Review Summary: Yes, the outcome of their 19th studio effort could have been better but still despite all the (expected) flaws, Sabbath manage to do what was expected of them: deliver a solid album.
For those few of you who have not listen to 13
yet, I strongly advise you to ask yourself first this vital question: In the year of 2013, what would you expect from a new Black Sabbath album ? If you anticipated a bold move from the masters of reality, or if you presumed that Sabbath would make a risky attempt at reinventing their own metallic musical creation, then your expectations are in vein. Do not listen to 13
and stop reading this review because you will waste your time. On the contrary, if you belong to those who craved for some fresh and new Sabbath material, the kind of which will be bathed in that crushing, doomy fashion of their early classic 70’s period, then rejoice; it is most likely that this album will NOT disappoint you.
Upon my returning from abroad at the end of April, I updated my information concerning the upcoming album. I watched interviews of the band talking about the recording procedures, listened to the first single God Is Dead
and payed a visit to miscellaneous chat rooms and various internet forums. I was interested on the critical reception of the single and eager to check out the early reactions of the fans. I have to say I was struck by a tidal wave of hilarity during my ongoing search. What I received from the comments, was an overall negative response in regards to Sabbath’s decision to revisit their hackneyed, safe and sound territories. In all honesty, what the public expected ? To see three guys, who are over-60’s, expanding their borders and exploring new ideas ? I don’t think that’s possible. These guys have recorded so much music during the span of their 45 years career. Tony Iommi alone has recorded over 12 hours of studio material during his time with Sabbath until 1995. That means over 12 hours without including his solo albums or the album he made with Dio under the Heaven And Hell brand. 13
was never meant to be a progressive or experimenting album. The original idea of it’s conception was based on one single purpose; to expand the doomy ‘n’ gloomy catalogue of the first 3 timeless studio albums with which the four englishmen carved their names on the history books.
Of course that wasn’t an easy task. Black Sabbath’s legacy is so massive, so tremendous and so awfully everlasting that the amount of the psychological pressure for each involving member must have been terribly huge and unbearable. The expectations were unbelievably enormous for 13
and each band member must have felt the weight of the responsibility. I don’t even want to know how that would have felt like. It would be like lifting the weight of the world on your shoulders on a daily basis. And it wasn’t only the pilling pressure. During the past 25-30 years the Black Sabbath legend had been somewhat tarnished. Be it because of Ozzy’s gradual deterioration and transformation from a parental metal figure to a parody of his former self, or Iommi’s mediocre at best studio efforts in the late 80’s and early 90’s, or the steadily failed attempts of all the original members to put aside their differencies and record once again. However, the world of music couldn’t wait any longer. And as Tony said, the album would be recorded now or never. Of course things became tangled once again. Iommi was diagnoced with cancer, Ward abandoned the project due to a contract dispute and Osbourne faced once again personal problems. These unexpected snags struck fear in the hearts of the fans from all over the world who began wondering if this band had still got the spark as well as some few aces left up their sleeves.
Well, despite all the problems, the album was recorded. It’s the first album with Ozzy Osbourne on vocal duties after 35 years and the first Black Sabbath official studio release after 18 years and marks the return to the band’s dark roots. 13
is comprised of all the principal musical elements which summarized Sabbath’s stoned, paranoid darkness in the early 70’s. A collection of fine and well placed doomy riffs, a number of psychedelic-influenced acoustic passages, bluesy references (a fair iclusion so that we can all remember what these guys started as), groovy, menacing interludes and a few standard, rocking, jamming pieces. The album initiates with two vintage Black Sabbath tracks. Exactly what every fan would have wanted to, these two tracks mirrors most of Sabbath’s greatest moments during their 70’s course. After the 17 minutes long Doomy introduction, the band picks up the pace and demonstrates the great qualities of their musicianship, with tracks such as Age Of Reason
, Live Forever
and Damaged Soul
being the highlights. The three extra tracks found in the deluxe edition are nothing special and the decision to drop them from the standard tracklist was justified. On the contrary, the forth extra track named Naïveté In Black
is quite interesting. It would have made for a much stronger tracklist if it had taken the place of Loner
Rick Rubin has his own special way of doing things. As he did with Metallica on Death Magnetic
, the aim of the producer was to manipulate the spirit of the remaining members and persuade them to write as if 13
would be their second album. In Black Sabbath’s case, this task was easier said than done. With so many intermediate years, the wistfulness, the hunger and the desperation, which derived from an early hard-working environmental background, tough childhood and the sealing stamp of the underdog, is now long gone. Trying to bring yourself in the psychological situation you were in your 20’s, is nearly impossible. Sabbath have saturated after all these years. However, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that portions of that unrivaled magic can still be founded here. Whatever the reason for this might be, be it Rubin’s approach, or the band’s great chemistry, the result is the creation of a surprising, recurring flow of misery, so powerful at times, that only this band can produce. At the end of the day, after your survey with the album is over, you will find at least two or three such enjoyable tracks.
