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Black Sabbath - Born Again CD (album) cover


Black Sabbath


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2.77 | 307 ratings

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4 stars Look at their vague and distant glories concealed in the gloom, the icy fingers of forgotten passions. What's that you're thinking? Progosopher has finally gone off the deep end by giving this album four stars? This, the second lowest rated album of theirs on this site and one of the most reviled in heavy metal history? Well, fear not, I have my reasons. Let's review them. First, the edition. Sometimes I rate an album based on its original form and other times on later forms. It all has to do with the extras. In this case, I am only writing about the two disk deluxe edition. The original release was a disaster, the result of using a low level copy many stages down from the original tapes and just some basic bad mixing. All this has been cleared up. The sound has been rendered clean and with plenty of good dimension. You can actually hear the music now. For example, many of Tony Iommi's solos were so full of buzz you can barely make out what he is playing. Now, each note shines out with the proper distorted tone. Yes, given proper mixing, the album actually sounds good! Next, the cover. Get past it. It's crap. You know it, I know it, and the band knows it. Even the artist who created it knows it and openly admits he slapped it together after a week long bender involving massive amounts of alcohol and controlled substances. The night before it was due. I hope the patrons of this site know better than to judge a work by its packaging. Third, the music in general. Sabbath entered the studio with the idea of making the heaviest album ever. I don't know about ever, but this is a contender. It is certainly one of the heaviest of theirs. The riffs are furious and biting, the rhythms pounding, and the vocals screaming. There are two short atmospheric pieces which I find helps to maintain the threatening mood of the whole. Ah yes, the screaming. Let's talk about the band next and we have to start with Ian Gillan. He once said he was the worst singer Sabbath ever had. I beg to differ. I think he sounds great here. Most will at least acknowledge that Gillan is an odd choice to replace Dio, and I myself was cautiously optimistic when I first heard the news. Some of the songs are typical of his double entendre style to be sure, but he also provides more typical Sabbath-style lyrics. Sometimes he actually sings, but he mostly screams, and nobody screams better. Iommi plays with a brighter tone than the sludgy sounds of the earlier days. I have no problem with that as it brings out the quality of his playing that much more. His leads wail and his riffs bite into the marrow of the listener. This album is not music for the faint of heart. Bill Ward is back, and he adds his own level of drumming madness to the album. Geezer Butler sounds great as usual. Now, the songs. The album opens with the kind of short rocker they had been doing since Sabotage. The song here is Trashed, written by Gillan after he went on a go-cart racing ride and crashed. If there were a church of crash and burn, this song should be its theme. Next, we get the first of two short atmospheric pieces, Stonehenge, dark and gothic. If you had not heard the story, this piece led to them creating a mockup of Stonehenge that was too big for most of the venues they played in, something Spinal Tap satirized on more than one occasion. Disturbing the Priest breaks in suddenly, jarring the listener from the atavistic quiet mood of the previous piece. Iommi's riff here is as sharp as a razor and cuts straight through your cranium. Gillan's screaming pushes the sound deep into your mind. If there was ever a musical assault on the senses, this is it. The lyrics also explore the relation between good and evil, something more common to Sabbath than in any other band Gillan was involved in. The story goes that it was inspired when the local vicar came by to complain about the noise when the band was listening to some playbacks in the country studio they were using. Gillan is positively fiendish on this one. Afterwards, we get the second atmospheric piece, The Dark, which is pure immanent menace. As that one fades out, Zero the Hero fades in. Are those voices? Guitars? Both? One after the other? Hard to tell. Kids, this is the ultimate Sabbath song. Its rhythm is a pile-driver, a steam roller that is going to not only flatten your mind but pound it into the earth so deep you will need a steam shovel to pull it back out. Iommi's layered riffs are full on in your face intimidation. It is the giant hand of evil reaching out of the darkness of your own nightmares to grab you by the ears and rip your head wide open. Didn't I say this music was not for the faint of heart? And his solo is incredible. On the original release it sounds like a hive of bees; here it sounds like the great wicked guitar solo it is. Moving on, we get to something a little more Gillanish than Sabbathy, Digital Bitch. Let's just say it rocks with immense fury and that the lyrics are intelligible on the deluxe edition where they sounded like little more than gibberish on first release. The title track, Born Again is an odd one. It is slow. Iommi's guitar is phased and warbley, and reminds me of nausea. Not a very appealing description, but it is worth listening to. More interesting though, is Gillan's voice. He sings in both low and high registers, and shows us just how good his voice is. He does not have to scream, but he does. Oh my, he does. This is actually one of his best vocal performances. Now, I have heard a lot of Gillan, so I do not say that lightly. The last two tracks, Hot Line and Keep It Warm, are mere rockers. What that means is they are not Sabbath classics but they will rock your face off. That's the original album, but this is the deluxe edition, so there is a whole other disk of extras. The second disk starts with an unreleased track, The Fallen. I understand why they left it off. No, it is not a bad song, but it does not sound like any thing else they have ever done before or since. Yes, it is Sabbath, but it is just different. Then we get an expanded version of Stonehenge, which shows that it really is a cool piece of music. Then the rest of the disc is live from Birmingham. We can truly compare Gillan to his predecessors Ozzy and Dio for he sings several of the classics, including War Pigs, Black Sabbath, Iron Man, and Paranoid, and even a short bit of Heaven and Hell, along with a number of the songs from Born Again. Does he stand up? Absolutely. But he never sounds like the others; he is always nothing more nor less than Ian Gillan. In fact, he seems almost unable to not scream. Whenever a note comes out of his mouth he belts in out and up in range. He does this the whole show and even along with Iommi's more melodic leads. The big surprise is Smoke on the Water. Fans of both Deep Purple and Black Sabbath have to hear this. In fact, the audience sings along the whole song. Then the most amazing thing happens. The audience shouts so loud they almost drown out the band. Now, I know this probably has something to do with the mixing, but the excitement of the audience cannot be doubted. I find this entire disk of extras to enhance the original album, something extras do not always do, and lift it easily into four star range. I know I have written a lot about Gillan in this review, but I think given the fact that he was in the band for so short a time and that his influence on the music was so positive, it warrants extra attention since his presence is one of the biggest arguments against this album. And remember, musically, Sabbath always played within the Blues; having a singer more known for a bluesy style is not so much a stretch as it seems at first. So toss your old version of the album in the trash, recycle it, sell it to some unsuspecting soul, or use it for target practice. Just get rid of it and replace it with this one. The album deserves a second listen, and the deluxe edition is the only way to do it.
Progosopher | 4/5 |


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