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Black Sabbath Headless Cross album cover
3.22 | 243 ratings | 14 reviews | 17% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1989

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The Gates Of Hell (1:04)
2. Headless Cross (6:15)
3. Devil & Daughter (4:32)
4. When Death Calls (6:41)
5. Kill In The Spirit World (4:59)
6. Call Of The Wild (5:09)
7. Black Moon (3:56)
8. Nightwing (remixed by Jeremy Lewis) (6:19)

Total time 38:55

Line-up / Musicians

- Tony Martin / vocals, bass (3)
- Tony Iommi / guitars, co-producer
- Laurence Cottle / bass
- Cozy Powell / drums, co-producer

- Geoff Nicholls / keyboards
- Brian May / guitar solo (4) - uncredited

Releases information

Artwork: Kevin Wimlett

LP I.R.S. Metal ‎- 24 1005 1 (1989, Europe)

CD I.R.S. Metal ‎- 24 1005 2 (1989, Europe)

Thanks to Terra Australis for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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BLACK SABBATH Headless Cross ratings distribution

(243 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of rock music(17%)
Excellent addition to any rock music collection(30%)
Good, but non-essential (34%)
Collectors/fans only (15%)
Poor. Only for completionists (5%)

BLACK SABBATH Headless Cross reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by clarke2001
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars We lost BLACK SABBATH's creativity for good - this one is less than mediocre, crappy that is, bag of clichees wrapped into uninspired riffing. All the song titles (including lyrics) were made of combination of words evil, kill, hell and devil. The music is even worse. I will add an extra star on fact that I actually somewhat enjoyed this thing when I was (much) younger - I can't believe I actually enjoyed that two-tone riff from Headless Cross the song.

This is suitable to fourteen year olds (at least it was in my time), but I won't recommend it to anyone. As I witnessed, 14 year olds have much more taste and knowledge nowadays, at least in our community.

Review by ZowieZiggy
1 stars These times were quite hectic for "Sabbath". Constant line-up changes won't help them to release good work in the late eighties (not talking about great one : these times are definitely gone).

This album stinks.

Fully AOR, useless music. Even the brilliant Iommi is absent for most of it in terms of great guitar breaks. Their new vocalist, Tony Martin who was already present on "The Eternal Idol" is far less convincing here. The title track was aired on MTV (and you can figure it out while listening) but sets the stage for this poor album. The worse being reached with "When Death Calls" : poor vocals, poor songwriting, poor AOR-ish beat. Poor everything. Maybe a good thirty second riff. out of seven minutes.

This whole album is just a (bad) joke. Not even hard-rock any longer. Their great heavy sound ? Forget it ! Prog ? What did you say ?

To mention poor songs is rather an easy task. Pick up any you want. Good moments ? Only two very short ones : the great Iommi soli : "When Death Calls", "Kill In The Spirit World" and to a lesser extend "Nightwing". That's it : a total of ninety seconds.

This extremely bad album will peak at the tenth spot in the UK charts ! (the US were more clever by then : only the 115th position).

In my charts, it is just the worst "Sabbath" album so far. One star. A pure AOR nightmare.

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars When our local FM classic rock radio station M97 aired the Saturday Special featuring Black Sabbath sometime in 2000, I was surprised with the fact that there was a song that reminded me to Rainbow with Dio as lead vocal. I called the radio station on what song they were airing at that time and the announcer said: "Nightwing" by Black Sabbath from "Headless Cross" album. I went to CD shop right away that week and purchased a copy of this album's CD. Once I got it, I repeated playing "Nightwing" many many times until I was about to get bored and I tried other tracks as well. The lead vocal was actually Tony Martin as I thought as Dio before I read the CD sleeve. They share similar vocal quality, I think.