For once again, Tony Iommi is the boss here. His presence guarantees a powerful, loud guitar, and an inimitable, muscular tone that is impossible to create without him. There have been dozens of cases in which Iommi has been praised for his capabilities. We have said it so many times, how his style is so unique and that, when he feels up to it, he can come up with the heaviest, most absorbing riffs you’ll possibly hear in your whole life. Over the years there have been a number of great guitarists who wrote superb riffs, but no one can claim Iommi’s well deserved title as “the riffmaster”, simply because no one really showed the same consistency. And on this album, Iommi shows again, in a few cases, his prolific songwriting abilities. What’s even best about his playing style is that it cannot be replicated. There is no one out there who can play like Tony. You can practice for years, you can go to your local store and buy the most expensive Gibson SG and the loudest amp, and still you won’t sound like him. Remember to keep a note that if you’re a big fan of Iommi’s music and you have heard not only all of the Sabbath albums, but his solo works as well, you won’t find many surprising tracks here. Almost all of his work on this album seems to be recycled. If you are looking for examples, End Of The Beginning
is like a slower version of Sabbath’s title track, the main riff from God Is Dead?
has been heard numerous times in many versions (War Pigs
, Heaven And Hell
, Die Young
) and Zeitgeist
is what you would call a return to Planet Caravan
. In the latest, Iommi finds again the opportunity to express himself with some Jazzy, Django Reinhardt-influenced solos.
The production of this album was one of the many questionable matters during the past months. After handling Death Magnetic
, Rubin was criticized for his overcompressed production which resulted in a very loud album, something that personally, I never believed it to be a major flaw. It would be fair to say that with 13
, Rubin carries on with the same trend. His production sounds modern and overally loud, but the main problems are not modernization or the dynamic quality. One of the main problem is that the album unfortunately doesn’t sound dirty or sludgy enough, which is a huge minus. The other problem is the share of Butler’s bass into the final mix, an issue for which I will elaborate on the next paragraph.
After the first couple of listens, 13
might sound as an almost flawless effort. However if we examine a little closer, we might find a few issues that could and should have been resolved. The first of these issues, is the confined presence, both in the compositional arrangements and into the final outcome of the album, of bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Brad Wilk. We all knew that Bill Ward’s absence will be a huge blow, as no other drummer seem to possess the same Jazz-groovy feeling and technique. On top of that, no one (maybe apart from Vinny Appice) has the personality to be considered a fitting replacement. Brad Wilk does only the absolutely basics and his participation will go unseen. I can understand that for Wilk’s part, however, I cannot tolerate the same direction which was also followed for Butler. For Black Sabbath as a whole, Tony Iommi’s riffs have always been regarded as the cream of the crops, but Butler, along with Ward were always the backbone of the band. Nonetheless, due to the group's philosophy and Butler’s marvelous playing, the bass became sometimes the leading instrument. Remember all those older tracks were Butler had the initiative: NIB
, Hand Of Doom
, The Writ
are all just a few examples of that great philosophy. Since a “return to the roots” move was on the works, that element should also have been included, but unfortunately it is absent. Another thing I didn’t like regarding the way the bass sounds, is that it seems narrowed by Iommi’s guitar. It’s not muted of course, but it doesn’t share the same strong presence. That's a real shame because Sabbath built their reputation thanks to the combined efforts of Iommi and Butler and they always had an equal share in the studios, whenever they had to record together. Further on, Ozzy’s vocals are not as terrible as you would expect them to be. I don’t know if and how much digital editing his voice went through, but he somehow manages to induce with his characteristic desperate wail a sence of that classic dreading gloom. There will be times when his voice will get irritating and ruin your chances of enjoying the songs. But I think his overall performance was positive and helpful for the group to accomplish their feat.
So, to conclude, what is the inheritance of 13
? Is it the comeback album all the world had been waiting for since the November of 2011 ? If you ask me, I personally, never viewed 13
as a comeback album. Sabbath have already recorded their comeback album, which was Heaven And Hell
. They have no need of such engrossments because they have nothing to prove. They released six classics on the row. How many other bands can claim the same level of consistency ? It is exactly because of their egoistic character and resilient nature, a trace given after all these years of success, that the members of Black Sabbath need one final show. One ultimate act to prove they are here, still fully capable of writing great music. They are musicians. New music is the oxygen that will keep them alive. I can only hope that Sabbath will record one final album, this time with Bill Ward behind the drum kit. Because with this release the gods of Rock ‘n’ Roll proved that they are not dead. At least not yet.
End Of The Beginning
Age Of Reason