Album of the Week 23-2013: Black Sabbath – 13

Possibly the most anticipated Metal release for this year – with the creators basically having invented the genre – the first Black Sabbath studio album featuring founding guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and singer Ozzy Osbourne together in 35 years does not disappoint. On what is arguably one of Rick Rubin’s cleanest production jobs ever, the band succeeds in capturing the classic Sabbath sound better than anyone could have expected them to. Not that I didn’t have the faith in Iommi and Butler, but what is on display here is surprisingly good.

Depending on your viewpoint, the biggest merit of this album can also be seen as a flaw. ’13’ sounds very trusted. This is what Black Sabbath is supposed to sound like with three of the four original guys around – Bill Ward’s drum duties are covered by Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk – and where the Heaven & Hell record with sadly deceased singer extraordinaire Ronnie James Dio seemed a work of nostalgia mainly, ’13’ is pretty much a relevant album today. Maybe it’s a bit predictable, but this is exactly what people would want to hear from these guys.

The first thing that struck me is how good Ozzy sounds. He’s never been a fantastic singer, of course, but he hasn’t sounded this good on any of his solo records. And that includes the first two. Maybe Rubin is to blame or maybe Butler’s lyrics are simply what makes him sound best, but Ozzy’s spirited performance on ’13’ is the most inspired he’s done since ‘Sabotage’. Iommi will probably keep writing classic riffs until his last breath and the riffs on display here are nothing less than in Sabbath’s glorious seventies heyday, albeit with a much better guitar tone. Butler’s characteristic and not-so-subtle bass tone feels warmly familiar and Wilk does a surprisingly good job stepping in Ward’s shoes.

Opening the album is a massive Iommi riff and from that moment on, there’s really no turning back. While ‘End Of The Beginning’ isn’t the best track of the album in terms of composition, it more than serves its purpose of welcoming the listener back to Black Sabbath. What is to come consists of classic Sabbath riffs, songs and lyrics. The slow to mid-tempo riffs balance between darkness and groove, while Wilk emulates the jazzy nuance of Ward’s earliest work.

‘Age Of Reason’ was the first song that made the hairs on my arms stand up. Its main riff has a haunting quality and the subtle keyboards in the chorus give the whole thing a ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ vibe. Also, that subtle accelleration in the middle is awesome as is the riff that introduces it. The ending features an amazing solo by Iommi. ‘Damaged Soul’ features the band in a somewhat looser, more bluesy paradigm. The extended jam at the end of the song even has Ozzy blowing some harmonica. ‘Live Forever’ has a mighty opening riff and a driving verse riff that vaguely reminds me of ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ and the brilliant acoustic ‘Zeitgeist’ brings to mind ‘Planet Caravan’. The album ends on a high note with ‘Dear Father’, a haunting tale of vengeance set to a bunch of amazing riffs. And check out that awesome middle section!

Be sure to get the limited edition if you can, because I really don’t get why the uptempo stomper ‘Methademic’ didn’t end up on the regular album. ‘Peace Of Mind’ and ‘Pariah’ are pretty impressive too.

In a way, it’s almost sad that the originators of the genre give all of their disciples a lesson in Heavy Metal four decades after their inception. But this isn’t just a celebration of Black Sabbath’s history, ’13’ is a brilliant record in its own right. It has the riffs, the atmosphere and – I just have to emphasize this again – the absolutely brutal bass tone. We can only hope that this isn’t the last Sabbath record, but even if it is, “Sabbath with Ozzy” finally goes out with a much more impressive band than ‘Never Say Die!’. Recommended to any Metal fan.

Recommended tracks: ‘Dear Father’, ‘Methademic’, ‘Age Of Reason’, ‘Live Forever’

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