Black Sabbath
Headless Cross


5.0
classic

Review

by Subrick USER (36 Reviews)
February 21st, 2014 | 49 replies


Release Date: 1989 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Astonishing. Simply astonishing.

Black Sabbath past 1983 is not a topic you generally see brought up in discussions about the band and their 40+ year history. For a number of reasons (the negative critical reaction to Born Again, the bumping up of Tony Iommi solo record Seventh Star to Sabbath album and its subsequent tour falling to pieces, the constantly rotating lineup from the points Bill Ward and Geezer Butler quit in 1983 and 1984 respectively up through the first original lineup reunion, among others), for nearly 15 years the band was critically and commercially ignored save 1992's Dehumanizer, which featured fan favorite vocalist Ronnie James Dio fronting the classic Mob Rules lineup, which later went on to form Heaven and Hell in the mid-2000s. Amid the bedlam of lineup changes in the lead up to 1987's The Eternal Idol, Iommi enlisted the services of Tony Martin, who would go on to be the longest running singer in the band's history aside from Ozzy Osbourne. With Martin at the forefront, the band would release a string of criminally underrated albums, none moreso than 1989's Headless Cross, an album that combines the majesty of Ronnie Dio's albums with the evil, black magic overtures of Ozzy's albums, dumps a big fat pile of "80s" on it, and gives us an absolutely magnificent album in the process.

When you think of Black Sabbath, generally what comes to minds of most are stripped down production values, Iommi's proto-doom riffing style, heavy, thumping bass lines, and Ozzy's signature crooning, right? Well throw all that out the window, because Headless Cross is, for the most part, the opposite of the classic Sabbath sound. What we've got instead is an album that strives to be as grandiose as it possibly can be, what with Martin's impassioned, powerful wailing soaring over Tony Iommi's guitar work which, while still being very clearly Tony Iommi, takes a more epic, rocking turn. The music here, as a rule, is driven primarily by the vocals, with the rest of the music serving as the backdrop for Martin's voice to sail above it. Some songs are more active than others, with special mention going to the catchy as all hell swing of "Devil and Daughter" and "Black Moon Rising". Nods to classic Sabbath exist here, such as the title track's heavy resemblance to the "Heaven and Hell" from the eponymous album, the chorus riff of closer "Nightwing" still retaining that doomy, proto-stoner feel to it from old Sabbath, and the song "Black Moon Rising" practically being a classic-style Sabbath song, but for the most part this is a new sound performed with the passion of a group that's trying as hard as they can to make a great record.

Bass here, while prominent, isn't as much a driving factor to the music as it was on the older material. This is alright for me, as the music doesn't really call for super active bass lines as it did in the older, significantly more stripped down material from the band. The slack is picked up by the heavily increased use of synthesizers and keyboards, courtesy of then-longtime unofficial member Geoff Nicholls. The keyboards help give the album the incredibly "80s" feel it has along with the production style, rich in reverb and echo just as you'd expect a mid-to-late 80s rock or metal album to be. It could be considered "overproduced" for the time, but the music found here, excellent as it is, wouldn't be nearly as grandiose sounding if it had the production style of the older Sabbath records or even the style of contemporary bands like Iron Maiden. The legendary Cozy Powell's drums pulsate through the songs, rarely taking the forefront yet still active enough to not be boring. In other words, they fit the music perfectly.

Lastly, there's Tony Martin. I cannot imagine a more fitting voice over top this material than his, and he delivers the performance of his life here. As mentioned previously, Martin's vocals are the main focus of the music on Headless Cross, and considering he was on equal ground creatively with Iommi for this album, it's understandable why he would make it so. Martin was also for all the lyrics on Headless Cross, which take a decidedly darker approach than even the albums on which Ozzy Osbourne was the singer. Devilish themes had always been a main topic of the band's songs, but this was the first Black Sabbath record to be almost entirely about Satan, with "Nightwing" being the sole exception. "Nightwing" may just be my favorite song lyrically on the album, reading as if the words came from an olden time story of the titular winged beast of the night. It's like metal music made specifically for listening around the Halloween season, and that isn't a bad thing in the slightest.

As time has progressed, the reputation of Headless Cross, as well as most of the other Martin-era Sabbath albums, has increased dramatically for the better. Those who may not have been aware of its existence have discovered, or rediscovered in the case of older listeners, the album and have had almost universally positive words for it. As one of those younger persons not initially aware of the Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath records, I can say with certainty that Headless Cross is my favorite album from all the eras of the band. I know plenty of people who would cry heresy at that statement, they having worshiped the vinyl Black Sabbath through Sabotage were pressed on since their early years, and for people like that you can't really say otherwise to change their mind. For others with a more open mind, or those not aware of the band's records beyond the Ozzy and Dio eras (and Born Again), or those just interested in ridiculously epic 80s heavy metal, you absolutely should listen to Headless Cross. It is a slab of heavy metal perfection that will not disappoint.



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Matthijs van der Lee (1.5)
Aim: Sabbath power metal. Result: Utter failure....


Comments:Add a Comment 
facupm
February 20th 2014


8385 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

nice shot at a review but the album is mediocre

facupm
February 20th 2014


8385 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"Nods to classic Sabbath exist here, such as the title track's heavy resemblance to the "Heaven and Hell" from the eponymous album"

when you say classic Sabbath you should be talking about ozzy era



manosg
February 21st 2014


6529 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Review is well written but this is nowhere close to being a classic. The t/t and "Black Moon Rising" are good tracks but overall I find this album average.

Digging: Witchfynde - Give 'em Hell

dannyboy89
February 21st 2014


12859 Comments


Review is awesome. Haven't jammed this in a while, but I don't think it
stands a chance against the Classic Dio Era, much less the Classic Ozzy
Era.

Rastapunk
February 21st 2014


763 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Review is well written, but I don't give this a 5 (matter of opinions ).

KILL
February 21st 2014


72090 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

hel yea

Digging: Steve Hackett - Out of the Tunnel's Mouth

climactic
February 21st 2014


19841 Comments


simply stunning

NeroCorleone80
February 21st 2014


29913 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Awesome review

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
February 21st 2014


16113 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

mediocre album but good review, pos

Digging: H.P. Lovecraft - H.P. Lovecraft II

TheNotrap
February 21st 2014


8121 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

AT THE HEEEADLESS CROOOSS

Nice review.


Digging: Pink Floyd - The Endless River

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
February 21st 2014


16113 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

he did have a good voice didnt he

MrSirLordGentleman
February 21st 2014


4769 Comments


review is well written indeed, this is one of the very few sabbath albums I haven't checked yet, and I really doubt I should

Digging: Jungle - Jungle

facupm
February 21st 2014


8385 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

he wasnt that bad

marbledking
March 10th 2014


43 Comments


1 track and 1/2 worth it, the rest are fillers, like on most of the albums of the post Dio era.

NeroCorleone80
April 30th 2014


29913 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

bump

NeroCorleone80
August 23rd 2014


29913 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Easily the best non Ozzy/Dio album

facupm
August 24th 2014


8385 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Eternal Idol is better

manosg
August 24th 2014


6529 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I prefer Seventh Star but none of the non Ozzy/Dio albums does much for me.

NeroCorleone80
August 29th 2014


29913 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Astonishing. Simply astonishing. [2]

danielcardoso
August 29th 2014


2567 Comments


Besides Nightwing, I don't remember enjoying much from this album, sadly.



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