It’s actually fairly appropriate that Black Sabbath’s new album is titled 13, as 2013 is officially their year after this album’s release. What could have been a colossal failure, one where expectations were placed way too high for a group of musicians in the twilight of their careers, turned into one of the best albums in Sabbath’s catalog and my current frontrunner for album of the year.
From the start, this album grabs you and doesn’t let you go. It is one of the most complete albums of Sabbath’s career as well as one of the most complete albums I have heard in a long time from any artist. The best part is that you can tell that the band mined their entire history to come up with the music for the album. You can hear snippets of old Sabbath, Dio Sabbath and even Ozzy’s solo stuff within the music itself. The band has done such a phenomenal job layering the music as well as the vocals that it’s hard to tell that Bill Ward isn’t present. Yes, Sabbath didn’t need anything but a serviceable drummer because the rest of the band is the best at what they do, but Brad Wilk actually does a great job of filling the gargantuan shoes left by Bill Ward’s departure.
A quick word about Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler. These two musicians are up at the top of the list of greatness in their respective instruments. The fact that they are still doing it this well at their age (and Tony had cancer while they were recording the album no less) is a testament to their ability and their resilience. Seriously, if you haven’t, go listen to the album. Does this sound like a band that is anything but firing on all cylinders? Now realize that all of these guys are in their mid to late sixties. I have no idea how that’s even possible.
I kind of expected the music to be great. I saw Heaven and Hell (Black Sabbath with Dio at the helm) a few years ago and Tony and Geezer were incredible then. What took me by complete surprise was Ozzy. This sounds like, for the first time in years, Ozzy is having fun while making an album. Could that be a substance-induced fun? Maybe. I like to think that it has something to do with reuniting with his former bandmates though. I haven’t heard Ozzy sound this good, and this invested in the album since No More Tears waaaaay back in 1994. It sounds like a second life in terms of creativity was given to the band as a whole, but especially to Ozzy. Almost like he created this record more for himself and not because Sharon said “Ozzy, it’s time to do another solo record” (which I have a feeling was the driving force behind the last two).
I really want to give you some kind of criticism of this record, to even out the review, but whether I’m just being swept off my feet by a band that I never thought I would hear new music from, or I just refuse to think anything bad about a band that I grew up playing way too loud on my parents’ stereo, I just can’t find anything wrong. The album balances the bluesiness of the first album, with the slow plodding doom of songs like “War Pigs” or “Hand of Doom”. This is an incredible album all around. If you can get to a Best Buy, I would also suggest dropping a couple extra bucks to get the album with the exclusive second disc that contains four more tracks that don’t appear on the album proper. The songs are shorter than those that made it on to the main album, but they are no less incredible. This is by far my favorite album of the year, and one that will stay within my car stereo rotation for a long time to come. If this is Sabbath’s swan song, which is probably the case, they are going out at the top of their game.