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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Black Sabbath - "13" - ALBUM REVIEW

Genres: Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Classic Metal

Top Tracks: End Of The Beginning, Age Of Reason, Live Forever

Apart from being one of the most iconic bands in the history of Hard Rock, Black Sabbath established themselves as one of the first heavy metal acts during the early to mid-seventies. From the beginning of their career, the band was singled out as a unique act due to their fantastic musical abilities, their songwriting, their HEAVY hooks and of course the ever so polarizing, Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy is one of the most famous rockstars in the entire world and this will be the first Black Sabbath album with Ozzy on vocals since 1978. Personally, I've thought that Ozzy's voice defined this band. He was a fantastic singer in the 70's with Sabbath and his solo career just never felt the same to me.

Another notable personnel change on this new album is the absence of longtime Sabbath drummer and living legend, Bill Ward. Ward, who layed down some of the best classic metal fills ever during Black Sabbath's golden period, refused to re-join the other original members of the band due to contractual issues. So instead, Black Sabbath brought on Rage Against the Machine's drummer, Brad Wilk to play on the record. Now while I will note that Wilk is a fantastic drummer and probably one of the few drummers that could pull off a gig this daunting, he is no Bill Ward and as a drummer, I feel this reunion is somewhat incomplete.

Upon the release of the single "God is Dead?", I can't lie, I was completely disappointed with Black Sabbath. The song was slow, the hook was boring, Ozzy's vocals were so random and all over the place, and overall it sounded lazy. It made me question why Black Sabbath came back in the first place. Do they want to make music or make money? This single led me to believe the latter was more likely.

Somewhat reluctantly, I listened to 13 and I was incredibly conflicted. I didn't know what to think. This was because each and every second of this album embodied two completely different vibes and song-styles. The first was a really slow, brooding, ominous, almost hellish type of style. It was almost as if Black Sabbath was trying to sound like current metal bands which simply isn't their style, so naturally I was opposed to this sound. It bored me quite a bit. However, due to the long length of some of these songs, they often had seperate parts where the tempo would increase, the band would jump into a faster-paced 3 over 4 jam and the music was epic. It reminded me of music from Paranoid back in 1971.  The problem was that these moments came by so rarely that I found myself listening to really slow, sludgy, rock that sputtered through.

I also thought Ozzy's vocals kind of, well... sucked. I don't know what other way to put it. His voice certainly isn't the same as it was during the 70's and that's to be expected but, his melodies are very monotonous and his screams are very dispassionate. Half of the time it sounds like he is not even remotely speaking. Black Sabbath advertised Ozzy Osbourne's return to the band as a reason to buy this album but they aren't as good as I thought they would have been. That being said, drummer Brad Wilk sounds excellent, guitarist Tony Iommi's guitar parts and solos are very good. Overall, the production value of 13 is excellent. Rick Rubin, the producer, usually does great work and this is no exception.

To me the main problem with 13 is the songwriting. For example, songs seem to build too long to the climaxes and that can lead to boredom within listeners. This album is 8 songs long but 53 minutes in total. That should spell it out. The stand-out for me  is Live Forever. This song is fun, it's heavy and it's angry. It's everything metal should be in one song and it's less than five minutes long! Seriously, I don't understand why Black Sabbath felt the need to write 7 minute long pieces that would have been as intriguing if not more so had they been reduced in length. Some of the songs roll on too long and don't have enough interesting elements to keep the listener hooked during these slower parts.

Overall, 13 is not a terrible album. It sure as hell is not a classic album and yet again, anyone who tries to make comparisons to classic Black Sabbath works is a moron since they are much older and frankly, a bit more out of touch. This reunion should get fans excited and that's really the point I think. However, the album to me feels a bit cursory, and the songs feel elongated to mask their incompleteness. I wasn't really expecting much out of this LP and I didn't get much. Die-hard Sabbath fans will love this album no matter what the hell it sounds like, but the fans like me and most people around today who weren't around when Black Sabbath stormed the Hard Rock Scene in the 70's won't fully appreciate this as much.