Review Summary: The best possible cure for the headache Megadeth provided this month, Sabbath are back with an ass-kicking album full of furious and well crafted riffs, that is ridden with an evil sound throughout. Ozzy and the boys really went for the throat here.
Black Sabbath created metal, and embody everything that makes metal good. It really can not be said more simply than that. Their riffs are generally dark and murky sounding, their vocals are evil and their drumming provides for a solid and heavy feel. Numerous albums by this band are considered to be classics of the genre including the ground breaking album Paranoid, which spawned the mega-hit songs that are the title track, War Pigs and Iron Man. The band has their own distinct sound that allows one to instantly point out the rock-bottom guitar tones that sound both cruel and full of malice and yet also are incredibly catchy and say "that's Black Sabbath".
The 2013 studio album "13" marks the return of Sabbath and boy do they make a comeback. From the quicker riff that kicks in around three minutes into the first track right through to the end of the album, this is one hell of a ride for an unprepared listener. Many were cautious as to how this release would turn out but I am proud to report that Sabbath prove once again here that metal without them would be a very bleak idea. Fifty three minutes of nothing more than pure, kick-ass metal make up this album and this will silence any critic or doubter that this release had garnered instantly. The riffs are perhaps the most intense that the band has ever written, laden with a heavy guitar tone courtesy of the stellar production job. End Of The Beginning may well pack in some of the best riffs that the band has ever put together, but the last section of God Is Dead also shows off the chops that Iommi possesses. Sabbath have always showcased a masterclass in the art of riffing and they continued this tradition masterfully with 13.
The other factors that make up this album are no slouches either. Ozzy Osborne is surprisingly tolerable on vocals which is a massive surprise as he was tone deaf prior to this, and his solo career has shown exactly why Ozzy is not the best of vocalists in recent years. Gone from this band's sound is the strained Ozzy Osborne that took center stage at Download 2012, and in its place is a revitalized sounding Ozzy. This is probably the strongest performance that Ozzy has ever put in and will leave you optimistic as to where the band will go next if they decide to continue after this album. Iommi's contribution to the monster of an album that this turned out to be is not limited to a kick-ass set of riffs either as his solos are as powerful as they have always been. Age of Reason and Live Forever are both located toward the tail end of this album but they contain solos stronger than anything the band has done for many albums now, possibly since the earliest Ozzy material. The drumming is powerful as well, with God Is Dead opening with some superb drumming for its first couple of minutes, whilst the bass maintains a strong presence as well. 13 is an album where every member of the band is as indispensable as the next member.
Early criticisms of single God Is Dead that were leveled at the band were that that particular song is a little too long, and this actually continues for a couple of the tracks here but this really is not a problem. The album is a little longer than average but it more than makes up for this with some fantastic riff work and great chord progressions. Sabbath have traditionally always had some longer tracks such as War Pigs but they always make great use of this time. To imagine God Is Dead without the evil, morbid, somewhat depressing sounds that the chords make up during the chorus would be to envision a nightmare scenario. The one minor criticism that WOULD be appropriate however would be that the album feels a little too generic at times. The last two songs, Dear Father and Damaged Soul, feel like Sabbath just going through the motions of creating some really mean, aggressive, foreboding tracks that really go nowhere unfortunately and drag the overall score for 13 down a little. The riffs to both are quite good as should be expected, but they really lack that oomph that tracks such as God Is Dead have in store for the listener in the first half of the album, and are the closest things to filler this album has. Neither are awful however.
The production was mentioned briefly before as being solid and it really is a masterful job here. Sabbath have perfectly captured the dark feel of their earliest works with the production here. The cymbals on the drums in particular have a great tone to them, never ringing out too long and dominating the mix, but still remaining perfectly audible. The bass is there throughout, rumbling away and bridging the gap between the guitar and the drums; the vocals also have a strong presence without overbearing the listener from the off. It is the production on the guitar work that really deserves praise and a strong mention, however, with a really low, mean sounding tone that is hard to match.
Overall, Black Sabbath are back and boy are they on form. This is the sound of a band that is ready to re-conquer the world one step at a time, and do not even consider writing this album off as it will be the biggest mistake of your year. Ozzy and co really have made a fantastic album here and one that shows they can still cut the mustard among some of the bigger acts of the metal scene now. This was the perfect remedy for a month that has given a headache in the form of the latest outing from Dave Mustaine's band.