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Black Sabbath

 

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3.70 | 182 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
3 stars In listening to this, the first Black Sabbath studio album with Ozzy Osbourne in 35 years (I'm not counting the two studio tracks that were tacked onto Reunion), it's impossible to escape one overwhelming impression: everybody involved REALLY wanted this to sound like a classic Black Sabbath album. This isn't necessarily for the best, as the ways in which they succeed at this and the ways in which they fail at this each undercut the album in their own way. On the one hand, nods to the band's past abound, both in general stylistic imitations of older material and in occasionally coming very close to directly plagiarizing themselves. On the other hand, Ozzy clearly sounds like an old man trying to imitate his younger self, and more importantly the album (as many people have noted) is mixed far too loudly to properly capture the atmosphere the band's classic albums had at their best. Those albums had often been loud and heavy by the standards of their day, but there was enough space in the mix to lend a sense of mystery to the sound, whereas everything here is so loud and in-your-face that that aspect of the band's sound is completely lost. Chalk it up to another Rick Rubin special.

Then again, if Ozzy and Tony and Geezer (Bill Ward didn't contribute for various reasons) really felt the strong need to make another Black Sabbath album together, this approach was probably the best of the realistic options. Ozzy and Tony had each had ample opportunity to try different approaches since parting ways, and I think it would be very generous to say that the results for each had been "mixed." Making a deliberate stab at imitating their style from 40 years previous may be artistically disappointing in that it would limit the ceiling of what this project could deliver, but it would also significantly limit the floor, and given that this approach also represented the chance to make a truckload of money, I'm perfectly ok with them taking this route. At the very least, Tony lived up to his part by writing plenty of great riffs, which he hadn't always done since Ozzy left, and it's nice again to have so many parts with Tony clearly in one channel and Geezer in the other.

The oddest feature of the album is just how long some of the tracks last; the album takes up 53 minutes in a mere 8 tracks. It's as if, among all of the other features the band decided to pull in from its classic period, the band decided they really needed to include "epics" along the lines of the longer tracks from Vol. 4 or Sabotage, and there isn't always a lot of justification for this. "God is Dead," for instance, lasts a whopping 9 minutes, but however good some of the riffs might be, I feel like this could have been easily reduced down to 5. "Age of Reason" has a killer riff of its own, but it's not enough to justify its 7- minute length either. There are long tracks that more-or-less deserve their full running times, though. The opening "The End of the Beginning" starts off as a hilariously blatant rip- off of "Black Sabbath" (both in the riff and in the nervous drumming), but it quickly spins off into a completely different (and kinda awesome) riff before growing into a guitar-frenzied passage that occasionally sounds like "Looking for Today" but only a little bit. "Damaged Soul" is a full-fledged 8-minute slow metal blues, with Ozzy playing some decent harmonica, and given that the band really hadn't done anything bluesy after the debut, I'm very happy to hear them go back in this direction for one track. The closing "Dear Father" also stands out with crushing primary and secondary riffs (there's a riff starting around the 3:00 mark that kicks a tremendous amount of ass, and there's a faster one after it that drives the song to its end), and it's kinda funny how the album closes with the same rainfall/chime sample that started off the debut album.

The other three tracks are a "Planet Caravan" imitation ("Zeitgeist") that isn't as great as the original but still kinda pretty, and a pair of five-minute decent riff-based heavy rockers ("Loner," "Live Forever") that could have blended right into the band's classic period (with different production, obviously). All told, this mix of decent-to-good tracks, hurt some by the excessive loudness and the blatant retreading, earns a ***, but it turns out that the version I have has four bonus tracks, and they're really good (almost enough to make me think about boosting this to ****). My favorite of the lot, and my favorite of all of the tracks from this album, is "Methademic," which grows from a quiet acoustic introduction into a speedy thrash-y rocker with lots of guitar texture in the verses and a killer riff in the breaks, with the best vocal melody of the album by a long shot. "Peace of Mind" is built around a riff where the guitar drops out at the end to highlight the bass (before speeding up in the second half), and if Vol. 4. had this song instead of, say, "Cornucopia" or "Snowblind," I'd think more highly of that album.

"Pariah" is a little weaker, but it has its own share of good ideas (and it has more contrast in the sound than a lot of the material from the main album does), such as the riff that plays when Ozzy sings the hilarious Sabbath-y chorus of "I'm your pariah, for your desire, ain't no Messiah, just your pariah." And finally, "Naivete in Black" is not an original song title for the band, but the song is nothing like its predecessor, reminding me more of something like "Neon Knights" than of an Ozzy-era track, and the blending of past styles works well here. I guess what fascinates me most about these four tracks, and consequently helps me like them so much, is that they strike me as tracks where the band backed off from its deliberate attempts to sound like its classic self, but in the process managed to capture the spirit and quality of its classic self far better than elsewhere; after all, at the time they were making those albums, Black Sabbath didn't yet know what the classic Black Sabbath sound was, and they were just making music the best that they could. The decision to relegate these tracks to bonus tracks that are only available in some editions baffles me.

If you like classic Black Sabbath, you'll probably like this album, but it's also unlikely that you'll regard it as important as the best albums from that era after you've listened to this three times. Still, I do rate it the main album as the equal of Vol. 4, and the version with the four bonus tracks slightly higher; given that my initial reaction upon hearing of an impending new Black Sabbath album was to brace myself that I'd give a ** rating, this outcome makes me very happy. It's a little unjust to live in a world where this got tons of press while the 2013 Deep Purple album Now What?! was ignored, but them's the breaks I suppose.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |

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