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Black Sabbath : 13

It is some kind of a miracle that we can hold a new album by Black Sabbath in our hands in 2013. And it was worth the wait.

This is an album pretty much everybody had given up expecting... Honestly, considering the band extravaganza - a new line-up change occuring every week, the endless "I love you – no I don't" affairs - it's a miracle that we can hold a new album by Black Sabbath in our hands in 2013. Guns'N'Roses are amateurs who released 'Chinese Democracy' only 15 years after 'The Spaghetti Incident?' - just look: '13' comes 18 years after 'Forbidden', but, above all, it is the first album of Black Sabbath featuring Ozzy Osbourne since 'Never Say Die!'...35 years ago!

This album seemed, however, doomed from the start. Remember, Ozzy was reinstated as Black Sabbath's singer in 1997 - and it is only 16 years later that the album has been released, at last! Although between 1979 and 1997 it hadn't bothered Tony Iommi too much to work with various singers, once Ozzy had returned, whatever else could happen, Black Sabbath would be with Ozzy or would not be, plain and simple! But with tour after tour, from Ozzy's solo albums to Heaven & Hell's releases (with Ronnie James Dio - and therefore without using the Black Sabbath name), every effort to revive the career of the legendary band had always been postponed. Sure, fans were served with some live albums as outlets for their frustration, but of "real" fresh stuff: very little. Back in 2000, one could see a new album coming up; some studio sessions even took place, but without any result.

And then the official statement everyone expected happened in November 2011: the 1970 Black Sabbath was reunited, preparing a new tour in 2012 and composing a new album! Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill together: who would have bet on that?

But (once again) a few months later, hope was shattered. For one, there was Bill Ward, the original drummer, who decided to leave (once again): unfortunately for us, he didn't come back for this new album. Whatever the reasons, it's a pity. Then, a few weeks later, it was Tony Iommi who announced he was suffering from a lymphoma. And after the death of Ronnie James Dio in May 2010, the worst was expected. The 2012 tour was canceled and the new album (once again) postponed. But Tony was able to overcome his sickness and the album was finally written and recorded!

So here comes 2013, and the end of spring saw '13' landing in stores, officially Black Sabbath's 19th studio album: Ozzy Osbourne on vocals, Tony Iommi on guitar, Geezer Butler on bass, and it was Brad Wilk, drummer in Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave, who took the sticks over. Knowing that Rick Rubin was taking care of the production job, and before giving the CD its first spin, I was a bit worried: too modern a sound shouldn't be what Black Sabbath needed...but, well, we'll see.

Now, this album starts out with a rather ironic handicap: let's be honest, we're all going to compare it with all Black Sabbath's albums featuring Ozzy on vocals: that is to say, 70's Heavy Metal of absolute legend. So that is one challenge. But above all, to me, the major pitfall that '13' had to avoid at all costs was sounding like one of Ozzy Osbourne's solo albums.

First contact is reassuring: '13' is really a very typical Black Sabbath album. There is absolutely no doubt about it. I would almost say that, very quickly, after 2-3 listens, you know that the contract is complete: there's Tony Iommi's riffing style, a bit like in Heaven & Hell, and also - almost more importantly - that good, rounded bass sound, quite in the forefront, which is so very Sabbath-ian. And then, you have Ozzy's unmistakable vocals coming up, and at that point, you know it's not modern-sounding Metal in the line of his last solo albums, "'Scream' and 'Black Rain' that you're listening to. Ozzy's singing is alright; I won't say he has the depth of his 70s singing - and I guess a lot of work production-wise has been used to help with this matter - but, in any case, the result is there: it's good and convincing.

Regarding the drumming, Brad provides the expected effort: it's not over-done, the style is accurate and powerful. All in all, it is a top-notch studio drummer job, and there's no use in moaning about the absence of Bill Ward and what he would have brought to the music. I must say that the chemistry between the four works well. Composition-wise, you really can't say that the band has chosen the easy way, and the difference with Heaven & Hell is blatant here: the tracks are far too long to be quickly digested. They take their time and the two opening numbers are even flirting with the 10-minute mark.

What, for me, makes this album a hit is that it falls so easily within the band's early discography: although '13' is by no means a masterpiece, it appears as a natural extra link to the chain, swallowing 40 years in a few minutes. I know I'm not going to make friends, but from what I've heard of the post-1979 Black Sabbath albums, this is their best, period! Sorry, but I've always thought that the real Black Sabbath was the one with Ozzy Osbourne in it and for me, this new album is just the plain confirmation of this. The songs are so full of feeling and melancholy, and if the pace is generally slow, you never get bored.

Comparing it to Heaven & Hell's full-length, I think '13' comes as a good complement: 'The Devil You Know' was already superior to anything Black Sabbath had released since the 80s. Now, I believe '13' is of the same ilk. Perhaps slightly less heavy, but with more carefulness in the songwriting and much more adventurous songs. The end of the album is slightly weaker than the first part, it is perhaps the only real downside of the album: some songs like 'Live Forever' and 'Damaged Soul' are really more Stoner/ Heavy Metal-sounding, in the vein of modern Sabbath-influenced bands like Witchcraft, Graveyard or Orchid (to name only a few). You'll tell me it's only normal, but in fact, no, it isn't! On these tracks, you sometimes feel that this is the wrong way round: Black Sabbath being influenced by them, when it shouldn't be. This is certainly no big deal, but it's a shame though, especially against the really excellent first part of the album. 'Zeitgeist', meanwhile, is a song that I found at first a little too cliché, almost a plagiarism of 'Planet Caravan', but, over the numerous listening sessions, I found myself really enjoying it. As for "God Is Dead?" - the single - or 'Loner', neither would have been out of place on 'Technical Ecstasy'. Moreover, for that matter, I find '13' to be a really appropriate following to this 1976 album; I always found 'Never Say Die', released in 1978, a bit sloppy to say the truth, and I can see this new album as a better follow-up to 'Technical Extasy'.

On the whole, I consider '13' to be a fine surprise. It is certainly not a masterpiece, but it looks good alongside the legendary albums of the 70s and it does surpass all the others! You'd have to admit that composing a new album 35 years after 'Never Say Die' was a risky bet, but the result is quite compelling. And as I'll be attending the next tour at the end of the year, although I would especially like to hear songs from the old 70s catalogue, I'm saying to myself I would not be disappointed at all if some songs off this album are played too! Maybe there won't be any sequel to '13', so, consider its release as a great opportunity you should not miss!

Note by the admin: this review has first been written in French for the website Guts of Darkness and translated by Bertrand Marchal. You can read the original version HERE

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Reviewer's rating: Unrated


Tracklist :
1. End of the Beginning
2. God Is Dead?
3. Loner
4. Zeitgeist
5. Age of Reason
6. Live Forever
7. Damaged Soul
8. Dear Father

Duration : Approx: 53 minutes

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Reviewed on 2013-08-18 by Nicko
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