Well, I really enjoy this album in its entirety starting from ambient "The Gates of Hell (1:04)" - "Headless Cross" (6:15) which moves relatively slow with simple rhythm section comprising soft guitar riffs, bass and drums by Cozy Powell. "Devil & Daughter" (4:32) moves the music into more upbeat style with great guitar work, bass guitar and powerful drumming. The interlude part with guitar solo is really cool. "When Death Calls" (6:41) slows down the music and it flows nicely with guitar work and keyboard accompanying Tony Martin's singing. The music then moves into heavier part beautifully with powerful drumbeats by Cozy Powell. "Nightwing" has a catchy melody and very nice flow from start to end. It commences with ambient nuance combining acoustic guitar fills, keyboard and bass solo. It's really an amazing intro, especially when Tony Martin's voice enters the music. The music moves in crescendo with powerful drum work and high register notes delivered nicely by Tony Martin. The combination of guitar riffs as well as guitar solo performed during interlude part are really excellent. I also enjoy the use of acoustic guitar solo during interlude. The drum work delivered by Cozy is also attractive.

Well, forgetting that this is Black Sabbath, just imagine this is another band with this line-up, I really enjoy this album because it has tight composition and excellent performance. I reall fall in love with "Nightwing" since the first time I listened to this song until now, and I also like all songs featured in this album. It's an excellent hard rock album, I would say. Keep on rockin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Review by b_olariu
4 stars I begin saying this is an awesome album, among the best Sabbath albums, no doubt. Who give less than 3 stars must think and listen again, because only Heaven and Hell is better than this one on Sabbath's '80's catalogue. Tony Martin shines on every piece here, delivering some great vocals on Headless Cross, When Death Calls (two absolute stunning pieces), the rest are also good. Is true that this is more straight heavy combined with AOR elements, that doesn't mean is bad, contrary, is quite good. I prefer this one much more than the late '70's albums of the band, Never say die from 1978 is mediocre in every way. So one of my fav Black Sabbath albums, no doubt, every musician did a great job here. I enjoy this album because it has tight composition and excellent performance, and you might say this is a good heavy metal album. 4 stars for sure.
Review by obiter
1 stars No, No, No, No ......

From the heights the mighty have fallen to the depths of despond. If your a Sabbath fan and bought this out of loyalty (like me) you know you got ripped off. Banal mediocrity: the band (whoever they happened to be that week) had lost the battle against the waistband spread and produced this vacuous collection of poor album fillers. This is what I would expect from one of the dime a dozen AOR/Pseudo-Heavy/frizzed hair bands of the 80s.

Years ago I remember liking Nightwing a bit for about a week. Maybe I was just sub-consciously trying to justify spending money on the album.

it's not prog. it's not even Sabbath (as we know it)

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
4 stars Listen for the feet as they pound the land to a tune of thunder

The previous album, The Eternal Idol, constituted the start of a new era in Black Sabbath's history and was also the best that had been heard from the band in a very long time. Headless Cross continues this tradition and takes it even further. The Eternal Idol had introduced the previously unknown but great Tony Martin on vocals and his voice turned out to fit the band's music hand in glove. Martin again does an outstanding vocal performance on this album. Headless Cross introduces top rock drummer Cozy Powell, who appears here for the first time on a Black Sabbath album. Powell, as most people on this site will know, was a fantastic drummer who had just worked with Keith Emerson and Greg Lake before he joined Black Sabbath and before that he was, of course, in Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. Cozy's heavy and powerful drumming really benefited Black Sabbath's sound.

