There is no need to introduce the most awaited metal comeback release of the year, because everything has already been said. So let’s head straight to the music written and performed by Ozzy Obsourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and session drummer Brad Wilk (of Audioslave and Rage Against The Machine fame).
After only a few seconds, it’s as if you were back in 1980 and the band had never parted ways with Ozzy Osbourne. All early Black Sabbath trademarks are still there. Ozzy Osbourne’s vocals sound imperfectly perfect, and haven’t changed a bit during all these years, despite all the alcohol and drug abuse. Tony Iommi’s slow-motion signature riffs are depressive and heavy as always, and the bass guitar play by Geezer Butler is solid but somewhat overly conspicuous. In a few tracks, the bass guitar is too dominant. But that’s the only flaw of the production signed off on by Rick Rubin. In fact, the production sounds grounded and timeless, not too modern and loud as on Metallica’s Death Magnetic for example. Traditional Black Sabbath fans should feel relieved by now. The drum play by Brad Wilk is well-integrated into the band’s sound, but also sounds a little bit shy and slowed at some moments. A more dynamic and unique touch would have been an interesting addition, but the way it has turned out, his drumming performance is rather close to the skills of Bill Ward.
I feel that the album tries too venture too far back to the early days of the band. The riffs in the dragging and poorly-chosen opener “End Of The Beginning” immediately remind me of the legendary “Black Sabbath” song, and the closing moments of the last track “Dear Father”, with sounds of bells, rain, and thunder is also copied from the same track. Many of the new songs are too closely inspired by several classics of the band’s first ten years. There are a few too many déjà-vu (or better said, déjà-entendu) moments on this release.
Nevertheless, the overall impression of this record remains very positive. The shorter tracks are especially captivating and energizing. I would cite the fun ride that is “Loner” for example, and also the dynamic mid-tempo anthem “Live Forever”. A few bonus tracks like the strong “Methademic” hit the same vein. In my opinion, the band should have used the four bonus tracks for another regular record, along with four other new songs, rather than backloading this album.
The longer tracks definitely require a lot of patience. In the beginning I found “God Is Dead?” rather unspectacular, but eventually I found that the simplistic doom metal riffs, the haunting vocals, and the gripping signature lyrics work very well together, and this first single really grew on me. The bluesy touch in “Damaged Soul” where Ozzy Osbourne plays the harmonica is also a well-written grower.
The most outstanding song on the release is, without a doubt, “Zeitgeist”. It’s a psychedelic, slow, and wafting rock song with laid back acoustic guitars, smooth percussion work, and strange vocal effects. It sounds a little bit like a possible sequel to “Planet Caravan” to me, and is a welcome break amidst all the depressing riffs and lyrics. It lightens up this otherwise dark record.
What we have here in the end is a very solid record that goes back to the early days of the band – but it’s not a masterpiece. What I’m missing is a truly catchy track like the diversified “Bible Black” from Heaven And Hell, or a shorter potential hit single like “Let Me Hear You Scream” from the last Ozzy Osbourne solo release. This record doesn’t care about conformity, evolution, or modernity, and Black Sabbath simply plays what it does best. That’s probably why the final result doesn’t only sound familiar, but also quite sympathetic.13 sounds coherent and relevant, despite its nostalgic touch. It’s a little miracle that this doom metal dinosaur is still alive and still celebrating a genre that has long since gone out of vogue. They deserve all of our respect. As long as these guys are still able to do so, I’m hoping for other records in the near future. Any fan of doom or heavy metal should of course call the limited edition with four bonus tracks his or her own.