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Black Sabbath

  • Black Sabbath,
  • Paranoid,
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  • Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,
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  • Born Again,
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  • 13,

  • Album Reviews |

    Black Sabbath

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    Black Sabbath 8 ( 1970 )
    Black Sabbath / The Wizard / Behind The Wall Of Sleep / N.I.B. / Evil Woman / Sleeping Village / Warning / Wicked World

    Some things you find out during research are amazing. I never knew for example, that Black Sabbath formed under the name 'Polka Tulk Blues'. I mean, it's very hard to imagine them scaring the moral majority with a name containing the world 'polka'. They became 'Earth', then the rest is history. Other weird things. Black Sabbath's influences range from The Beatles, to the Shadows, to Django Reinhardt, jazz music and Cream. The band apparently wanted to create music that would have the effect of a horror movie. Satanism? The lyrical content was ( initially at least! ) actually warning people away from Satanism after a particularly disturbing figure two members of the band saw standing in their room one day. Oh, for the musicians amongst you. Black Sabbath unconciously hit upon using trinitones in their music. It's a musical interval that spans three whole tones, apparently. Iommi, like most of us, just thought that it sounded cool. With an accident that meant he lost two of his fingers, plastic was molded onto his now sensitive fingers stubs, guitar strings were detuned creating a lower sound. There was also a dissonance to the sound. A rhythm section sounding as heavy as all hell. Fantasy/medieval/satanic sounding lyrics. How on earth could they fail but to sound different and to sound scary? Sounding scary was the entire point of course. Related to wanting to sound scary I suppose, Sabbath were influenced by the blues. Not wanting to sound like exactly Led Zeppelin however ( and what would be the point? ) the Black Sabbath style is distinctive and different. Black Sabbath come to the blues as such with their cover of 'Evil Woman', released as the first singlem although the band themselves weren't exactly overly enthusiastic about it. The b-side 'Wicked World' also makes it to all modern versions of the album ( 'Evil Woman' originally absent from US issues, 'Wicked World' originally added to US versions ), also rooted in blues, although the vocals sound thin and all the attempted jazzy runs and smashing cymbals do my head in. So far, so average? Luckily for us then that the remainder of the album is massively better.

    The title tune, one of the clearest statements of intent on any debut album, ever. Truly a scary song and the ending once the songs in full flight, happily exciting. Flowing into the harmonica intro of 'The Wizard' is clever, immediately a different feel is presented. The rhythm section of Butler and Ward are truly heavy and thunderous here, blowing up sub-woofers the land over, I should imagine. What else? Well, the ten minute 'Warning', the second and last cover song. Reportedly edited down more a much lengthier version, the sound is extremely loose. Oh, I mentioned 'Evil Woman' as blues rooted, well so is 'Warning', I suppose, but Black Sabbath seem to transcend the genre purely by not quite knowing what the hell they're doing! Ozzy sings impressively throughout the opening, we've then got great slabs of schizophrenic instrumental playing covering a variety of styles - even Iommi's solo is pieced together from the lengthier original version. The riff friendly 'Behind The Wall Of Sleep' is all well and good but the real diamond on show is the massive and huge 'N.I.B'. The style of the band encapsulated, the solo is scary and exciting, Ozzy sounds impassioned, the drums and bass both do their own thing and shining equally. You can pick out each and every band members part, isolate it, and just admire that. Obviously, you can listen to the whole ensemble together and it's even better! Raw, basic in places, impressive in others, entirely heavy and very well structured, the band stretching out over six minutes and sounding utterly unique. That's 'N.I.B' for you, not Navitity In Black apparently, rather named after the style of Bill Ward's beard at the time.

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    zonsius stanfrank@yahoo.com
    The Sabs are the original masters of sludge. However, the debut is an uneven affair and far and away the least song-oriented vehicle of the Ozzy era. A few numbers - notably the title track, The Wizard, and N.I.B - make this essential to hardcore Sabbath fans. But if you want the Sabs in all their gore-y glory, this debut falls behind "Paranoid", "Master Of Reality", "Vol. 4", "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" and even "Sabotage". The four albums that followed the debut are metal masterpieces and each rates a 10. The debut, however, while somewhat groundbreaking, rates a 7 - if only because many of the songs simply just aren't up to snuff to what the Sabs would deliver on their ensuing four platters.

    jason334455 jasonlees@mail.com
    you seem to like black sabbath and so do i then you say things like their lyrics suck, but in my opinion most of their lyrics are good but you say that the sond sabbath bloody sabbath had good lyrics, which lyrically is one of their worst songs i dont get your opinions

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    Paranoid ( 1970 )
    War Pigs / Paranoid / Planet Caravan / Iron Man / Electric Funeral / Hand of Doom / Rat Salad / Fairies Wear Boots

    Recorded on the run during one of the bands relentless trips on the road, 'Paranoid' is both more focused and heavier than the debut record. Ditching the more bluesy and jazzy elements, the band focus for the majority of the record on the heavier side of things. The title track ( although the album was originally titled 'War Pigs', hence the album cover ) was a quickly recorded piece initially added to the album to bulk up the playing time. Fairly unusualy for a Sabbath tune of the era, it's poppy chorus and speedy tempo contrasted with the slower tempo of the majority of their tunes. Speaking of this song, it charted highly as a single in the UK upon original release and contains one of my favourite lyrics People think I'm insane Because I am frowning all the time. Perfect! It was perceived as being a fairly dumb song and Sabbath got a reputation with critics of the era. They were labelled as lumbering, lacking intellect and with clumsy rhymes for the lyrical content. Sure, the Sabbath lyrics aren't works of Shakespeare, but that's hardly the point. Largely consisting of words with two syllables or less, the Sabbath lyrics do their job. Especially as sung by Ozzy, a distinctive vocal voice which he retains right through to this day. Anyway, opening with the epic, political and fairly stunning eight minute long 'War Pigs' is an excellent way to begin the 'Paranoid' LP. Lyrics about something, superb band interplay with the rhythm section excelling. 'War Pigs' ends with a weird speeded up section, but flows excellently into 'Paranoid' which in turns leads well into the softer 'Planet Caravan'. You may initially dismiss 'Planet Caravan', what with its faintly hippie/folky feel and distorted, faint vocals. Yet, this is a piece that grows and grows with repeated listening. Again, the rhythm section are the real stars, perfectly restrained and appropriate percussion amidst fluid, liquid bass lines. Does it for me. A tip-top 100% perfect first half is finished off in style with the grinding 'Iron Man'. A hugely recognizable and bludgeoning riff, then the second half of the song ups the temp and the band organically take it to another level before showing a level of control, slowing in down then having a sinister and ROCK N ROLL!!!!! proper ending.

    It's amazing just how many songs from this set have become rock standards. Four of the first five songs? Rock standards. An album that despite 'Planet Caravan' and the instrumental interlude of 'Rat Salad' is almost too relentlessly heavy and stylistically one dimensional. Yet, sheer quality wins through in the end. The storming 'Hand Of Doom', perhaps not as much of a familiar tune as some of the more obvious selections the LP presents us with, yet Black Sabbath stretch out here and Ozzy puts in one of his finest performances. The closing tune is just one example here of Sabbath turning their jazz influences into something else. Something else? No amount of words will adequately explain the Sabbath sound. My conversion to becoming a fan was seeing a video of an early live performance at a friends house some fifteen years back. Seeing the absolute dedication, the muscular playing and the sheer intensity. It comes through in the music as well, naturally. Yet, for all its fame and rock-staples, 'Paranoid' isn't a perfect 10/10. The lack of variety does get to me at times, the 'Rat Salad' instrumental needed to be something different, like 'Planet Caravan' and it isn't. It's difficult for a listener to match the bands intensity and remain enveloped right through to the very end. Still, for all of that, a good half of the album is peerless, it's a step above the debut and that's good enough for me.

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    john, County Kildare john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    Black Sabbath have always been a fascinating band to me. I knew about them long before I had actually HEARD them, actually I think it was "Smash Hits" of all places, whre I first noticed them, in some cheeseball "review" of Hard Rock bands in early 1987, man, they looked weird, "old", "untrendy", and most certainly dangerous, everything you could ask for in a proper band really. Has to be 10/10, even "Rat Salad", which is the "worst" track, has something positive about it.

