13 is the first #1 record for anyone in the band – even taking into consideration the wonderful solo career of Ozzy Osbourne. I didn’t believe that when I 1st read it, but a scan through historical data confirms it is true. How we got to this point in mid 2013 is a story of persistence and endurance. Black Sabbath had actually reunited in 2007 or so with their other iconic lead singer, Ronnie James Dio (I still love you too Tony Martin). What started out as 3 song mini session for a box set turned into a full-fledged reunion, resulting in the 2009 album The Devil You Know (released under the Heaven & Hell name due to legalities). Life is funny sometimes though, and not “ha ha” funny. Ronnie was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and almost just as quickly was taken away from us. The band regrouped with original vocalist Ozzy Osbourne – officially announced on 11-11-11 – and have overcome Tony Iommi’s Cancer and Ozzy Osbourne’s relapse into alcoholism to deliver a masterpiece. An album that clearly is a follow-up to The Devil You Know but also looks to the early 70’s for inspiration.

Recording sessions were held with the famous Rick Rubin. Say what you will about good ‘ole RR, but I’ll always appreciate what he did for my hero Johnny Cash towards the end of his career. He’s done the same for Black Sabbath on this record. The elephant in the room needs to be discussed (for the one billionth time) – original drummer Bill Ward does not appear on this record. This is something we’ve all known for 15 months or so, but it seems like people are upset about it all over again. Drum duties are handled by Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave fame (I don’t see people mentioning Audioslave – they should. That gig might have helped him get the call if you listen to the Audioslave records). He handles the task admirably. Contract disputes or the physical ability to perform Black Sabbath sets at an advanced age are being bandied about as reasons for Ward’s absence. Personally, I think Tony Iommi is the heart of Black Sabbath and I enjoy just about every record – including those without Ozzy or Dio (for the record there are about 8 records without Bill Ward, a few without Geezer Butler, and 10 without Ozzy). So what we have here is a late career masterpiece from Black Sabbath with 3/4 of the original 1970-78 lineup.

A life less lived alone plays devil’s advocate (about the album / highlights) 

You’ve probably already heard the singles – The End of the Beginning has a sludge metal intro that would have fit in on their 1970 debut record. Ozzy sounds positively terrifying in his vocal delivery. The wah wah guitar solo grooves with the heart of the original lineup and really elevates the song to another level. Bill Ward is not on this track.

God is Dead? employs that classic Sabbath trick – controversial song title with lyrics that are far more intelligent than the naysayers realize. Classic Ozzy vocals, this one creeps up on you before it builds to the anthemic chorus. It questions the evil in the world while asking the philosophical question that has taunted mankind for all of history. This is the definition of Doom Metal, the genre the boys pioneered. Key lyrics: “The blood runs free / The rain turns red / Give me the wine / You keep the bread / The voices echo in my head / Is God alive or is God dead? / Is God dead?”.

Loner is probably my favorite song on the record (for today). Classic riff by Iommi opens before Geezer’s bass gives it some depth. Ozzy’s vocals kick in and I’m trying to figure out if I took a DeLorean to 1974. Truly, these are some of the best performances by the band – ever. The lyrics touch upon classic Sabbath issues but with a slightly more positive slant. Key lyrics: “Has he ever tried to be happy? / Reached out from inside. / Someone on who he can depend. / It’s getting to late to recover. / He won’t stand a chance and into his own hell he’ll descend. / Don’t descend.” Bill Ward is also not on this track.

Live Forever – Not the Oasis song, just another modern classic from Black Sabbath. Blues based metal with an almost funky repetitive guitar riff leading the proceedings. The chorus is alarming in its honesty and reflection coming from a 65-year-old Ozzy Osbourne ” Well I don’t wanna live forever / But I don’t want to die…” The song gets faster as the song progresses and is one of the tracks that does remind me of the Dio era of Sabbath (musically).

The album’s last track Dear Father fades out with the same sounds of thunder, rain, and chiming bells that opened their debut 1970 album. But wait – there’s a bonus disc of material. These days bands release variations of  a record to gain maximum revenue streams (unfortunately I do think that makes sense). Pick up the Best Buy edition that has the full 4 bonus tracks. Methademic has a melodic acoustic introduction before moving on towards a classic metal jam. Naïveté in Black might be the fastest Black Sabbath track with Ozzy on vocals. This one really reminds me of the Dio era and is a real aural pleasure. Bill Ward does not feature on these tracks.

In short – this is a must have album for all heavy metal / hard rock lovers. I suggest seeking out edition with the 4 bonus tracks as they offer a little variation from the core 8 songs. I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this good, and that’s 2 strong albums in a row that Geezer and Iommi have been involved with. Welcome back Ozzy.

Verdict: Wizardly Disciples of Doom

For Fans of: Ozzy Osbourne, Kyuss, Nirvana, Judas Priest, Metallica

Tracks: 

  1. End of the Beginning
  2. God is Dead?
  3. Loner
  4. Zeitgeist
  5. Age of Reason
  6. Live Forever
  7. Damaged Soul
  8. Dear Father

Bonus Tracks:

  1. Methademic
  2. Peace of Mind
  3. Pariah
  4. Naïveté in Black
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