Review Summary: The best Black Sabbath album you probably didn’t know existed.
It’s incredibly unfortunate that people tend to forget or entirely ignore Tony Martin and the albums that he was a part of with Black Sabbath. While it is true that he was associated with some of Sabbath’s worst material, Martin himself was an immensely talented vocalist who could capture the range of Ozzy and the melody of Dio. In some ways, Martin really was Sabbath’s finest frontman. Unfortunately, the year was 1987 and not many cared for Sabbath anymore, especially after the St Anger of the 80’s known as Born Again. Tony Martin’s performance, and some of the bands most underrated songs, would find themselves on The Eternal Idol, only to be shoved into a corner of obscurity and neglect.
Many have labeled The Eternal Idol as a power metal album, but this is only partially true. Many of Iommi’s riffs are very doom and/or traditionally heavy metal, but the production and synths do create mirages of power metal through metal listeners. Martins vocals can be a bit corny at times, especially in the opening song, “The Shining”. At his worst, Martin sounds like he’s seeing the theme song to an anime. But at his best, he’s rivaling even that if Dio. Martin has amazing pipes, a believed-to-be five octave vocal range. The title track, which is easily a doom metal song in and out and also serves as a perfect closer is a brilliant song that just may be Sabbath’s most underrated track, regardless of vocalist or era. It’s hauntingly beautiful and absolutely everything you’d want in a doomy Sabbath song, cadenced especially by Martin’s best vocal performance of his entire career.
Lyrically, the band seem a bit more mature here than elsewhere, and this seems to be a trend that would continue throughout the Martin years until Forbidden. While there's still the typical quasi-Satanic lyrical themes, they're handled with a bit more panache here than in several of the previous releases, and Martin helps to carry them to a level which might otherwise not be achieved. The rest of the band is as on top of their game as ever, and Iommi seems to have gotten somewhat more comfortable in his role as de facto leader of the band.
The rest of the album follows suit, and, while there's not a great deal of diversity here, that's not really what one expects from Black Sabbath. Some songs are a bit different though, such as “Nightmare” which has a midpaced bluesy riff that isn’t common in Sabbath. Regardless, it’s nevertheless one of the best ever laid down by this band, and, fanboy purism aside, is almost better than most of the material they recorded with Ozzy. It's unfortunate that this same line-up would go on to record the awful Forbidden, but that, as one says, is the way the Sabbath crumbled.
The Eternal Idol is possibly the most underrated/overlooked Black Sabbath release of all time. The Tony Martin era in general is widely overlooked, but this one takes the cake for me personally. While some of the other Tony Martin albums have gained more of a fanbase, such as 1989's Headless Cross, this album still stands as something of a pinnacle in the darkest chapter of Sabbath's career. I personally think this is a criminally underrated Black Sabbath release, although hopefully that’ll be a fact one day. In fact, The Eternal Idol is a near flawless album, with its major issue being it had to be compared to several other genre defining classics in the Sabbath library. There’s a massive chance you’ve never heard this album, or ever even bothered to listen to it based and what you’ve heard about Martin and his mediocrity. I ensure you will be satisfied by what you hear on The Eternal Idol.