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    Master Of Reality ( 1971 )
    Sweet Leaf / After Forever / Embryo / Children of the Grave / Orchid / Lord of This World / Solitude / Into the Void

    An album of grinding riffs easily living upto the heavy reputation Sabbath had acquired for themselves. Yet, again Sabbath recorded quickly, in and out the studio. Emerging with a mere thirty four minutes of music including two brief instrumentals, were the band running out of ideas, though? The strains within the band caused by relentless touring, promotion and recording without any kind of break was beginning to tell on individuals, yet hadn’t caused any overt outward problems as far as onlookers could tell. ‘Master Of Reality’ was very much seen as business as usual and repeats the formula of the 1st two albums, although with a couple of differences. We’ve got faster songs, we’ve seemingly less creative input from the rhythm section as far as the overall sound is concerned. Sabbath would always jam and write songs during rehearsals, Tony Iommi providing the creative impetus with his inventive riffing. This time around however it appears the riffs are in search of songs. Too often ‘Master Of Reality’ seems to lack the depth the previous two albums had. Even Ozzy sounds lack-lustre here, although perhaps that’s just down to the fact he’s not as high in the mix. Proto-type grunge? Well, that’s one label ‘Master Of Reality’ has acquired. There’s certainly some truth in that. One thing that popped into my mind however was the sound of Metallica, circa 1991, when the went globally massive. The debt Metallica owe Black Sabbath is clear, but particularly so it seems to me when listening to this album. As an aside, commercially ‘Master Of Reality’ did very well, top ten in both the US and UK and ‘going gold’ on advance sales alone.

    ‘Sweat Leaf’ opens the record in familiar Sabbath style. A five/six minute long tune based on a dirty, repeating guitar riff, the rhythm section pound away as loudly as ever as Ozzy sings in a suitably mischeivous manner and sounds like he's enjoying the lyrics. The two brief instrumentals are strange things, mood pieces, fair enough. They don’t really showcase Iommi’s talents particularly well though, when compared to his playing on the ‘proper’ tunes. As interludes, they break up the album in a similar fashion to such interludes on previous Sabbath LPs. Hardly essential when taken by themselves, though. What is essential is the dazzling array of stupendous guitar riffs this album presents us with. 'After Forever' has just such a great sound and the riff, oh that riff!! The way the sound spins around the stereo spectrum is wonderful too, especially appreciated when listening through headphones. Sterling guitar work throughout the tune, naturally. Iommi, you tell em'. He 'tells them' with his riff work all over the place. 'Children Of The Grave' is built on his driving and purposeful riffage. As is 'Lord Of The World', 'Into The Void'. Both great band instrumental tracks with the rantings of Ozzy on top ( or slightly underneath, as the mix more accurately presents us with ). 'Into The Void' is the tune that most resembles the sound Metallica would base a good portion of their career upon, whilst 'Solitude' is another attempt at producing a 'Planet Caravan', only not quite as captivating this time around. Where does it all leave us? Well, an eight track album with five wonderful riffing guitar tunes, three slices of filler and the feeling we've been slightly short-changed, if i'm being honest. Yet, there's something here that Sabbath hadn't presented before and besides, a good rock n roll album that's fun and contains plenty of genuine riffs is always going to be a decent listen.

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    zonsius stanfrank@yahoo.com
    Like the "Paranoid" album, Sabbath's "Master Of Reality" sounds as though it was recorded in a toilet. But because the songs, the singing and the musicianship are so damned heavy, even a poor recording can't stop "Master Of Reality" from attaining Metal Masterpiece status. A 10 in my book, especially when judged among other hard rock platters of its era. Let's remember, after all, that Sabbath was the only band delivering unbridled metal upon its release of "Master Of Reality" in 1971.

    John, County Kildare john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    I pretty much clued with everything Zonsius says. Although I wouldn't go quite as far as giving it 10/10, I think Adrian is being a little harsh by only givng 7.5, which is far too low. Probably a 9/10 for me.

    Hmm, I don't understand why this album gets such little love. Out of the four classic Sab albums (Black Sabbath-Vol. 4, other than the title track Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is total crap, but I'm digressing here. This is the best for me. Vol.4 comes close but not quite as good. I mean this is top notch top to bottom, and I even love the slight instrumentals. Any album that has Children of the Grave and Into The Void is completely ace. All killer and no filler, and f**k that horrible band Sum 41.

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    Vol 4 8 ( 1972 )
    Wheels of Confusion / Tomorrow's Dream / Changes / FX / Supernaut / Snowblind / Cornucopia / Laguna Sunrise / St. Vitus Dance / Under the Sun

    The band set up camp in America where drug dealers would ( very ) regularly deliver coke and other narcotics to the studio. The band wanted the album to be good and in amidst various states of induced ego boosting mania managed to lay down enough tracks for a new album. Again, the process continues where it seems Iommi is contributing almost everything to the ideas process, hence the special interplay of the first two albums is missed. In its place however is a kind of heavy sludge. Also worth considering is the sniffy nature of serious music critics towards the band was concerning Iommi particularly. On the one hand, novelty pop and MOR was dominating the airwaves, on the other Progressive Rock was the rage. Sabbath didn’t really fit into either of these camps. ‘Vol 4’ does stretch the Sabbath formula, though. Iommi still sees fit to include at least one pointless track. I can take the power ballad of ‘Changes’, it’s actually very nice in a desperately dark way. The instrumental ‘Langua Sunrise’, although by no means important as such, does contain a decent melody to underpin it all. ‘FX’ is the offender, although this experimental piece is mercifully brief. Back to 'Changes' for a moment. Apparently, this song is barely tolerated by many fans and the lyrics have been picked apart by critics. Sabbath lyrics never were especially literate. Two syllables at the most per word. Basic rhymes. The lyrics utterly suited the music. A song like 'Changes' also has simple lyrics therefore. The key to the song is Ozzy's vocal performance. It's a wonderful vocal that proved that Ozzy was capable of subtly. Anyway, what's the key track on the album? Well, the opening tune. It's the longest tune, at over eight minutes. The first two minutes are heavy dirge, very heavy dirge. A section then arrives with thrashing cymbals and stupendous riffing. Ozzy inhabits the song, he's somewhere sinking in the middle. That's meant to sound positive by the way! 'Wheels Of Confusion' swings around its different sections, superb instrumental play throughout. It's a winner in our house, I can tell you. Well, the wife isn't such a huge Black Sabbath fan, but we'll let that pass. Puddy, my seventeen year old cat, so old she sleeps 23 hours a day? She loves a bit of 'Vol 4', 'Wheels Of Confusion' especially.

    'Tomorrow's Dream', another winner, another excellent riff. Neither of the first two songs end very convincingly, by the way. Not many of the tunes here do. It's a touch of sloppiness Sabbath previously didn't have. It doesn't detract from the album, because the real stuff, the actual content, is great. Ozzy is another instrument. The focus is the guitar of Iommi. The album is slower than 'Master Of Reality', different drugs, I guess. 'Snowblind' is a little masterpiece, it gets into you more and more. Did I really just write that? 'Supernaut'? Yeah, stupendous, utterly brilliantly stupidly exciting. I'd have been very strangely perceived back in 1972, especially as a rock critic. A fan of Sabbath as well as progressive rock? Well, Rick Wakeman did play on a a couple of Sabbath things, didn't he? Back in the day though, the lines were firmly drawn in the sand. Still, let's get on with this thing. Neither 'Cornucopia' nor 'St. Vitus Dance' convince at all as properly structured or considered songs. They're very interesting, though, exciting in parts, I think. Still, I can understand the intellectual snobbery brigade back in 1972 being up in arms, easily dismissing the entire LP bar 'Changes'. As far as i've gathered, fans liked everything here APART FROM 'Changes'. It's a strange world out there. A scary, dark and frightening world. The closing 'Under The Sun' is no kind of song either, you see. It sounds very cool though, great instrumental play again. I mentioned about missing the 'special interplay' of the first two Sabbath albums earlier in this review? I meant it, but perhaps I was overly harsh. The band play superbly, yet not as creatively as before as a group of four musicians interacting. 'Vol 4' sees Sabbath relying ever more on Iommi alone. Ozzy and Bill Ward were showing signs, but not enough for Iommi to stop tearing his hair out every time it came round to Sabbath making another album. Even so, with all these reservations and with 'Vol 4' only containing a couple or three actual 'songs' as such, it all justs rocks and swings so well. We forgive them, basically. Swings? Yeah, why not. <

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    Mark Prindle mprindle@nyc.rr.com
    Thrilled to see that you like this album! Although it's not a perfect record, I think it's still my favorite Sabbath album to listen to. It's just so darned heavy, yet poppy at the same time.

