The massively influential Black Sabbath recorded their new record, “13”, after the departure of Bill Ward in 2012. It’s out today, and I sat down to give it a good listen.
The album is produced by the now legendary Rick Rubin, who I was turned via the Red ot Chili Peppers and Slayer, so you know he’s versatile.If you have any doubts about Rubin’s Metal production values, go listen to Reign In Blood again.
Brad Wilk (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, Puscifer) plays the drums on it, which must have been pretty rough, as its a lot of doomy, downtempo stuff, not a lot of room for the faster rolls, or flashier drum show, but plenty of room for MASSIVE hard hits. I can only imagine Wilk’s joy at being able to perform with one of the most influential bands in the heavier genres.
Track 1 – End Of The Beginning
This song gave me a feeling of anticipation. The anticipation of a new Sabbath album, and a tone for what the rest of the songs would be like. The long, droney intro really took me back. Sounds a lot like their classic “Nativity In Black”, and it really got me into a Sabbath frame of mind. The sound is crisp, deep, and heavy. The bass is loaded with growl in the mid frequencies, and bass down below. Classic Sabbath here. No frill, no flash. Just heavy.
2 – God Is Dead? (Single)
Ozzy’s vocals really shine on this one. After seeing him shuffle around on TV in a haze, this song reminds you that OZZY is in fact an awesome vocalist. While he may not show off that much of a range, his voice is the perfect accompaniment to the tunes. Just like the lyrics, and title, his voice has that classic OZZY aloof, nasal, Brit, eerie tone. This is a slower one, and the guitar mostly sits on an arpeggio in between heavy distortion blasts, and a simple chorus. Again, classic Sabbath, thought this one may have felt a little more like a later OZZY solo tune. Also, it seemed to be a personal tune for Ozzy. The lyrics are about a guy who sees all the signs, who knows better, but somehow, still does not believe that God is Dead. I just think Ozzy feels guilty because he helped kill him, I kid.
These lyrics, are a bit telling:
“To safeguard my philosophy
Until my dying breath
I transfer from reality
Into a mental death
I empathize with enemy
Until the timing’s right
With God and Satan at my side
From darkness will come light
I watch the rain
And it turns red
Give me more wine
I don’t need bread
These riddles that live in my head
I don’t believe that God is dead
God is dead”
The most exciting moments in this tune for me were when Ozzy hollers “Alright Now” and “Come On Now”. Total throwback feel, and to me, it felt a bit like an afterthought, like the touch that the song needed in that moment. The bridge picks up again, gets a little faster, a little more aggressive. This tune is okay on its own, but in this album, and only on track 3, it sort of feels too similar to the songs right before it, for me. If this were a set list, I imagine it would be switched up a bit.
4 – Zeitgeist
This tune has a Planet Caravan feel to it, with a nice acoustic guitar opening it up with a bongo, and a fretless bass. The bass is mellower on this one, as fretless tends to be. Hard to tell if it is actually, but it has a bit of that MWAH tone that fretless tend to get. I assume that’s Wilk on the conga, doing his best to hold back. Beautiful balance between the guitar bass and vocals, but that little drum in there just seems weird to me. The chorus on the vocals definitely helps with the old school feel.
Main thing on this one, the outro guitar solo. Just so sweet, beautiful, and you don’t need to be into heavy metal to appreciate it. Not screeching, just subtle, smooth, and full of feel. Excellent playing there at the end, really just perfectly executed.
5 – Age Of Reason
A head bobber. Back to heaviness in a big way, and has a real 70’s feel to it. Almost Iron Man, but with a better bridge, full of awesome bass runs and a little lead crescendo to spice it up. Some distonal note combinations give the bridge an interesting feel, with the dissonance shimmering for a second on top of the distortion. Wilk gets to let loose for a second in this one, and he does well to make the most of it! His drums in the little transition chorus are tasteful, not overdone, and really stay with the feel of the record. I actually just emailed my drummer, who is a Wilk fanatic plus a Sabbath fan, and told him he needs to buy this record. He will not be disappointed.
