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Black Sabbath 13: What Is This That Stands Before me?

Black Sabbath

This album got its start about 12 years ago when the original line-up of Black Sabbath decided to head into the studio with Rick Ruban as the Knob Twister. This would have been the first time the Fathers of All Things Metal would have put out a full album of new material since Never Say Die, in 1978. However, Ozzy’s Down To Earth album took priority over the project. Plus that little reality show thing and the reunion of the “Heaven And Hell” version of Sabbath, slowed things down even further.

Then the dream of the original band putting out the new album died when Bill Ward said, “Kiss my ass.” When he was offered less than everyone else for the reunion.

This did not stop Ozzy, Geezer, and Tony. Not even cancer treatments every six weeks by Iomi could slow down this lumbering locomotive of doom. They just through Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine) into the furnace, with 666 tons of the blackest coal mined from the deepest part of wherever you go, as you travel into the void, and chugged on.

With all that said, I must admit I had a really hard time listening to this album. As a whole, 13 did not hold my attention very well. I tried listening through speakers, but I found myself distracted by something else. I tried smoking a bowl of weed to help mellow me out, but the sweetest of all leaves either made me sleepy, or there is just something about “Live Forever” that makes me want to nap. Even while writing this review, I fell asleep before the end of the aforementioned track, only to wake up with the opener “End of the Beginning” playing again, very loudly, through a rather good pair of headphones.

There are just so many things missing in the sound of this record. Though Brad Wilk is a fucking awesome drummer, his Bonham-esque style doesn’t fit with Sabbath, and trying to fill in for Bill Ward seems forced at times.

The production of Rick Ruban makes everything sound like one big chunk of iron being thrown at your face. The brilliance of the first six Sabbath albums was the fact you could hear the separation between the players. You could focus on Ward’s mad man swing on “Rat Salad”, while the band played on. Though Tony and Geezer played off of each other, you heard them both do what they do in a partitioned way that allowed you to geek out on how they worked together to make “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” so brilliant.

Ruban’s production takes what I just pointed out and completely muddles the musicianship by squeezing everything together to the point it makes these very accomplished players sound like a sludgy stoner metal band trying to cover up their inability to sound professional…. Holy shit!… Rick Ruban has figured out how to make Black Sabbath sound like Wolfmother.

Ozzy is … Well…. Ozzy. He sounds great, but what he’s singing just lacks spark. Geezer doesn’t phone in on his lyrical contributions to the eight songs on 13, but he doesn’t make you want to sing those lyrics back.

Sidenote: how is it Ozzy can have a conversation and sound like a mush mouthed character from a Dickens novel, but sing as clear as a summer’s day?

Iomi’s playing is as good as ever, and he proves that not even chemotherapy can keep him from delivering blistering solos and solid riffs, though, the riffs just repeat over and over, leaving you wanting something else.
The songs just don’t go anywhere. They follow the same formula; slow , slow, chorus, slow, slow, bridge, fast jam with solo, slow, slow, and stop!

I don’t really dislike any of the songs, except for Zeitguist”, which is not much more than “Planet Caravan” part deux. “Loner” and “Damaged Soul” prove the band was trying and were definitely walking along a path of good intentions, but the execution fell a bit short.

Michael Kirk

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