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    Sabbath Bloody Sabbath 9 ( 1973 )
    Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath / A National Acrobat / Fluff / Sabbra Cadabra / Killing Yourself to Live / Who Are You? / Looking for Today / Spiral Architect

    They called it the riff that saved Black Sabbath. I wasn't aware they needed saving, but yes indeed, the title track does sport one of the all time classic riffs. With such a riff, the rest of the tune could hardly fail to be magnificent and it doesn't. Sabbath's fifth album here. For some reason, Ozzy sings almost exclusively in an extremely high register throughout the album. Some find this irritating, but then again, he hardly ever was Barry White or anybody, was he? I can live with it. His vocals are no better or worse than 'Vol 4', for example. Anyway, where was I? Yes, the first two songs. Classics both, particularly the title track. Various sections come and go and come and go seamlessly, more so than other attempted multi-part tunes Black Sabbath had done, at least. 'A National Acrobat' circles around another patented Iommi riff and Ozzy turns in one of his better performances. Twelve minutes of prime Black Sabbath to open the album then? Well, yes. Which makes it all the more strange that 'Fluff', a four minute long acoustic instrumental follows. Second to last would have worked. Making it the last song would have worked. I'm not sure this outcast Iommi prettiness works when placed as the third track of an eight track album. Credit where credit is due though. Those Sabbath attempts at diversity have paid off to produce a very satisfying, if simply played, instrumental. Carrying on with the strange motiff, 'Who Are You' is one of the strangest moments in the Sabbath catalogue thus far. Squelchy synths replace the trademark Sabbath guitar riffs, two minutes of ponderous and never changing plodding music and vocals crawl past before a progressive rock slice of dated keyboard solo comes in, a solo with around four different notes. Marching drums enter the fray before the song winds back to its initial theme. It works amongst the other seven songs here and works as variety but 'Who Are You' doesn't really rank as a Sabbath classic, or anything of the sort.

    'Killing Yourself To Live' and 'Sabbra Cadabra' ( complete with more Prog keyboards, impressive ones this time! ) are two of my favourite Sabbath tunes, actually. The latter song is one of the more successful Sabbath attempts at branching out. Guitar riffs, keyboards, very decent lyrics for Sabbath lyrics. Multi-layered instrumention without detracting from the very ideals of Sabbath heaviness. The riffing of the guitars combined with the delicious piano that winds through the 'outro' is very nice listening indeed. 'Killing Yourself To Live' may feature a very high Ozzy wail, yet I just adore the actual tune to bits. Plus, if you've ever sat in a darkened room and scratched away at your arms with a blunt pair of scissors, the lyrics may well strike a chord. I believe it was actually written about the bands relentless schedule, but whatever the lyrics may actually be about hardly seems to matter. It's a keeper, you see. What's left? Well, the Sabbath by numbers that is 'Looking For Today' and the very decent 'Spiral Architect'. Melodic bass-playing and more decent lyrics. 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' is one of the better lyrical Sabbath albums for a band not exactly acclaimed lyrically. There's inventive riffs all over the place, variety enough for anyone and a good display of different instruments and feels. The strings for example that race through parts of 'Spiral Architect'. The band managed variety and diversity for this LP without at all detracting from their initial heaviness. Sabbath fans no doubt largely went away pleased. I know I did and indeed still do whenever I pick up the CD and press play. Yeah, it's not perfect. One or two tracks fall slightly short, yet played together as an album, all eight songs provide enjoyment when listened to as god (??!?) intended.

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    John john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    Let's get the criticisms sorted out with first, "Fluff" although brimming with charm, is just a step too far from the ground entered on "Laguna Sunrise" and would probaly have worked better as an instrumental passage within a more epic piece, i.e. like the melodic middle sections on "The Writ" a couple of years later, "Sabbra Cadabra" wastes a great song title, while "Who Are You" although nicely produced with the "evil" Dr. Who incidental music synths, just sounds far too cynical and abstract on a thematical level. That out of the way, this is a highly ambitious project that keeps in touch with Sabbath's past, i.e. the spectacular title track, mystical sweeping tags on the woderful "Spiral Architect", and of course, Cream influences, "A National Acrobat". Ambitious to a fault, the lads should be praised for pushing the limits with this one, although the epic production routine does work a little better on the follow up "Sabotage" 8.5/10

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    Sabotage ( 1975 )
    Hole in the Sky / Don't Start (Too Late) / Symptom of the Universe / Megalomania / The Thrill of it All / Supertzar / Am I Going Insane (Radio) / The Writ

    They're still absolutely great! However difficult 'Sabotage' may have been to record ( it took upto a year ), the results are well upto the standards of the first five LPs. 'Hole In The Sky' is a typical slice of Sabbath that could have easily sat on any one of their first five LPs. A bit of a semi-classic with drums so heavy you worry your speakers are about to fall through the floor. A wonderful sludge-metal guitar riff and off you go. Ozzy shreaking and sounding like Satan himself. What more do you honestly need? Well, possibly not the 30 second long 'Don't Start' which really is a pointless filler/linking track, but nevermind. Oh, what's also slightly weird is the way 'Hole In The Sky' suddenly cuts off, rather than ends. Also very weird is the chamber choir ( literally! ) sinister-ness of 'Supertzar'. Little riffs and little strummed sections of guitar and a choir. Well, Sabbath always were trying and searching for progression and variety at this stage in their career. It may not be a tune I reach for, but it adds a nice element to the album overall and that's what's important. Apart from 'Supertzar', this is a heavy, heavy monster sound of a guitar record. Well, apart from 'Am I Going Insane', obviously. For an attempt at the singles charts, they'd have been better releasing 'Hole In The Sky' than releasing this strange attempt at commerciality that clearly was never going to work. The lyrics aren't right for radio, the keyboards in preference to guitars means the track isn't in any way representative. If the band thought they may have another 'Paranoid' on their hands, the brief chart-life of 'Am I Going Insane' ( which actually does grow on you with repeated listenings, it's catchy! ) quickly put out those particular fires.

    Two mighty highpoints remain. 'Symptom Of The Universe' is one of those grade a prime beef steak riff-meisters than pounds a listener into submission. Yeah, it is. The multi-part ten minute 'Meglomania' is brilliant actually. A tune showing that Sabbath could do prog-metal and artful heaviness and weren't just a bunch of brainless brummies after all. In a similar vein is the album closer 'The Writ'. I may as well mention 'The Thrill Of It All' because rather stupidly i've mentioned everything else. It's not prime Sabbath material, but it is extremely interesting guitar-wise and in terms of structure. The hand-claps aren't there as an attempt to go glam ( well, look at the album cover! ) rather to add a little dynamic to the tune, something a little extra. The riff that powers it along, is of course, a thrill. So, rather a standard kind of dull track by track review for an actually very fascinating album that also contains enough dumb heaviness to please anybody. I like it a lot and happily rank it alongside the 'Paranoid' LP. Buy both today and make an old Ozzy very happy.

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    Mike Harras mikharras@hotmail.com
    I absolutely love this album. I think it certainly ranks above the previous record which I frankly find a little boring. Ozzy sings like he has lost his mind! The entire band is tighter and the sound is completely unlike the sludge typically associated with Sabbath. It ain't a perfect album (none of them were) but damn close. Their last great creative shot before running dry on ideas & eventually becoming pop metal. 9 I sez.

    John, County Kildare john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    Bought this baby on a cheapo vinyl re-issue with all the usual non existant liner notes, in a record shop in Brighton, summer of '91. Bryan Adams was raping my ears, and The Sabs in their glorious prime, put everything back good and proper. Highlights for me - Symptom of The Universe, and the underrated cacophony of The Writ, especially that melodic Chicago-esque section where Ozzy bears his soul to the max. I love the Mike Post style synths on Thrill Of It All, possibly the guys' most underrated song.....? 8.5/10.

