Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Black Sabbath - 13 (2013)

I've been trying to figure out just what I want to say about this album and how to describe why it is important to me that I finally have it in my hands right now. I was one of those pessimists who said that I wouldn't believe any of the rumors about an album happening until I was holding the damn album in my hand.

Well, here it is. At last. I wasn't born until 1990 so by all rights I can't say I've waited for decades for this album. I've only been a Sabbath fan since I was about 13 or so. Not even ten years, really.

I was even too young to remember when Metallica cut their hair and not even alive when my Stephen King books were released. I never understood or cared about the whole NAPSTER thing. The albums and books and movies that I consider to be the most significant to me are older than me. I admit this got me teased a bit when I was younger. Listening to Rush's New World Man on cassette on the school bus in 2007 wasn't really hip. Typically, I had more in common with teachers than a lot of students I knew in terms of taste in music or movies.

And I always memorized the things I really wanted to experience. Reading about Sabbath's history and studying it was the closest I could get to experience it. Each word was a treasure to me. It made me feel like I had more of a right to call myself a die hard Sabbath fan even though Sabbath had barely done anything at all during my lifetime. When someone said to me, "Hey, I saw Sabbath back in such-and-such year," when I was younger I'd nod and smile and be kinda pissed. Like it was somehow my fault to have been born in 1990 instead of 1964 or something like that.

Of course, it's silly to say things like "I was born in the wrong era." And that's not exactly what I'm trying to imply. I'm merely stating that the things I want to experience are things I can never quite experience in the way that others have. The converse is true as well, though. I have experienced something that maybe a lot of folks won't be able to experience.

And that is a new and possibly final Sabbath album I can enjoy for many years to come.

There is a lot of mileage between 1978 and 2013. 35 years. Out of all the shit Ozzy and Iommi and the others have gone through the fact that any of them are still alive is miraculous. The fact that they aren't all strapped into wheelchairs in some old folks home is even more miraculous.

In that time, both Ozzy and Sabbath had successes and several failures and missteps. Trust me, 13 does not damage Sabbath's or Ozzy's legacy any more than say Forbidden or MTV's The Osbournes did. If there is anyone who truly believes that this album will damage their legacy then they don't know shit about their Sabbath and Ozzy history.

This album features three old guys and one comparative newcomer who are doing what they like and doing it in a way that is obviously much different than the way it was done in 1975. It's 35 years, folks. If you say this album is nothing like Paranoid... then I'd say obviously you would be correct. Tell me, what were you expecting? Paranoid Part 2? This album could never in a million years be Paranoid Part 2 because it is impossible to create a sequel to a moment in time.

And that's really what it comes down to. There is no way anyone today regardless of how talented they are can recreate something that happened 35 years ago. When it comes to movies or books or anything really. Just like it's impossible to recreate a movie like Casablanca. Sure you can remake the story, but you aren't just dealing with subject matter or a stylistic approach; you are also dealing with the feeling of being in a moment of time and that feeling cannot be replicated unless you just happen to have a time machine handy. It's an organic thing and any attempt to replicate it is by it's very nature inferior. Lightning may strike the same place twice but never at the same time in the exact same pattern. You just can't copy that.

What's past is set in stone. 13 is not of the past and therefore it is made the only way it could have been made today. I just can't find it in me to compare it to this Sabbath album or that Sabbath album because the technology and the sound is so different. The only album you could really compare it to is maybe Heaven & Hell's The Devil You Know because they are at least of the same era.

Production-wise, I'd say this album is easily the best Sabbath has ever sounded. Ozzy struggles a bit, but he makes the best of what he has and it works pretty well in the context of the album. Ozzy's been struggling for years with singing, but Rick Rubin gets an honest performance out of him in the studio. While I do like some of Ozzy's recent cheesefest songs like Let Me Hear You Scream and I Don't Wanna Stop, I can say that just about every song here blows the last few Ozzy solo albums away. It's easily his best singing effort, solo or otherwise, since No More Tears.

Iommi is in top form here as we all knew he would be. In spite of his cancer diagnosis and subsequent chemo treatments, the man can still riff better than anybody else out there today. His solos are great, too. He's always been good at knowing when to play flashy and when to hold back and just keep riffing.

Geezer Butler may not have a signature riff to match N.I.B. or even Master of Insanity, but his grounding and pounding bass playing is a welcome blessing. Again, in case you slept through The Devil You Know, you can easily see that Geezer is still one of the greats at holding down the fort while playing outside the box and giving each song its own little flair.

