Black Sabbath - 13
Vertigo
Doom, Classic Metal
8 songs (53:15)
Release year: 2013
Black Sabbath
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

Although not a true return of the original line-up due to drummer Bill Ward’s absence, the men responsible for 13 should be applauded pretty damn loudly for what they’ve accomplished. It’s probably the closest we’re going to get to the original foursome of Osbourne, Iommi, Butler and Ward now, what with the members getting old and their inability to keep a stable line-up, not to mention the fact that this is the first new studio material from Black Sabbath since 1995’s decidedly poor Forbidden. It’s the first studio album with Geezer Butler since 1994’s Cross Purposes, and rather unbelievably the first with Ozzy since 1978’s Never Say Die! Metal is still a fairly young genre, and if you credit Black Sabbath with kicking it off then Osbourne, Iommi and co must count as its oldest band. And with members in their mid sixties, it can’t be a band that continues for much longer. The way the members have been talking about 13 in interviews, particularly Ozzy, suggests that this will be the final album from the group, and it seems suitable that from the opening riffs it harks back to their debut…

Confusingly the band’s nineteenth studio album, 13 is probably best compared to the Heaven & Hell album The Devil You Know. If that was a modern vision of the band as fronted by Dio, then this is a modern vision of the band fronted by Ozzy – bluesy music painting dark, verging on the psychedelic visions of paranoia and fear. And guess what? It’s better than The Devil You Know. Kicking off with the sludgy End of the Beginning, the band immediately establish a doom-laden pattern, both in genre and atmosphere. Iommi’s guitar tone is fabulous, while Butler’s bass is loud and clear, carrying you along with them wonderfully – heck, even Ozzy doesn’t sound too bad. No, there’s none of the despair of past efforts, but his performance is much better than you’d expect given the man’s history, and his voice is unique and instantly recognisable, iconic for a reason.

Rick Rubin gave the band something of a clean, sterile production to go with the decidedly unclean and non-sterile sound, yet it doesn’t spoil the effect that these talented men have as they kick into a higher gear and Iommi breaks into solos. He’s one of the most celebrated rock guitarists for a reason, and his riffs here are rarely short of spellbinding, forming a partnership with the bass that expertly snakes around Ozzy’s vocals and positively writhes atop the dull yet capable drumming. The replacement for Ward, Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave’s Brad Wilk, doesn’t have Ward’s unpredictable jazz-influenced skills, but he is a decent sticksman who provides a more than solid backing. You won’t hear anything especially exciting from his hands, but then it seems a little unfair to expect that given how the sheer professionalism of Iommi and Butler outshines all.

It’s all about them, really, the album flowing brilliantly from song to song and making Ozzy sound considerably better as he belts out the lyrics. First single God is Dead? is a tune and a half, infectiously catchy as it moves from slow and ominous to fast and groovy, and Ozzy’s vocal patterns and repeated refrains about wine and bread slowly work their way into your head. It’s amazing how the band can refer to its past and make it sound alive and relevant; Loner is a real throwback to N.I.B, for instance, a groovy rocker with a depressing message (“the secrets of his past locked deep inside his head/I wonder if he will be happy when he’s dead”). The stoner-y Zeitgeist, meanwhile, is basically Planet Caravan, all floaty percussion and strummed acoustic guitar, meandering blissfully – something you can’t say for the following meaty prog-tinged metal of Age of Reason, which moves from doom as potent as classic Candlemass to synth-backed soloing expertly.

Picking weaker tracks is difficult, as it’s genuinely hard to pick any out. Live Forever’s plaintive wail is probably Ozzy’s best performance on the album (“I don’t wanna live forever/but I don’t wanna die”) above Iommi and Butler moving perfectly from mid-paced stumble to a fast upbeat groove, while Damaged Soul is slow and bluesy, sucking you in like treacle and becoming more complex as it continues – even featuring a bit of harmonica from Ozzy. Finale Dear Father ups the pace again to a vicious attack on paedophile priests, and while it’s probably the song that I like least on these initial listens, it’s a fabulous song that I just know will grow on me from the effect of the fast section towards the end to the ending rain and tolling bell… the end as the beginning.

I’ve read a lot of criticism of 13 already, calling it fake and plastic, etc – but I think the people saying these things would have found something to attack whatever the band produced. No, this isn’t as good as those early albums with Ozzy. It doesn’t have their unique air of despair or that classic production, nor does Ozzy sound like he used to. And no, Rubin might not have been the best choice for production. But given that he pushed the band towards its classic sound, we can probably thank him for much of 13’s excellence, as well as the absence of anything fucking terrible like a rerecording of Changes with Sharon on vocals. And let’s face it, nothing will ever top those first five or six Sabbath albums – their place in history is fixed and impossible to challenge. Yet 13 deserves to at least be mentioned in the same paragraph as them, for sheer quality of content, for taking what created heavy metal and fashioning something excellent nearly forty years later. If it is the final album from these men, then it’s an immense final statement, a celebration of Black Sabbath and of the music that we have loved, still love and will love forever. Get the special edition for three rocking bonus tracks (and a live version of Dirty Women…) and give praise to the metal gods that Black Sabbath are back, even if it’s just to depart our world again…

Killing Songs :
All, especially End of the Beginning, God is Dead?, Loner, Age of Reason, Damaged Soul
Goat quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Black Sabbath that we have reviewed:
Black Sabbath - Classic Albums - Paranoid (DVD) reviewed by Marty and quoted no quote
Black Sabbath - Headless Cross reviewed by Adam and quoted 81 / 100
Black Sabbath - Forbidden reviewed by Khelek and quoted 65 / 100
Black Sabbath - Mob Rules reviewed by Khelek and quoted CLASSIC
Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath reviewed by Adam and quoted CLASSIC
To see all 22 reviews click here
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