    All albums up to this point are fantastic, even the 'weaker' tracks bring something to the mix. I'm a bit scared to go any further than this, and the Dio stuff just sounds like standard 80s cock hair metal to me...

    James Coyle
    This is a superb record. Even thirty years after I first came across it, I still love it. As far as lyrics go, the critics might have a field day with Ozzy's words, but the lyrics on Sabotage (I assume by Geezer Butler)are, for the most part, some of the most exciting and literate I've ever heard in rock

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    Technical Ecstacy ( 1976 )
    Back Street Kids / You Won't Change Me / It's Alright / Gypsy / All Moving Parts / Rock N Roll Doctor / She's Gone / Dirty Women

    Ozzy and Iommi were barely on speaking terms, although the public face of the band suggested all was well. Despite the reputation this album has suffered throughout the years, 'Technical Ecstacy' rises above the turmoil that surrounded the band at the time. No, it's not their best album but if it had been released without the heavyweight burden of expectation a new Sabbath album carried, who knows? Oh, Bill Ward gets to sing a song! Ozzy was no doubt caught up elsewhere, so Bill lends his insipid vocal abilities to 'It's Alright'. To say it's a dreary song does injustice to all dreary things in this world. An attempted power-ballad with a heavy dose of pop. There's a glam feel to the song, its in there somewhere, a couple of years too late. As a stab at the charts ( this was released as a single backed with rock n roll doctor in the US ) its no huge surprise this slice of unrecognizable Sabbath failed to set the world alight. Speaking of 'Rock N Roll Doctor', this is another slice of glam-metal, perhaps Alice Cooper might be fond of recording it, but Sabbath shouldn't have gone there. It makes me wonder about the album title. 'Technical Ecstacy'? Sabbath for all Iommi's searching and attempts at progression and diversification hadn't shaken their fanbase's view that the original Sabbath template remained the best one they'd had. The experimentation on the previous two LPs had been married to fine material. The material here is less inspired, certainly the one dimensional likes of 'Rock N Roll Doctor'. 'Back Street Kids' at least has a signature Sabbath sound of sorts, yet although the riffs are fine and enjoyable, it leaves no lasting impression.

    The longest two songs on the album, 'Dirty Women' and 'You Won't Change Me' are by far the best songs here. 'You Won't Change Me' is ominous in the way the best Sabbath material is. With keyboards, piano and synths in the mix, it's not the heaviest offering the band have ever recorded by any means, it's just that the vocals and main guitar solo all hint at a desperation underneath. The song has a beating heart, it's got soul. There's no soul in the likes of 'Back Street Kids' or 'Rock N Roll Doctor'. As you can get 'Technical Ecstacy' for £5/£6 in the sales, for the good songs alone it's still worth picking up. I mentioned 'Dirty Women'? Ah, yes. It's got a few different sections and whilst Ozzy may not sound very inspired, Iommi and band do. It's got really good musical sections in there, including a couple of progressive rock-esque moments. 'Gypsy' and 'All Moving Parts' are both solid kinds of filler, rather than 'filler' filler, if that makes sense? 'She's Gone' is a string assisted ballad. Very little on 'Technical Ecstacy' resembles the Sabbath a lot of their fans hold dear. Yet, despite the failings here and the highlights not being career defining or 'that' high after all, the album is more than the sum of it's parts. It holds together and is easily listened to.

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    John Doyle john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    Hmm... "Technical Agony" would've been a more precise title. The guys should've been sued under the trade descriptions act. With a title like that, I would expect the finest doom laden rock since Master Of Reality, but the final product falls well short. Although "You Won't Change Me" is by far the best thing on it, I can't help getting the feeling of a 1974 Ray Davies reject, "Dirty Women", although overproduced, is a commendable piece in the circumstances, and kudos to Tony for writing the A-Team theme tune 6 years in advance. Apart from these two, not much else going on. "Back Street Kids" has a wonderful N.W.O.B.H.M. blueprint riff, but it goes to the shitter quick smart, as soon as Ozzy starts to sing. "Rock And Roll Doctor" and "Gypsy" are contenders for two of Sabbath's rock bottom moments, more akin to someone like Cliff Richard for the former, and ABBA for the latter. I do have a soft spot for the much maligned "All Moving Parts Stand Still", but I always try to kee! p that fact to myself.... 4/10.

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    Never Say Die 5 ( 1978 )
    Never Say Die / Jonny Blade / Juniors Eyes / Hard Road / Shock Wave / Air Dance / Over To You / Break Out / Swinging The Chain

    The last of the original Sabbath albums to feature Ozzy on vocals. He'd already left the band briefly once and was itching for a solo career and to work with other musicians. As a final stand, 'Never Say Die' restores some lost pride in places but fails to match the glory of the early Sabbath reign. Still, two top forty hits came from 'Never Say Die' in the UK. The title track had the honour of being the first charting Sabbath tune since 'Paranoid' and fine it is too, if rather slight. Peaking at number twenty, this title track was followed by 'Hard Road' october 1978. Reaching number thirty-three, the song sounds like Black Sabbath in every respect apart from the deeply strange vocal sound Ozzy hides behind. Genuine guitar solo! Nifty drumming from Mr Ward. I have no problems with the song at all. Unfortunately, 'Jonny Blade' and 'Juniors Eyes' do very little for me whatsoever. They sound like a band falling apart, which indeed Sabbath were. The musicians in the group are still having ideas and creating a decent racket, but Ozzy again lets the side down with relatively poor vocals that also seem to have been placed down in the mix, for some reason. For the record, 'Jonny Blade' contains some synth experimentation and 'Juniors Eyes' some great instrumental work that isn't quite enough to hide the lack of actual melody. I don't want to come across too harshly on 'Juniors Eyes' though, because structure apart and Ozzy apart, it's fine! Still, 'Side A' ends up coming across as a big 'so what?', nice enough sounds and some decent playing ( superb drumming ) yet the songs all lack that indefinable spark that powered along the best Sabbath material. Still, by no means worse that the majority of 'Technical Ecstacy'. 'Side B' is another matter.

    'Shock Wave' at least some spirit about it, otherwise it can be easily dismissed. Iommi remembers to pack an actual riff into 'Air Dance' which is all the better because of it. The pretty piano jazzy parts mix with rock and progressive rock to create one of the braver and most admirable songs contained within 'Never Say Die', no question. Perhaps my favourite tune here. Sadly, the remaining three songs border on unlistenable. Bill Ward sings a song. Enough said. It seems to me like the band lost enthusiasm for the project half-way through. Perhaps i'm wrong and perhaps they just sequenced the album badly. Who knows? Slim pickings anyway for a album sequencer i'd have thought, the 'Never Say Die' sessions. Hardly the stuff of rock legend and only notable at all for being the last effort in the original run of the original Sabbath line-up. There's a tendency from some fans to make excuses for 'Never Say Die', almost wishing for another uinverse in which Ozzy never left and for which 'Never Say Die' provided clues and hinted towards 'the great revival'. Trying to put a lighter spin on a pretty grim ending for the group.

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    Heaven And Hell ( 1980 )
    Neon Knights / Children Of The Sea / Lady Evil / Heaven And Hell / Wishing Well / Die Young / Walk Away / Lonely Is The Word

    There's no doubting that Ronnie James Dio was a technically more gifted vocalist than Ozzy. He also stepped into the lyric writing shoes that had previously been occupied by Butler. What gets me isn't just the change in voice and slight shift in lyrical matter, it's the fact that the rest of Black Sabbath seem to have decided to turn into Rainbow, the band Dio had previously sung with. Well, it's a bit of each, a few tunes are definitely Sabbath tunes and couldn't have been done by anybody else. Other tunes wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Rainbow album. Long-term Sabbath fans were undestandably worried but overall we've got ourselves a strong rock LP. Let's take a tune like 'Lonely Is The World'. Nearly six minutes in length and definitely a Sabbath style slow-burner. Iommi turns in a few guitar solo's of note and all is definitely well. At the other end of the album, 'Neon Knights' tries to be 'Paranoid', a trick Sabbath have tried before but this is one of the better attempts. An insistent riff powers away whilst Dio makes himself at home, wailing powerfully away over the heavy backing track. So, two good tracks out of two and Black Sabbath still exist. Who would have thought it? Of course, not everything works as well as these two tunes. 'Lady Evil' with the lyrical mysticism simply irritates this listener. The 2nd track on the LP 'Children Of The Sea' seems to have all the ingredients a good Sabbath track requires. It's six minutes long. It opens with a suitably atmospheric introduction before the drums kick the song into gear. Then, Dio wails. Then, the guitars fail to do anything of note and the main melodic thrust of the song is annoyingly basic. The song lack the drama of prime Sabbath of yore. That's not just down to Ozzy not being here, the song itself lacks the heaviness and the contrast of Sabbath of yore.