Black Sabbath has always been described as having a heavy, doom laden sound and a strong association with the occult. They were even sometimes accused of being Satanists etc. Ironically, only their debut album from 1970 really fitted this description, subsequent albums dealing more with drugs, madness and sometimes even political themes. However, in some ways Headless Cross can be seen as the natural follow up to that classic debut album. No other Black Sabbath album apart from the debut sounded as dark, heavy and doom laden as Headless Cross and the lyrics here are once again consistently about the occult. The lyrics might be a bit too much for some people with its many explicit references to Satan and for some people they are even almost clichéd Heavy Metal lyrics. Personally I have no problem with this at all. While The Eternal Idol still contained some straightforward albeit very tasteful Hard Rock (as opposed to Heavy Metal), Headless Cross is closer to a pure classic Heavy Metal album with many progressive tendencies. Not counting the opening track, which is a short ambient instrumental setting the mood for the album, Headless Cross consists of only seven songs with the average song length well over five minutes. Tony Iommi came up with some great heavy riffs for this album and for the Prog fan there is a lot to enjoy here with Nightwing, Call Of The Wild, Kill In The Spirit World, When Death Calls and the title track all having distinct progressive leanings. Geoff Nicholls' keyboards are allowed more space on this album than on any of the other albums he contributed to (and he has been with them constantly since 1980). And it is not the cheesy 80's keyboards and stale programmed keyboard patterns like so many other artists were using around this time. Black Sabbath never fell for that stuff! Though there are no actual keyboard solos, the keyboards are present for most of the album's duration mostly in the background.

When Death Calls features a guitar solo by Brian May from Queen. Hearing two of my favourite guitarists together is quite interesting. Nightwing features an acoustic guitar solo, something not heard too often on Black Sabbath albums.

I'm giving Headless Cross five stars, knowing full and well that this music will not appeal to all Prog fans. I consider this album a classic of Prog Related Heavy Metal and, on this website at least, Headless Cross is a much underrated album. Indeed, the whole Tony Martin-era of the band is much underrated, here and elsewhere, and that is especially surprising on a website dedicated to progressive rock, since this is easily the most progressive era of the band since the days of Sabotage and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in the mid 70's. This progression started with The Eternal Idol and culminated with Headless Cross and the next album, TYR. All three of these albums are indeed my favourites post-Ozzy Black Sabbath albums and they are all highly recommended for fans of the heavier side of progressive music, but Headless Cross takes the prize.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Headless Cross is the fourteenth full-length studio album by British heavy rock/ metal act Black Sabbath. A new drummer in Cozy Powell ( Rainbow, Whitesnake, Brian May, Gary Moore...etc) has been added to the lineup and a new bassist in Laurence Cottle as well. Tony Martin is now the lead vocalist in Black Sabbath for the second album in a row which at this point in the band´s history must be considered an achivement.

The music follows much the same formula as the band used on The Eternal Idol (1987). The music is heavy metal with an AOR touch which is mostly due to the use of keyboards in the music. Tony Martin is excellent on this album too. A great asset for Black Sabbath to have a frontman like him. The songs are generally very simple in structure and very much vers/ chorus build. I tend to get a bit tired of that formula but it does work pretty well here ( even though some of the songs are a bit too long IMO). The music on the album has an epic edge to it that I imidiately associate with the european power metal genre and I´m sure many of the bands in that genre that emerged in the nineties had listened to both the Dio and the Tony Martin led Black Sabbath albums for inspiration. There were 8 tracks on the original LP but there´s a bonus track called Cloak & Dagger on some later CD versions. Not on all CD versions though so if you can´t live without this song remember to look for a version where it is present.

The musicianship is excellent but I wouldn´t demand less with the players involved here.

The production which is done by Tony Iommi and Cozy Powell is allright but a bit too eighties sounding for my taste.

Headless Cross is a good album by Black Sabbath but to my ears it´s a bit less inspired than The Eternal Idol. It´s still a 3 star rating though.

Review by Bonnek
3 stars I've always liked the Sabbath period with Tony Martin. The music had a big and heavy epic feel, splendid melodies and admit it, an excellent singer. In the high octave range of metal vocalists, he rules easily.

There is little to remind us this is still Black Sabbath though, a heavy take on Rainbow is more what it sounds like. Especially with Cozy Powell's ever commanding drum sound and Tony Martin's emotive and heavily Dio-influenced voice. Ok, he doesn't have the words 'Rainbow' and 'Evil' and 'Fire' in every track and he goes clearly a tad higher and cleaner, but apart from that, Dio all over.

One of the aspects I used to like about this period is the heavy revulsion it provoked with the legions of Sabbath newbies of the early 90's. "That!? Sabbath!?". I always though that reaction to be extremely amusing. Yes I know, strange humour.

