Review Summary: A fantastic release containing some very good riffs, magnificent soloing and a general solid performance across the board, sadly marred by one or two weaker tracks and a poor production job
Many people had waited with bated breath for many years in the hope that legendary metal act Black Sabbath would some day return with another album. Rumors had surfaced every couple of years that this pioneer of heavy music would come back, and when it was finally announced that 2013 would be the years that Sabbath would come out with another release, a lot of people became cautiously optimistic as to how it would turn out. Admittedly, the last few outings from the band had not been anywhere near on the same sort of level as albums such as Paranoid and Master Of Reality, but seldom is there an album that can hope to touch releases such as this. The album is entitled 13, and marks the return of Ozzy Osbourne on vocals, and the results are not too shabby at all.
Black Sabbath's guitarist Tony Iommi has long been regarded as one of the finest at crafting riffs in all of music, and 13 is certainly not a disappointment on this frontier. His slower doom-sounding riffs are the back bone of any Sabbath album, and this really is no difference. End Of The Beginning opens the album up in all the down-tuned glory that one should expect of any semi-decent Black Sabbath album, and from here on out the album will take you on a musical journey spearheaded by some fantastic guitar work. Each of these songs contains many memorable riffs that are both bone-crunchingly heavy and absolutely infectious, remaining rooted in your mind long after you come out the other end of the album. Iommi mesmerizes on songs such as Live Forever and God Is Dead, giving many Sabbath fans nostalgic wet dreams as they remember just why they fell in love with the band to begin with. Meanwhile, Iommi's prolific guitar soloing ability is no slouch on 13, with the opening track showing off one of the best Sabbath solos since their glory days. Tony may not be the fastest nor most technically gifted guitarists out there, but he definitely shows that there is more to soloing than the sweep-picking, finger-tapping infested nonsense of much of the commercial metal today.
Another point of interest on the latest Sabbath release is the fact that this is the first studio album from the band since 1978's Never Say Die, as well as being the first album by them to have Geezer Butler on bass since 1994. These returning musicians show exactly why they are seen to be masters of their craft, with Geezer's rumbling bass work incessantly filling in the void between the down-tuned guitars and the fantastic drum rhythms employed by session drummer Brad Wilk. Ozzy Osbourne's tuneless wailing definitely makes for an interesting listen on this release as well, from his sinister-sounding work on the first track to the malevolent and mysterious song God Is Dead. After the guitar slides that open Dear Father, this track becomes an instant fan favorite that may well contain the best Osbourne performance since the glory days of Sabbath, with him diving between a few different notes and giving an aura of discontent and uncertainty to the lines he delivers. Ozzy is by no means a fantastic singer, but he brings some natural charisma and energy to every single line he sings so that it becomes impossible to fault his work on this album.
As mentioned before, this album is made up of eleven tracks, and at least four of these are almost assured to become instant fan favorites. End Of The Beginning kicks things off in marvelous fashion, moving from a slower introduction to a more mid-paced groove that Sabbath have characteristically employed ever since their inception. The guitar soloing on this track is an immediate highlight and gives it so much replay value, whilst the drumming during the faster sections of the song and the hi-hat chimes in the introduction are some of the best drumming moments on the album. God Is Dead picks up right where this song leaves off with some eerie riffing. This song is a masterclass in how to create an atmospheric metal song, sounding so mysterious as Ozzy recites lyrics about a religious man who is forever being told his deity has died, only to continually deny it himself. The lyrical content on this song is among the finest the band has put out there, really hitting hard with some incredibly vocalized passages from Ozzy. The most amazing thing about these first two tracks is that between them they make up almost seventeen minutes, and they never once threaten to become dull and boring. The other two tracks on this album that are classic Sabbath material are the aforementioned Dear Father, an ominous work that crawls along with some magnificent drumming and cool riffs, and Age Of Reason. This song is another seven minute track that opens up with a great drum beat, which Iommi and Geezer then build upon, warning the listener of the sonic beating that they are soon to be subjected to. These four songs truly are masterpieces, and give Ozzy & Co a lot to be proud of.
This album is a fairly consistent one, but one song that lets it down a little, and the reason it only receives a 4 out of 5 is Loner. This track is a shorter number that picks up from the lengthy first two numbers, and aims to move toward more of a hard rock mid-paced, catchier song but it sadly fails. This is the one song on 13 that feels like it is a filler song that Sabbath just shoehorned onto the album to make up the numbers. The guitar work sadly becomes a little repetitive in the verse on this song, and even when it eventually changes up a little, this is only short lived as a nice drum fill leads back into the verse riff. The second half of the track is a little more interesting, with some more nice drumming and a semi-decent guitar solo but sadly it just can not play down how uninspired the first half of the track was. Loner is the sad case of a song that just repeats itself far too much and does not change its formula for long enough. Another minor problem with this release is the ultra-compressed production job that many have already noted, with none of the instruments having a very nice tone to them due to Sabbath feeling the need to participate in the loudness war that is currently in full swing in the music industry.
Black Sabbath's 2013 comeback is a great release in its own right, and is definitely fully deserving of the band's name. The riffing is balls-out heavy, whilst the drumming is as creative as can be expected from this band, with some nice drum fills marking changes in the tempo. Meanwhile, Geezer's low-end rumbling makes for very nice background noise in the mix, and Ozzy's vocals definitely give a lot of energy to this release. I highly recommend this album to anyone looking for a solid 2013 metal album, and was just the first in a trilogy of marvelous metal comebacks from 2013.