Critical Voices: Black Sabbath, 13

August 26, 2013

All hail Black Sabbath, the progenitors and titans of heavy metal! With original frontman Ozzy Osbourne leading the band, the legends of rock just put out their most potent and malevolent work in decades.

Through the guidance and input of guru-producer Rick Rubin, Sabbath returned to its roots, attempting to record an album like its self-titled 1970 debut. This conscious reaching for the past certainly shows up across the LP. Several songs’ structure, notably “End of the Beginning” and “God Is Dead,” showcase the multi-idea nature of early Sabbath songs like “War Pigs” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep.” While lyrically unified, these songs seem to be made up of the music of two or three smaller songs. The return of harmonica highlights Sabbath’s blues roots, which Osbourne pairs with a belting, demonic solo in “Damaged Soul.”

Geezer Butler returns as primary lyricist for the album, and, while he admitted to running out of things to write near the end of the original run, time away seems to have recharged him—well, almost. There are only a couple lyrical blunders on the disc, like the cringe-worthy line “You don’t want to be a robot ghost,” in “End of the Beginning,” and the entirety of  “Loner.” But beside these, 13 is lyrically great, with a superb return to the sci-fi, fantasy, and philosophy mix of the first Sabbath albums.

Tony Iommi remains, as always, one of rock’s great riff masters, spinning a multitude of head-banging worthy riffs on the LP. From light and dancing to chugging and thundering, Iommi’s riffs are still the envy of guitar players across the globe. Combined with Geezer’s ripping bass lines and Brad Wilk’s syncopated, funky-yet-hammering drumming, the music on 13 is the tightest Sabbath has sounded in years.

13 even ends in, essentially, the most perfect way possible. The last 40 seconds of closing track “Dear Father” is the same rain and church bell audio that begins “Black Sabbath” on their first album. I cannot think of a more poetic way to end an album.

Voice’s Choices: “God is Dead,” “Zeitgeist”


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