    The title track is a minor marvel, a seven minute tune that would have also sounded great sung by Ozzy. Iommi turns in some grittier styled riffs than he normally would. Sabbath sound more like a regular metal band than during their early Ozzy years, but that doesn't stop this title tune from providing power and enjoyment, decent vocals and decent guitar parts. 'Wising Well' and 'Walk Away' are two superior rock tunes that Ronnie James Dio can't help but dominate with his voice. That's an issue, actually. I have no major problems with the album and it happens to be bookended with the two strongest tunes. That's fine. My issue is the way the rest of the band seem to have decided that as they were in a bit of a slump, they'll surrender to the apparent whims and mercies of Dio. Why was it neccessary to alter the lyrical tone as well? Well, I guess he wasn't comfortable stepping into Ozzy's particular doom-laden shoes. His more fantasist tales sit slightly uncomfortably with Sabbath's previous sense of humour. Still, i'm not going to criticize too much because I do really enjoy 'Heaven And Hell'. It's a good LP ideal that's well constructed and proves once and for all that Sabbath had good musicians in their ranks.

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    John, County Kildare. john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    A good album in my book. "Walk Away" is silly pop rock with twee lyrics, but that's all that's wrong here. Black Sabbath back on the right road, even if it is a slightly compromising sound, but nothing wrong with that. 8.5/10.

    top of page Mob Rules 7 ( 1981 )
    Turn Up the Night / Voodoo / The Sign of the Southern Cross / E5150 / The Mob Rules / Country Girl / Slipping Away / Falling Off the Edge of the World / Over and Over

    Ok, now we have Black Sabbath mark 3. Vinnie Appice joins Iommi, Butler and Dio for the follow-up to 'Heaven And Hell'. The sound is pretty identical to that of 'Heaven And Hell' mind you and Appice does a fine job on the drums. When the band stops being Black Sabbath and starts being something else is something open to conjecture, though. For me, this is when the band started being 'something' else. They sound far more American in places, which isn't a bad thing in itself clearly, but is a change from when the guys first crawled out of Aston, a poor suburb of Birmingham, England. Mentioning England, Iron Maiden were making a name for themselves and spearheading a whole new metal scene. Suddenly, if not quite yet, Sabbath were seen as somewhat archaic. This is unfair, but it's also life. Yet, 'Sign Of The Southern Cross', a track that receives mixed opinions inflicted upon it by fans is a favourite of mine. It's perhaps the best yet mix of the differing styles within the band ( the Dio axis VS the Butler/Iommi axis ) yet put together. Geezer Butler does fine work on this album, by the way. He's stepped up a gear or something, because his bass work constantly keeps things grounded and seems to have a real purpose behind it.

    'E5150' is a spooked instrumental that leads well into the albums title track. It's only a brief moment, but for awhile the band recapture some of the earlier atmosphere that made their first couple of albums such potent brews. As for the title track, it's one of the best things here. The rhythm section absolutely pound away, both bass and drums doing fine things. 'Slipping Away' sees Iommi get his riffing gear into action with a successful stop/start riff to bass the song upon. Two tunes lasting five minutes plus close the album, a fairly unremarkable if solid album, it must be said. Nothing here could be classified as classic Sabbath, not even my pick of the punch 'Sign Of The Southern Cross' because that simply doesn't really sound like a Sabbath tune. 'Falling Off The Edge Of The World' opens really well, takes too long to get going and would have sounded better with Ozzy singing it. The closing 'Over And Over' is a grind, an epic would-be anthem. It's good. The album is good, but what happens next to this band? Lose any more original members and will we even still care?

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    Tet sjthetford@btopenworld.com
    Ehink you are being a bit harsh, this album is a game of two halves, the first 5 tracks being excellent especially Voodoo, a classic riff! Side 2 is pretty boring with the likes of Country Girl and Over & Over just not Sabbath, showing the lack of lyrical ideas from Dio.Dio can sing but he is a limited lyricist and a bit fixated on medieval topics, this album should have been as good as Heaven and Hell but feels a bit rushed.

    top of page Born Again 5 ( 1983 )
    Trashed / Stonehenge / Disturbing the Priest / The Dark / Zero the Hero / Digital Bitch / Born Again / Hot Line / Keep It Warm

    More original members here than the last album! Yes, Bill Ward returns to the drum-stool and Ian Gillan of Deep Purple holds the microphone. He's not too much of a fan of the album though, having apparently said the following, I saw the cover and puked, then I heard the record and puked. Well, fair enough. I've nothing against Ian Gillan and enjoy Deep Purple, but what happened here, i'm not sure. The album sounds horribly fake, the mixing makes one of the greatest heavy bands of all time sound like a childs version of what a Black Sabbath album should be. Ian Gillan sounds like somebody has their hands around his neck throughout the album and we expect better vocals from an artist of his calibre. Still, there are a few decent tunes. 'Zero The Hero' proves that the Sabbath guys could still be very, very heavy when they wanted to be. The lyrics are tosh, but the music is extremely enjoyable and powerful. The opening tune 'Trashed', whilst following in the Sabbath traddition of having uptempo numbers to open albums, is decent in its own right. I could have done without Gillan's high pitched wail to begin the tune, but otherwise we're in clear blue water. On the otherhand, this Sabbath era's live set included a model of Stonehenge and a dwarf, hence Spinal Tap. I'm listening and searching for more decent or even half decent tunes, by the way. 'Disturbing The Priest' is a fair piece of rock music, although Ian Gillan seems to want to disturb the priest a little too much for the song to be funny. A whole other unwelcome sinister edge enters the fray. What happened to being on the edge of your seat whilst listening to a Sabbath record? This tune has made me fall off my seat and bang my head. It hurts like hell. I do wish Ian Gillan would stop screaming.

    'Digital Bitch' sounds like none of the original members of Black Sabbath are in the band, entirely due to the sound and production. This is one of the better musical performances, too. So, the production hasn't helped. The mix of Gillan and Sabbath hasn't really worked, poor vocals or no poor vocals. He just seems unable to ride the Sabbath groove and this is entirely noticeable all through 'Digital Bitch' which with a different singer and different lyrics may have been a good song. Will the title track give us something a bit more then? Well, it seems to invent Guns N Roses ballads at one fell swoop. 'Hot Line' sounds like a dot-to-dot heavy metal band and 'Keep It Warm' may be referring to how Gillan perceived his duty as Sabbath vocalist, keeping the place 'warm' for somebody far more suited to the task.

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    john, County Kildare john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    This is an interesting album to say the least... With all the negative vibes surrounding it for nearly 25 years, it's good just to try and judge it without any external factors, but, one can seriously ask does it actually have anything going for it? Well, yes and no. First and foremost, this is NOT Black Sabbath's worst album, (that particular "honour" is shared by Technical Ecstasy, Seventh Star, and Live At Last), The big fuck up here, is of course, the production, which sounds like Neil Young's eponymous debut, a kind of underproduced and overproduced at the same time type of sound. Ian's vocals are a little David St. Hubbins here as well, with lots of unneccesary (to say the least) evil laughter, throat damaging screams, and strange whiney sounds. In terms of the instrumentalists, Tony is as good as ever, Geezer although cheated by the mix, puts in a solid performance, and Bill really could've been on the road to recovery here if he had kept his shit together, a real pit! y. Generally speaking, most of the songs work very well in the circumstances, "Zero The Hero" is proper Sabbath, "Trashed", despite Ian's histrionics, is a great opener, "Disturbing The Priest" rocks intensely, and the title track is better than it gets credit for. Unfortunately, the Gillan collaberation didn't last 2 minutes, which is a shame, as this line up did have potential, only to see it laughably fall apart due to one fiasco after the other, a real pity, as we could've been spared the woeful "Seventh Star". P.S. I'm thinking as we speak of affording an evil Gillan cackle to the doofus beside me in the college commputer room who will not put his hand over his mush everytime he sneezes. Time for a magic potion buddy.... *MUHAWWHAWWHAWW* 6.5/10.