Wailing guitar solo really steps up front on this one and rips. The solo felt like total inspired improvisation, and was done really well. This song’s production really stood out to me, Kudos to Rubin on that, however the actual last note on the tune, sounds a bit out of place. Weird.
6 – Live Forever
Big punchy intro into a mid tempo stomper, Ozzy seems to be singing either about the band, or himself. I love that he casually throws in a “Whatever” in this line.
“Well I Don’t Wanna Live Forever
But I Don’t Want To Die…
I May Be Dreaming or Whatever
I Live Inside A Lie!”
Seems like Ozzy has been hanging out in Hollywood too long. Good thing they got him back in a studio and singing with the group, and not another solo project. Sounds like he needed it too. . .
“Days Pass By Too Soon
Waiting For The Rising Of The Moon
No Escape From Here
Facing Death But Is Your Conscious Clear?”
Simple little song, until you get to the solo about 3/4 of the way through. Toward the end, there is a cool little interplay between the solo and Ozzy, trading bars and jamming a bit. It’s a short song, even at almost 5 minutes long when compared to the other 7 to 8 minute songs that make up most of the album. This one felt a little bit out of place, but that’s probably why its buried down in track 6 spot.
7 – Damaged Soul
In classic Sabbath style, Ozzy sings about all things dark, there isn’t a stanza in here that doesn’t mention descending into hell, or the battle between good and evil, as personified by the Satan and God.
“Death’s hand and the crazy, I can’t stand the light of day
Watching all the victims on their knees as they pray.
God of the almighty never answers their call
Satan is just waiting for the righteous to fall to him.”
Very Dark, very Sabbath, and it does also have a pretty ripping guitar solo toward the end. The most interesting thing to me on this one though, is how the Drums and Bass back up the solo toward the end. Wilk and Butler are ripping, you can hear Butler hit the strings hard enough to get a fat tone out of the bass, and he really lays into it with Wilk. The whole end solo is rivaled by the feel of the rhythm section, and that is really more than I expected. Very good tune.
8 – Dear Father
In the beginning of this track, you get to hear (I think) Butler running his hands up and down the bass neck with the effects on. Whatever that sound is, its heavy and waiting to rip.
Then you get into the lyrics, and they’re dark in a different way. Dealing with an awful father, a life ruined by abuse, the lead character in the tune is telling his father about the wrongs done to him. As the song goes on, you realize it’s not a biological father, it’s a priest. Probably a priest trying to induct a new member to the singing swallows boy’s choir, if you know what I mean.
The song is about accountability, the victim lets the priest know.
“Can you sleep at night?
When you close your eyes, do you think of all the pain from your lies?
Or do you deny, you’re responsible for the victims of the sins you devised?
What you gonna tell them, when they ask you well then?
Is your conscience brewed in your heart?
There is no exception, when you seek redemption
For all the lives that you’ve torn apart!
Your molestations of the cross you defiled
A man once holy, now he spies and reviles
You took possession when confessing my sins
And now you have to face whatever death brings, yeah!
Dear Father, forsaken
You knew what you were doing
In silence, your violence
Has left my life in ruins”
To me, the crazy thing about this, is that it’s probably the darkest song on the record, the most down to earth, and yet, its the one that deals with the evil that men do, not the supernatural struggle between Satan and do gooders. Really poignant at the moment too, and just very interesting lyrics.
The lyrics almost overshadow the song, but toward the end, Sabbath leads us back into a riff worthy of being the last on this album, cuts short, then a nice, deep heavy lightning strike and some rain. It almost felt like it was circling back around to the intro to the song “Black Sabbath”, on their debut self titled album.
All in all, it’s a great record, albeit already very familiar. There isn’t a whole lot of new ground broken, besides maybe Wilk playing so mellow, and the lyrics to “Dear Father” really stood out to me. Other than that, classic Sabbath here. People don;t want to hear Sabbath reinvent themselves. If doom metal has taught us anything, it’s that people want to hear Sabbath. I don’t think this would have been as important of a record back in the Alternative music days, but now with everybody emulating Sabbath’s early work and sludging, droning, or slowing it up, it’s really refreshing to hear the pioneers get back on their collective horse, and remind us why they were so massively influential in the first place.