Anyway, much of this stuff is over the edge of unbearable hair metal goofiness. Tracks like Kill In The Spirit World and Call of the Wild are ill-advised to say the least. But at other moments this album rules with its straightforward and direct (not to say overstated) emotional appeal. Headless Cross, Black Moon and Nightwing are massive power metal anthems. A style of music I don't like at all normally, way too derivative and undemanding. But once in a while, it's good to hear some of the songs that started it off.

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars There were two real Black Sabbath versions - Ozzy's time and Dio's time. Last real listenable album was released still with Ronnie James Dio on vocal ("Mob Rules"). After that they started never ending changes of musicians ( can't name it "experiments", they just tried to find a way to survive).

For me, Headless Cross is first listenable album in that long run. Not real return in form, but at least they are doing here what they can do best - playing heavy doom metal with Dio-like vocal and similar sound as in early 80-s.

For sure, is no chance to find something new there - I think they are happy they just returned back what was found years ago! But at least they do it not bad!

Tony Martin is not in a class of Dio, but has similar sounded voice and energy, newcomer Cozy Powell works hard on drums, and you feel it. Tony Iommy solo guitar is as great as usual.

Yes, in some moments you feel that the music is too simple and that musicians even don't try to make it more complex. They just concentrated on heavy sound wave and very competent musicianship.

I am not sure that this album will bring new fans to BS, but at least it will return some of old fans to some interest in their music.

Review by GruvanDahlman
4 stars To be honest, the albums coming after "Mob rules" all suffered a bit. They weren't bad, just not quite as brilliant as previous efforts. All that changed when the band released "Headless cross", the best album post-Dio. The darkness was never the problem with previous efforts, not the heaviness. Those elements are in abundance on "Headless cross" as well. It's merely the fact that the songs are outstanding, not simply great, good or (at best) decent. They are great. Period!

From the opening intro "Gates of Hell" to the majestic title track and all the way to the mysterious, enthralling semi-ballad "Nightwing" Sabbath pulls it off in a haze of inspiration and cohesiveness. "Headless cross" is such a consistent work that it ranks with the best of their albums through out their entire career.

Now, if you're looking for or expecting another "Vol.4" or "Heaven and Hll" you might be in for a disappointment. But if you listen to it as an album of heavy rock or metal you'll find alot to treasure. I guess the best way to describe it would be a mix of "Heaven and Hell" and the title track from "Seventh star". A really great album worthy of alot more exposure and praise.

Latest members reviews

4 stars Further line up changes relating to the band. I have always enjoyed Cozy Powell behind the drum kit so that wasn't a negative to me relating to this release. A visit on the track "When Death Calls" by Brian May intrigued me. Unlike the previous album there are no real throw away tracks on this ... (read more)

Report this review (#940043) | Posted by sukmytoe | Saturday, April 6, 2013 | Review Permanlink

2 stars The band previously known as the godfathers of heavy metal returns again. Gone is their good style from the 1970s. Bands like Trouble, Candlesmass and others would steal their 1970s sound and make a good career of that. That is why it is so sad to listen to albums like Headless Cross. Black Sab ... (read more)

Report this review (#626776) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Sunday, February 5, 2012 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Headless Cross is by far one of Sabbath's greatest albums and is criminally underrated. The album should be seen as more of a 'Hair Metal' effort from the band, who's musical style at the time had been drastically evolving since 1986s 'Seventh Star'. The musical content is virtually floorless; ... (read more)

Report this review (#247171) | Posted by dalekvilla | Thursday, October 29, 2009 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Here is the classic heavy metal album: epic riffs, doom and gloom lyrics, energy and balls. Lyrically this is probably Sabbath's cheesiest offering. Apparently kills are around the bend, I'll watch at the legions cry again to a tune of death and torture, and I'll see a black moon rising. Some o ... (read more)

Report this review (#204588) | Posted by Una Laguna | Friday, February 27, 2009 | Review Permanlink

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