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    Seventh Star 4 ( 1986 )
    In for the Kill / No Stranger to Love / Turn to Stone / Sphinx (The Guardian) / Seventh Star / Danger Zone / Heart Like a Wheel / Angry Heart / In Memory...

    Originally this was designed to be the first solo Toni Iommi album, Sabbath having disbanded circa 1984. The original line-up played Live Aid in 85 and record company pressure turned 'Seventh Star' into 'Black Sabbath feat Toni Iommi, a strange thing, as he was the only original band member presenty. Recorded with a completely new lineup including ex Deep Purple bassist and vocalist Glenn Hughes on vocals only, Geoff Nicholls ( who had at least played with Sabbath before ) on keyboards, Dave Spitz on bass and Eric Singer on drums. All perform with competent mediocrity. Interesting note, this lineup couldn't even hold it together to tour the album, Hughes departing after just a few shows to be replaced by some guy called Ray Gillen. With all these coming and goings, you can understand fans being suitably annoyed at this album and what it did to the Black Sabbath legacy. On a more positive note, without this album being released as a Black Sabbath record, it's almost certain no more Sabbath activity would have ever taken place again. Well, some may say that would have been a good thing. On another positive note, those of you who like metal guitar playing can rejoice in some of the finest guitar playing Iommi actually ever put down. It's shame that the songs are generally weak and unimaginative and that the overall sound hasn't dated well, being a typically 'shiny' mid-eighties production. Well, you can't have it all, can you? Well, with 'Seventh Star', we can't even have an 'interesting' debut solo LP by Iommi, it had to get hijacked into being a Sabbath release. As far as i'm concerned, the rating remains the same.

    The only reason to get this is for Iommi's playing. 'Heart Like A Wheel' for example. The title says it all, really. Don't like the wailing and screaming vocals, do love the repeated Iommi guitar solos, excellent stuff. Do like the opening song 'In For The Kill', one of the few tracks actually where you can say, 'yes, this sounds like Black Sabbath'. A furious riff underpins the track and the vocal hook is decent. Searching for any other highlights is near to impossible, although everything is played well enough. Let's face it, Iommi wasn't about to surround himself by a bunch of incompetent nobodies, every member in the band had a pedigree, at least of some description, anyway. Where they found Ray Gillen from, I don't know. What did Ray Gillen do afterwards, does anybody known? We know what happened to Sabbath, they released more uneven albums with uncertainty forever surrounding their line-up(s).

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    john, County Kildare john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    Fucking woeful. Well that's it really, what else is there to say? Let the music do the talking? Not fucking likely... 3/10

    Bill Toronto
    Ray Gillen went on to form a band called Badlands with Jake E. Lee who played with Ozzy. Badlands put out two albums with Ray on vocals until relations soured between Jake and Ray. Ray left the band and died of AIDS in 1993.

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    Eternal Idol 7 ( 1987 )
    The Shining / Ancient Warrior / Hard Life to Live / Glory Ride / Born to Lose / Nightmare / Scarlet Pimpernel / Lost Forever / Eternal Idol

    Then unknown singer Tony Martin comes in and does a pretty reasonable job, certainly evoking Dio if not Ozzy. Eric Singer was deemed to have done a good enough job on 'Seventh Star' to remain in the band. Experienced solo-ozzy bass player Bob Daisley came in and Geoff Nicholls cements his place as the permanent keyboard player. The results? Surprisingly, this is one of the better Sabbath albums, if judging their overall output and not just the Ozzy years. They sound like an actual band again, for the first time in absolutely ages. A lot of the credit has been given to Bob Daisley, who co-wrote large parts of the album with Iommi. Iommi, good as he is, is always better when working with other talented individuals. Tony Martin on vocals was a good find, he lends an authority to these recordings, his voice utterly suited to the era ( mid to late eighties ). Ok, this isn't the finest era for metal music, hair metal was all the rage. Bon Jovi were considered dangerous and the best thing around. 'Eternal Idol' contains some strong songs and remains a decent, consistent listen. Bev Bevan of ELO ( good grief! ) plays additional percussion of the pretty instrumental interlude, 'Scarlet Pimpernel'. This leads into the storming rocker 'Lost Forever' which is full of driving, insistent riffs and neat bass parts. 'Eternal Idol' in many ways was a back to basics album for Sabbath. Despite the era in which it was recorded, you can tell there's a really cookin' band playing these tunes. The production isn't too bad by the way, merely far too 'thin' sounding to really bring out the best these tunes have to offer. Not content with providing great riffs on nearly every tune, Iommi also squeezes in some solos. Again, going back to 'Lost Forever', he sails through with a tremendous little solo during the break. Does it for me.

    'The Shining' is perhaps the best song here, and also the first. An epic, near six minute rock stomper in true Sabbath style, although very different of course to the first four or five albums, or so. Very well constructed and with powerful vocals. 'Ancient Warrior' seems to veer towards Rainbow territory, for the vocals but also remember, Bob Daisley played in Rainbow for awhile. Good track, anyway. With the exception of the instrumental, all the tracks here are four/five minute attempted epics. That gets a bit much, one or two speedy little rockers wouldn't have gone amiss. The band do sound heavy and epic though. You know, they pull it off. Not the most remarkable album ever of course, but decent enough. I dig 'Born To Lose' with its what ya gonna do bout it..... NOW!! vocal, and of course the neat riff that underpins the song. What else? Well, the title track is nearly seven minutes long and would have sounded great with Ozzy on vocals. It would have worked as a slow, dirge epic aka the old days. As it is, Martin does a serviceable job, although this isn't his best moment on the LP. A good LP? Yeah. Brilliant? Er, no. It's consolidation, it's consistent but doesn't have those real highpoints to propel it towards anything like classic status. Dig in though if you're a Sabbath fan and don't have this era covered. You'll be plesantly surprised.

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    john, County Kildare john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    I'll go one step further and give it 8/10. A major leap forward from the hideous "Seventh Star" and even though it's very much mid to late 1980s style cock rock and stadium rock as opposed to classic Black Sabbath metal, I've always had a soft spot for this album. Nowt particularly spectacular of course, but most of the songs have a touch of quality about them that tends to be appealing.

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    Headless Cross 8 ( 1989 )
    The Gates Of Hell / Headless Cross / Devil & Daughter / When Death Calls / Kill In The Spirit World / Call Of The Wild / Black Moon / Nightwing

    A somewhat forgotten album and era for Black Sabbath. If it aint Ozzy and at a push, Dio, then it aint Sabbath? We've got the regular Sabbath keyboardist, but he doesn't count. A session bass player and ex-everyband Cozy Powell on drums. Fans, quite rightly, tend to focus on the original quartet, of which only Iommi is present here. So, Tony Martin does the singing again and puts in 100% effort, all of the time. Just listen carefully. Stylistically, we're still in the 80s, kind of hair metal meets Satan meets bludgeon. Occultish lyrics feature, not always intelligent or even good lyrics, although Satanic lyrics have nearly always been a Sabbath trademark. As a whole, song-wise, apart from the brief instrumental opener that functions purely as a segue into the title track, this is the most consistent Sabbath set for quite some time indeed. Well, let's talk about a few of these songs, then? Well, why not? This was 1989 remember, Sabbath's critical standing was at a low ebb and they needed something credible to return with. 'Headless Cross', both the album and song, were enough to earn Sabbath good reviews in Europe at least. The USA didn't care at the time because Ozzy wasn't there. So, a crunching riff, Cozy Powell immediately impresses with the drums. It reminds me a little of a slightly slower, slightly heavier Iron Maiden and that's by no means a bad thing. Great riff, heavy as anybody could reasonably want, a twiddly guitar solo? Check. Remember, Kids. There's no escaping.... the power of Satan.

