Iconic. Revered. Pioneers. Influential. Just a few words that describe the legendary Black Sabbath. Add one more. Reunited*. Note the asterisk, however. Vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, and bassist Geezer Butler have teamed up for the first time in 35 years but they did it without drummer Bill Ward. RATM’s Brad Wilk takes over on skins for 13, the Sab 4’s first album of new material since 1978’s Never Say Die! The Rick Rubin produced 13 sounds like Black Sabbath should sound in 2013. It’s been said that Sabbath are guilty of recycling their own riffs here but it’s more a case of Sabbath sounding almost exactly like Sabbath. It’s a trait that has appeared polarizing to critics but what did you expect?
Iommi, the master of the riff, again pens some devastatingly heavy riffage as heard on album opener ‘End is the Beginning’. It’s the kind of tune that spawned the entire doom genre. There’s some cheesy lyrics (and some later as well) but Ozzy’s been sailing those seas for a while now. Single ‘God is Dead?’ keeps with that classic Sabbath feel. The song took a lot of heat when it leaked but over time the track worms its way into the recesses of the brain and makes a home. ‘Loner’ features a catchy, plodding riff and an initially cringe-worthy “Come on now!” from Ozzy. After a few spins it becomes anticipatory. An expected Ozzy-ism. One of many found throughout. ‘Zeitgeist’ is a ‘Planet Caravan’-esque ballad which may have worked better deeper on the album. A bevy of shifts highlight ‘Age of Reason’ leading into the up-tempo ‘Live Forever’, the slow-burning southern crawl of ‘Damaged Soul’ (complete with harmonica) and the crunchy ‘Dear Father’. The deluxe version includes three extra tracks in ‘Methademic’, ‘Peace of Mind’ and ‘Pariah’. They’re a little more solo Ozzy than Sabbath but it still works.
2013 may not be the heyday of the 70s but that doesn’t mean Black Sabbath has to be a shadow of themselves. Iommi still shows why he’s universally respected, Geezer’s bass tone and playing may have never sounded better and while Ozzy may benefit from some studio assistance, it’s still Ozzy. Wilk fills in admirably but one will always long for the swing Ward brings to the kit. No one expects 13 to be Sabbath’s best and it’s not. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s full of killer, yeah some filler, and may be a little too clean but this is Black Sabbath. That earns a lot of slack. After 35 years Geezer, Tony and Ozzy are still a great team. It’s 2013 and this is the Sabbath of today. Embrace it. “Come on now!!”
7 / 10