Doom metal pioneers, and masters of "the riff," Black Sabbath, have dropped their highly-anticipated release 13. For the serious metal fan, Sabbath needs no introduction, and because I assume my readers are "serious metal fans," I will provide no introduction. I couldn't do this legendary band justice if I tried!
The songs found on this record are heavy, well composed and well recorded. There is an excellent flow from track to track, and each track demonstrates that the three members of Sabbath can still dominate the riff. Three members of Black Sabbath...this is where my problems with this record, and the band, begin. We all remember very vividly how the band ostracized Bill Ward and we witnessed him being discarded by the wayside, both physically as the drummer of Black Sabbath and historically (Bill Ward being erased from all Sabbath's photographs). This public shaming of Bill by the remaining three original members came off as childish, immature and unnecessary. Furthermore, it left die-hard fans asking, "Why"? However, remaining optimistic, fans anticipated the return of Vinnie Appice, but he was never consulted. The drummer picked to record this record was Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine notoriety, but I'll discuss his selection in more detail later. The fire and passion of Bill Ward's drumming is absent from this release and any Sabbath fan can hear that something is missing regarding these new songs.
I personally felt no heart while listening to this record. I had no desire to headbang (let alone bob my head to the beat). All I heard while listening to this record was a band writing a new album to cash in on their name and notoriety, which resulted in a very stale, unimpressive and bland feeling on the listening end. Sabbath also seems to be ripping off their own songs on this record. For example, the opening track, "End of the Beginning,"seems very similar to the classic "Black Sabbath" off their very first record. Both structurally and dynamically, all I could think back to while listening to this track was "Black Sabbath." Secondly, the band pulls a similar stunt with the song "Zeitgeist." Rather than hear the song for what it is, all I could think back to was 'Planet Caravan" of Paranoid fame. Because of the two instances described above, the only thought to enter my mind upon the conclusion of this record was "cash cow."
Regarding the production of this record, the only complaint I have is the guitar solo towards the end of "End of the Beginning" is mixed quite obnoxiously over the vocal line (on most records you listen to, when a solo and vocal line join together, the vocals usually take the predominant seat in the mix, but what do I know?). Other than this one personal peeve, the album sounds impeccable. Rick Rubin has done another phenomenal job at the mixing desk! Nothing more needs to be said regarding this outstanding audio engineer and his great catalog of work.
Brad Wilk is known for his extensive work with hard rock outfit Rage Against the Machine. Many Sabbath fans were taken by surprise when he was announced as the drummer for this record (I was among those fans). I think Brad does a great job on this record, but I have to admit, I feel bad for the guy, and here's why. He wasn't on Sabbath's radar until Rubin recommended him, making it clear that if it weren't for Rubin, someone else probably would be on this record. Secondly, he was not offered to join the band before or during the recording of the record (something that probably won't happen even after the official release) and he is listed as "Guest/Session" on Metal Archives. Thirdly, when (and if) Sabbath hits the road in support of 13, I feel Brad Wilk will not be joining them onstage. Conclusion? I feel Brad was used by the band for their own personal gain, and no musician – especially one as well-known and respected as Brad – should be subject to that treatment.
13 marks a return for Black Sabbath, but a return for the sole purpose of cashing in on the Sabbath name and legacy. The album has no heart, no Bill Ward (or Vinnie Appice) and fails to grasp and hold the listener in interest. The records of the Osbourne and Dio era effectively drown 13 (is this a surprise?). One can state that this record stands alongside (or slightly above) the Martin era records, but even the Martin era records are drowned by the Osbourne and Dio era records, so this comparison in itself fails 13. Here's my advice. Give this record a once over and upon the conclusion of 13, dust off those old Master of Reality, Paranoid, Vol. 4 and Sabotage records for the real magic, and remember Black Sabbath as they were, not as the childish, immature band they have become.
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