    Iommi does a good job on this album, riffs wise. The memorable, simple and heavy riff of 'Black Moon' is just one example. Next though, how about that song 'Nightwing'? It's a highlight for me, opening with acoustic guitar, Tony Martin soon let's rip with his powerful rock voice. Cosy Powell continues to impress, holding together the rhythm section and offering a convincing musical alternative point of focus other than Iommi. Sabbath at this stage needed good musicians and it's clear Cosy Powell has had a tremendous career as one of the most respected drummers out there. Hat's off to Cosy! Ah, but where was I? Yes, 'Nightwish' has great instrumental sections, Iommi proves once and for all, that yes, he can solo with the best of them. Another song I love, although I probably shouldn't, it's slightly dumb ( then again, on the plus side, it's slightly dumb! ) is 'When Death Calls'. Slow sections abound with such daft lyrics as for i believe, satan lives, in the souls of the dying. misguided mortals, you'll burn with me. spirit of man, cannot be freed. Indeed. But the chorus contains massively loud drums and a ridiculously loud shouted 'WHEN DEATH CALLS'. So, good then? The breaks good too, this lineup good do good things. Well, the bass player, although competent, is a little anonymous. It doesn't really matter so much when you've got such a guy as Cosy Powell on the drums, though.

    In summary? Sabbath were back. That they couldn't sustain this form isn't surprising, what is suprising however is quite how ignored 'Headless Cross' continues to be to this day. Those expecting 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' will inevitably be disappointed but those just wanting a rock solid heavy album will, or at least should be, pretty pleased when they make the purchase.

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    TYR 8 ( 1989 )
    Anno Mundi / The Law Maker / Jerusalem / The Sabbath Stones / The Battle of Tyr / Odin's Court / Valhalla / Feels Good to Me / Heaven in Black

    Sabbath entered their fourth decade with some stability, just one change, ex-whitesnake bassist Neil Murray joining the group for 'TYR', an album loosely based around Norse Mythology. At times a very progressive album, it sold poorly and this line-up would soon be replaced by something more resembling classic-era Sabbath. That's something of a shame, as Tony Martin had lent the band some kind of mighty power as a vocalist. Anyway, although not really resembling classic-era Sabbath at all, 'TYR' does still manage to be one of the heavier Sabbath records, both lyrically and musically. The sound comes across as something of an Iron Maiden / Rainbow / Queen / Sabbath / Yes hybrid. Iommi and Cozy Powell are both on excellent form throughout the LP, providing the musical heart. Martin does a sterling job and 'TYR' can be said to be something of a 'lost' Sabbath LP, with only the brief instrumental 'Battle Of Tyr' and the uncharacteristic 'Feels Good To Me' causing serious point deductions.

    The opening 'Anno Mundi' is loud, strong and epic, 'The Law Maker' something of a Deep Purple speed-metal styled number. Apart from 'The Law Maker' however, it's the epic, longer tunes that provide 'TYR' with its heart. 'The Sabbath Stones' is quality material that could survive the original line-up interpreting it as well as the original line-up that gave birth to it. Confused? Haha, don't be. Just let me say that 'Sabbath Stones' is slow, heavy and super crunchy. 'Valhalla' is the other stand-out, an aggressive tour-de-force with excellent guitar solos and superb drumming throughout. Martin's shouted, aggressive and versatile vocal performance is worthy of mention and 'TYR' continued something of an indian-summer of renewed Black Sabbath credibility.

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    Dehuminzer ( 1992 )
    Computer God / After All (The Dead) / TV Crimes / Letters From Earth / Master Of Insanity / Time Machine / Sins Of The Father / Too Late / I / Buried Alive

    Dio back on vocals, indeed, we're getting the 'Mob Rules' line-up reunited here, for better or worse. The opening track is like some lumbering beast half-running, half-falling down a hill. Some decent solos, good bass playing yet somehow you end up with a rather empty feeling at the end of it all. 'After All' is rather too doom-laden for its own good, plodding away without achieving very much. Far better is the speedy 'TV Crimes' where Sabbath go back to 'Paranoid' territory if you like and it's no surprise this was chosen to be the single from the LP. Remarkably, it became the bands first top 40 hit in the UK in ten years and to date, remains their last top 40 hit single. It's not hard to see why, this is Sabbath back packing a punch and this easily stands upto whatever Iron Maiden or whoever was doing at the time. Further good words for Geezer on bass and Vinnie Appice if anything gives his finest performance on a Sabbath album, not just on 'TV Crimes' but across all the 'Dehumanizer' songs. 'Letters From Earth' continues to improve 'Dehumanizer' with crunching riffs and good Dio lyrics (for once).

    A word about his voice on this album, it sounds markedly different to his work with Rainbow or solo or indeed to his previous stint with Sabbath. It sounds raw and slightly less stylized than before, which can only be a good thing. He puts this voice to good use on 'Master Of Insanity', a modern day Sabbath classic or at least, as near to one as we were ever likely to get. 'Dehumanizer' is a good mix actually of hinting at classic Sabbath of the Seventies yet also incorporating enough touches to easily stand-out in 1992 as a genuine modern statement from Sabbath. 'Sins Of The Father' could pass for an Ozzy track - check the opening vocal lines. It's these kind of nods to the past that make 'Dehumanizer' so satisfying. Ultimately though, this album is a little hit and miss to truly rank as a Sabbath classic yet you'd have to be very mean hearted to not acknowledge what the guys have done here - a very creditable effort all round.

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    John County Kildare
    I'd be more inclined to give it 8 1/2. The real problem is a live production getting dragged down by a rather gloomy by numbers mix, other than that, I would regard it as the guys' most underrated release. Critically it doesn't get much of an easy ride, but the quality of the music speaks for itself.

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    Cross Purposes ( 1994 )
    I Witness / Cross of Thorns / Psychophobia / Virtual Death / Immaculate Deception / Dying for Love / Back to Eden / Hand That Rocks the Cradle / Cardinal Sin / Evil Eye"

    Tony Martin returns on vocals, always that respectable and reliable Dio understudy. They never did get an Ozzy understudy, mind you, his unique vocal style being seemingly impossible to replace. Geezer Butler was on this album, the only Tony Martin era album he features on. Black Sabbath, like Iron Maiden and a dozen other Metal groups could not adjust to the 90s and the grunge explosion. The keyboards, the very American sound the band create - all nod towards the American 80s metal scene. Butler and Iommi do combine at certain points to suggest 70s Sabbath, rather than anything else, but the commercially disappointing Tony Martin era received no particular uplift here. Some solid riffs arrive, some ill-advised keyboards appear, some lyrics seem that only barely hint at the Sabbath of old. 'I Witness' gets things off to a cracking start, mind you. Speedy riffs, a deeper vocal than usual from Tony Martin throughout the verses and tight guitar, bass and drums. Acoustic guitar and keyboards appear drearily to open the clichéd 'Cross Of Thornes' whilst 'Psychophobia' is unsuccessfully auditioning for 'Grunge Got Talent' - it's a Pearl Jam b-side with Jon Bon Jovi singing lead.

    'Virtual Death' is the heaviest song the opening stretch of the album presents, the bass riffs pure Sabbath of old, the vocals ditch the Dio-isms and go for something flatter, less histrionic, a bit Ozzy if you squint your ears and eyes. We can pass 'Immaculate Deception' by completely, we can cringe at the oh so 80s power ballad beginning of 'Dying For Love', however accomplished it is. We can cheer at the riff that opens 'Back To Eden', a classic Sabbath riff and no mistake. 'The Hand That Rocks The Cradle' has some good, groovy riffs and a heaviness to it, once it eventually gets going. That's about it, the final two songs I forget, always forget, what were they?

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    Forbidden 5 ( 1995 )
    The Illusion of Power / Get a Grip / Can't Get Close Enough / Shaking Off the Chains / I Won't Cry for You / Guilty as Hell / Sick and Tired / Rusty Angels / Forbidden / Kiss of Death

    Tony Martin – vocals, Tony Iommi – guitars, Neil Murray – bass, Cozy Powell – drums and long-term Sabbath man, Geoff Nicholls – keyboards. Additional personnel Ice-T – vocals on "The Illusion of Power".

