Black Sabbath ‘13’ Album: First Impressions
"Black Sabbath are back!" Fans of the Ozzy Osbourne-led lineup have been waiting to hear that statement for nearly 35 years, and on Wednesday night (April 10) in Hollywood, Calif., a small theater full of select media and VIPs could officially finally make that claim. Thankfully, Loudwire was among the lucky attendees.
Before the songs off the disc were played for those in attendance, Ozzy Osbourne's son Jack welcomed the audience and played a short film on the making of the album that his company created. In it, viewers get to see the giddiness of producer Rick Rubin, who proclaims that he's thrilled to be working on a new Sabbath album that can stand next to the others because, as he says, we'd all played the others so many times in the past. Viewers get to see the camaraderie of the group, which is on display as Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler kid the new guy, Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk, who manned the skins in the absence of Bill Ward. Wilk spoke of what a fun experience it was, as they never took things too seriously. Upon one of his hard hitting drum beats in the studio, a startled Osbourne jumped, proclaiming, "F---ing hell, he just woke me up!"
Also on display was the band's determination to make the album they wanted to make. As Osbourne states in the film, "I'm making an album I like and if someone else likes it, great." He would go on to call the '13' disc "quite possibly the most important album of my career."
That's a lofty expectation to meet, so with that, let's delve into our first impressions of the '13' album with a track-by-track rundown of the album's eight songs:
'End of the Beginning' -- Knowing that Black Sabbath would need an opener to catch people's attention, the band didn't disappoint. 'End of the Beginning' starts off with some wicked Iommi guitar riffs and powerful Wilk drumming, then steps back into a moodier song with Osbourne delivering the opening line, "Is the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end," perhaps laying out what's really on the line with the album. Midway through the track, Butler and Wilk begin a truly swinging groove while Iommi wails on the guitar in a most inspired moment.
'God Is Dead?' -- Fans who caught the recent video tease the band release will recognize this track. Butler's bass work offers a mesmerizing beginning to the song that continues through a majority of the track. Osbourne sings about a bleak future and questions the existence of a higher being, given some of the hard times on Earth. As he belts, "Will someone please tell me is God really dead?," a musical shift begins to set in with Wilk and the band offering a swinging beat while Osbourne exclaims, "Nowhere to run / Nowhere to hide." The song offers a cold end and was met with applause from the audience.
'Loner' -- After two songs that clocked in at eight minutes-plus, 'Loner' comes across as a more traditional rocker. The five-minute track is a fist-pumper and offers a few headbanging moments with Iommi and Wilk really driving the song. Osbourne once again has mortality on his mind, pondering of the titular character, "I wonder if he'll be happy when he's dead." Once again, a thorough rocking to the finish climaxes with a cold ending.
'Zeitgeist' -- After three very hard, very rocking tracks, 'Zeitgeist' sees Sabbath switching gears to a more moody and bluesy style. The song emanates the vibe and feel of the '13' album art, with Osbourne's opening sinister laugh, Iommi's bluesy guitar riffs and what sounds like bongos from Wilk mirroring the stark and desolate imagery. Osbourne adds to the mystique with affected vocals that give off a shimmery quality in his delivery.
'Age of Reason' -- Following the perfectly placed moody shift, the album immediately picks up again. 'Age of Reason' is a seven-minute cut that features several time shifts, Wilk providing some hard-hitting drums reminiscent of Bill Ward or late Led Zeppelin great John Bonham, and an amazing mid-song breakdown that finds the band truly jamming on a groove for all it's worth. Iommi's solo late in the song is a reminder of how great and dexterous he is on the guitar.
'Live Forever' -- This one has the makings of a live favorite, with its fist-pumping, headbanging moments. Once again, the song delves deep into mortality, with Osbourne asking in one line, "Facing death, but is your conscious clean?" Iommi shines on guitar, once again showcasing his prowess and importance in the heavy metal world.
'Damaged Soul' -- Let us not forget Black Sabbath's blues influence that started it all with the band. And if you do, 'Damaged Soul' and the following previewed track 'Dear Father' will be a great reminder of what they can do. The song starts out rather trudgingly, with guitars reminiscent of early Sabbath, but by the end of the song the full band is in on a bluesy roadhouse jam that would make some of their late '60s / early '70s peers proud.
'Dear Father' -- The bluesy but hard rock feel carries over into 'Dear Father.' Butler's bass has a little extra filth on this one, and Osbourne offers the tortured message, "Dear father / Forgive me / I know just what I've done / In silence / Is violence / Will leave your life in ruin." The song comes to a fierce climactic end, finishing out with a thunderous lightning strike, the sounds of rain and a faint bell heard off in the distance.
Upon first listen, it's clear that Black Sabbath's '13' will be a standout metal album of 2013. Fans will hear a lot of what has made the band legends in the first place while experiencing the freshness of some new music. At the end of the session, Osbourne, Iommi and Butler made a surprise guest appearance. They were greeted with cheers and thanked the audience for listening. There should be plenty more applause coming their way once the '13' album arrives on June 11. The disc is available for pre-order here.