Note: The views within this review may offend some diehards, are solely those of Nate of the Living Dead, and may not reflect the ideas of his Forbidden Magazine cohorts.
We all have those heartfelt stories about the times when we were first introduced to the music that has had the most influence, good or bad, on our lives. Personally, I viewed my parents’ vinyl collection as a legendary, gloriously mysterious treasure trove of unheard wonders and childhood amazement. My initial exposure to those records began when I was probably five or six years old. The sounds of some I viewed as completely expendable…if not completely horrid, while resorting to the album art alone for any sort of entertainment (see The Who’s Quadrophenia), while the visual aspects of others totally threw me for a loop when I actually heard what was on the recording (see Kiss’s Dressed To Kill and Alive II). Meanwhile, there were a few records I can honestly say absolutely frightened me to the very core of my impressionable little kid being. I can still vividly recall memories of the day I jumped off the school bus and ran like hell to the house, bursting with anticipation to hear the “band of the day”…Black Sabbath. I had previously designated the debut album and Paranoid to be that day’s after-school soundtrack, and in doing so, I unknowingly ripped open the blood-soaked floodgates to immerse myself in the vast world of metal in general. Those two records scared the shit out of me, and I found myself loving every second of it. I still remember how much trouble I had picking my jaw up from the floor as the opening of “Iron Man” erupted from the speakers.
Through the years, my love for Sabbath, especially the band’s earlier recordings, has stayed strong. I consider myself lucky to have witnessed the full band, with Bill Ward intact, at a few of their Ozzfest performances in the 90’s. However, as with the vast majority of the bands we all know and love, I believe there comes a time when the proverbial well seems to have been sucked dry and people just need to call it a day for the sake of everyone’s well-being. I refrained from jumping to any sort of expectations before actually hearing this record, but it almost pains me now to say and feel that in the case of metal heroes Black Sabbath, the time to throw in the towel has arrived.
The Rick Rubin-produced 13 is the first Sabbath record to feature Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, and Geezer Butler together since 1978′s Never Say Die. Surprising twist: taking the often-ripped-off-by-Sharon Bill Ward’s place behind the kit, is former Rage Against The Machine drummer, Brad Wilk. Instrumentally, 13 bears the band’s trademark blues-doom trade-off, and is a pristine example of just what made Iommi and Butler household names in the realm of heavy music. It’s that aspect that is essentially the only thing saving the record from total review rejection here. There are passages that most definitely recall the greatest points of the band’s history, but that still doesn’t seem like enough to keep the ship afloat. If it were somehow possible to dissect and amputate a big amount of the record’s somewhat tiresome 53-minute span, make Ozzy’s vocals not come across as simultaneously worn-out and massively overpowering (“Zeitgeist” appears to be the only real, complete exception to that notion), and actually have Bill Ward on drums…and maybe put it all into a time machine back to at least the late 70’s for flavor and authenticity, maybe then 13 would be a solid, kick-ass record.
It’s greatly understandable that much has taken a toll on the band through the years, and it would be stupid to expect Black Sabbath’s 2013 effort to be anywhere near as amazing as the records that first stoked the flame. But it’s like that old saying goes…some things are better left alone. It’s undeniable that these guys are pioneers, but a new record isn’t really necessary to keep the Sabbath legacy alive. Being someone that’s well aware of Rubin’s past production efforts with the likes of Slayer and Danzig, it’s hard to believe that everything possible was done to keep 13 from being an unlucky number for Black Sabbath. But, it’s only realistic to assume that only so much can be done to salvage what seems to be past it’s due date. While the new record isn’t a total loss, it looks like someone’s gonna be sticking to the classics.