    There were rumours of the original Sabbath line-up getting together and once 'Forbidden' had been released, Sabbath were no more an ongoing concern, the entire line-up given their marching orders. Recorded in just ten days, I'm not exactly sure what's going on throughout this 'Forbidden' album. Body Count's Ernie C produces, possibly the worst choice ever to helm a Sabbath record. Body Count were never a convincing rock band, and so it is here, his production results in a thin sounding album, the band themselves must also take some of the blame, as the songs themselves seem slight, lacking in substance. Tony Martin's lyrics and vocals seem half-hearted, the idea of doing a 'rap-sabbath' apparently not appealing to him. Cozy Powell is always solid, even if his drum sound isn't exactly allowed to come to the fore. Neil Murray does a fine, if unimaginative, job on the bass - some of the riffs evoke power enough. Tony Iommi meanwhile seems a guest on his own record, most strange. The guitar throughout 'Sick & Tired' has been mixed down, and whoever encouraged Cozy Powell to try to drum like a hardcore drummer deserves death. The title track sounds like a third-rate Sabbath covers band, well, not even that, as a third-rate Sabbath covers band would at least manage to sound a little like Black Sabbath.

    Naturally, Black Sabbath had evolved over the years, the high turnover rate of musicians alone would have been enough to see to that, but even core members such as Iommi and Butler (not here) had changed over the years, ageing and living does tend to do that. Yet, Black Sabbath had perhaps evolved out of existence, the last LP had enough about it to earn credibility as a Black Sabbath record. Changing the entire rhythm section, Tony Martin's heart seemingly not being in it anymore and Tony Iommi in cruise mode was never going to set the world on fire, and so it is here. At least the last track 'Kiss Of Death' is good enough to sit alongside other Tony Martin Sabbath era material, it's the heaviest tune on the record. Even here though, his vocals sound either half-hearted, or pushed back in the mix. Well, the last word is Black Sabbath trying to come across all 'Soundgarden' works about as well as The Kinks, if they tried to sound like Blur.

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    The Devil You Know 7 ( 2009 )
    Atom and Evil / Fear / Bible Black / Double the Pain / Rock and Roll Angel / The Turn of the Screw / Eating the Cannibals / Follow the Tears / Neverwhere / Breaking into Heaven

    Since leaving Black Sabbath, Dio continued to have a very successful and acclaimed career. The band name for this outfit was due to Ozzy having come back to Black Sabbath in 2001 and, their intermittent activity since then, meant that the Black Sabbath moniker could not be used. Make no mistake however, this is a Black Sabbath album in all but name. That is would wind up being Dio's last set of recordings is sad, he was a fine vocalist, one of the greatest ever rock vocalists. When Rainbow first got going, Dio was the thing I latched on-to, a superb voice matched perfectly to the guitar playing of Richie Blackmore. His Sabbath albums have their fans, for some, the Dio helmed Sabbath albums are the very best Sabbath albums, something I don't agree with, although certainly they all rank, at the very least, as 'very good'. For all the genuine heaviness 'The Devil You Know' presents, and the return of Geezer Butler has much to do with this, none of the individual songs scream out at me. Also, lasting fifty-four minutes, the bands attempt at creating something lasting and epic deadens my ears - there's too much here to digest. I don't mean in a single sitting, or anything like that, rather in general. True though, this album does fit in the Sabbath discography perfectly, and represents a big improvement over 'Forbidden'.

    Tony Iommi sounds re-born, some of his work here is truly astonishing. The opening 'Atom And Evil' (see 'Adam And Eve') is a wonderfully heavy, big and lurching beast, coming to get you and coming to eat all of your children. 'Bible Black' is almost impossibly heavy, and with Dio penning the lyrics, utterly captivating. That was one of the things back in the day, when Ozzy left, Geezer gave up penning the words and Dio took over. Dio is a far better lyricist, but it made the change from Ozzy to Dio ever the greater. Anyway, 'Rock And Roll Angel' features a genuinely great Tony Iommi guitar moment half-way through, light and 80s, then flowing into a crunching rhythm section. 'Turn Of The Screw' is a superlative Dio performance, his vocals and vocal melodies leading the charge towards.... something. 'Eating The Cannibals' and 'Neverwhere' are both taken at a super-pace, although as I said earlier, fifty-four minutes of heaviness is slightly too many. Still, a fine effort and a good, lasting legacy for Dio. This is his album, somehow, more than it's a Sabbath record.

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    13 ( 2013 )
    End of the Beginning / God Is Dead? / Loner / Zeitgeist / Age of Reason / Live Forever / Damaged Soul / Dear Father

    Thirteen songs the record company requested, for no clear reason, so 13 was the album's title. The deluxe edition has extra songs, the Best Buy edition has extra songs - I hate things muddying the waters. As far as I'm concerned, '13' is '8'. Besides, with these 8 songs lasting 53 minutes, more is surely less? Yes, Ozzy is back for the first time since 1978, but original drummer Bill Ward is not. Contractual issues the official reason stated, but since Bill Ward hasn't appeared on a Black Sabbath album since 1983's 'Born Again', perhaps there are other reasons for his absence? Thirty years later, how good is his drumming, exactly? Sadly, we will probably never know. You would be about 60 or 70 years old to really get the original Black Sabbath, because yes, it really was that long ago, so 20 or 30 somethings speculating that the return of Ozzy to Sabbath 'should' yield similar results to their first five albums or so, literally, haven't lived. Oh, we can all get excited and stuff like that, but listening to Black Sabbath from start to finish, through all their lineups, should give some perspective. This isn't a follow-up to 'Never Say Die', this is a follow-up to the 'Heaven & Hell' album released with Dio back in 2009, as that's the last thing Iommi and Butler did.

    Ozzy's vocals are fairly thin, auto-tuned in places, but then, almost every singer out there is auto-tuned to some extent, these days. I mean, he's lived more lives than most of us, so the fact he doesn't sound exactly the same as he did in 1970 is inescapable. Bill Ward, regrettably, isn't here. It would have been nice to have the proper, original, group - the drummer from Rage Against The Machine, chosen by producer Rick Rubin. He bangs things when he's meant to, doesn't show off, doesn't add to the creativity, but he's doing a professional job that will look good on his CV. Actually, a little piece of information. I have listened to four Black Sabbath albums today, all day, and wrote about them. The tail end of the Tony Martin era, and the Heaven And Hell album. As such, I don't expect '13' to be any great shakes, I'm listening to it not compared to earlier Ozzy Sabbath albums, but the previous three albums they put out. In that respect, this represents a massive return to form.

    Too often these days, bass guitar players lack imagination, are not needed, follow the drummer, - mixed so quietly you cannot hear them. The star of '13' musically is Geezer Butler, he's on the form of his life, holding this project together and giving it increased credibility. The opening eight minute long 'End Of The Beginning' after a mischievous start, moves through several phases sounding for all the world exactly what it is - a 21st century updating of the original Sabbath formula. Yes, Rubin hasn't allowed air into the sound, and echo seems to be a word he doesn't understand, yet this is a thoroughly exciting track. 'God Is Dead', clichéd Sabbath lyrics aside, is the only song here that should have been a single, as the likes of 'Loner', Zeitgeist' and 'Age Of Reason' in particular are entirely style over substance, that Geezer Butler bass and Tony Iommi guitar being decoration on a cake that doesn't actually exist. The riffage of 'Live Forever' is enjoyable, a speedy number and then we skip past 'Damaged Soul' to reach the best song, 'Dear Father', which escapes the 'Rick Rubin, sound like your début album' production curse, to be something much more.

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    Readers Comments

    Patrick Toledeo, Spain
    I've read a lot about this album, I've got it on in the background now ! Some people can't be pleased some can, I'm one of them ! I've got a ticket to see them in Belfast later this year and can't wait. This album has that heavy raw sound that I like from sabbath, big guitar chords, brilliant bass lines and solid druming, in all I think mr Rubin's has done a good job, Ozzy is sounding well(for me!). So, never say die(pardon the pont!!) !

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    this page last updated 20/07/13

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