Brad Wilk is good, too. He may not have the experience with Geezer or Iommi that Ward had, but he does a serviceable job. Could Ward do better today? I don't know. I don't know if he can still play. I know Ozzy struggles, but a lead singer can struggle and get away with it. That's why most of 'em aren't opera singers. The drummer doesn't just hold the fort, but actually builds it from the ground up. I know I would have preferred a Sabbath alumnus like Vinny Appice, Eric Singer, or Bobby Rondinelli, but I think that the Sab ones didn't do too bad with Brad Wilk. I'm just glad it wasn't somebody from too deep within the Ozzy camp.

If Bill Ward not being on this album really ticks you off then it wouldn't matter if they got the ghost of John Bonham on the skins, I suppose. But you'd be doing this album and yourself a disservice by ignoring it just for that. Wilk brings a swing to the album that it wouldn't have had otherwise.

Rick Rubin is another name that should be mentioned with this album. A fair amount of people claim he dropped the ball with Metallica's Death Magnetic and maybe he did and maybe he didn't, but that has nothing to do with what he did with Black Sabbath. Apples and oranges, folks. 13 is the best production a Sabbath album has had since Martin Birch produced 1980's Heaven and Hell.

It's a sleek and pristine album. No, it doesn't quite have that us-against-the-world desperation of the first few Sabbath albums, but then if you're in your mid-'60's and you still feel that way then chances are that you'll probably drop dead from a stress-induced heart attack very soon. If you haven't already.

This is an album by a group of guys who are getting together for what could possibly be one last hurrah. And they are having a little bit of fun playing around with their past works, too. The rain at the end of Dear Father and the re-write of Planet Caravan in the form of Zeitgeist are all nice nods to days of old. Maybe it's a little cheesy and the more pessimistic among you might consider it to be more of a blatant "cash-in," but if so then I'd say you really shouldn't take things so seriously. No, this album isn't worth waiting 35 years for, but then again nothing short of a soul mate or peace on earth or the second coming is worth waiting that long for. Get over it.

Time will tell how this album holds up, but this isn't the 1970's and these bizarre things called rock n roll and heavy metal are way out of their infancy. What made Paranoid so groundbreaking now looks almost mundane by the sheer passage of time. I highly doubt that the Sab ones thought that so many would try to follow in their footsteps and branch out to form this burgeoning genre called metal. Nothing is quite so  legendary anymore. 35 years and countless Sabbath clones and homages later... 13 is not quite so groundbreaking and if you want this album just for that then you'll be disappointed.

But if you want some good tunes that recall days of old while mixing with the sound of the new then you couldn't go wrong with 13. It's a good addition to the Sabbath catalog and easily their best since Mob Rules. And much better than Technical Ecstasy or Never Say Die. Of course, just about every other Sabbath album is better than those two anyway.

It's new Sabbath, people, and God bless the Sab ones for making it happen.



  1. I'm very happy with the way this album turned out. I'm still digesting the album but I think that a year or two from now and beyond, we will still look favorably on this album.

  2. I like every song on this album.

    As far as the bonus tracks go, I like them too but they have a little different vibe to them, don't they? They are not quite as doomy.

  3. I'm still listening to this and have a couple more comments. First off, I'm impressed (as always) with Geezer's lyrics. I think it's one of the underrated aspects of Black Sabbath that we just kind of take for granted because the musical combination of Geezer and Tony is so powerful. Geezer's likes to write about social issues and can come at religion from all kinds of different angles (like putting the completely opposite "After Forever" and "Lord Of This World" on the same album). As far as the lyrics on 13, "Dear Father" is some heavy shit. All of the lyrics on 13 are interesting and are perfect for Tony's heavy riffs.

    Secondly, I guess I've heard 13 enough that I can pick my 3 favorite songs (I like them all, so this could change at any time). They are "Dear Father," "Live Forever" and "Zeitgeist" (even though it sounds like Planet Caravan, I still think it's pretty awesome). The other ones all run a closer 4th. "Methademic" is my favorite bonus track. By the way, I heard there may be a couple more bonus tracks coming on a Japanese edition - just a rumor but a believable one)

    1. I think Age of Reason is my fave at the moment followed closely by Damaged Soul and Naivete in Black. Really enjoy them all though and I have always thought that songs Solitude and Planet Caravan were all great side roads on a Sabbath album. I am glad to see they included a song like that in Zeitgeist. Maybe on their next album they'll give us something in the vein of Laguna Sunrise or Fluff.

  4. I'm a little surprised they didn't do a short instrumental. I think they have at least one instrumental on a majority of their albums.

    I guess this must be a good album if there are 8 songs and when we each picked our top 3, we picked 6 different songs. I really like the two we didn't pick too.