Black Sabbath – 13

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If any of my loyal readers were wondering why I dropped off the blogosphere, I spent the weekend in Grand Rapids, acting drunk and stupid while attending the performances of Kylesa, Torche and Baroness, who just happened to all be in town on three successive nights.  Now I’m back and have the next week off work so expect to see lots of new posts; band profiles and reviews, reviews, reviews!!!  Old, shitty movies, new lousy records – although I’m being facetious on both fronts let me tell you about the mediocre new Black Sabbath album.

But before I get to that let me tell you about Blood Ceremony, who opened for Kylesa.  They sounded like Sabbath but with a flute playing front-woman who dressed in typical, Satanic cult garb.  It seemed like the only things she sang about were Satanism and witchcraft.  Which, leads me to my next point.  Where does Sabbath stand in 2013 among all of these stoner, doom and sludge metal bands?

Look, it doesn’t take a rockologist to know that these reunions are a pile of bullshit.  The first Black Sabbath album was released in 1970.  The world was a different place; nobody had heard anything quite like that first album.  In fact I was chatting with the gentleman at the Corner Record Shop and he told me that it really stood apart from Iron Butterfly, Blue Cheer and Led Zeppelin.  People really believed that Ozzy Osbourne, Toni Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward were card carrying occultists who drank goat blood and worshiped at the altar.  Or maybe that’s how they were perceived in conservative old Grand Rapids.

But back to this reunion thing.  Bands have a right to make money off their legacy however they should limit it to a tour and then kill it.  Why try to recreate the past?  And, for that matter, it’s not even a full reunion!  I was disappointed when I read that Ward wouldn’t be participating.  He plays in an atypical jazzy style where he struggles to stay in standard 4/4 time.  Brad Wilk, on the other hand, is just a rock drummer.  They could have gotten anybody and it wouldn’t have mattered.

But the bottom line is that Black Sabbath attempt to recreate the sound and vibe of their first four albums to a fault.  It seems as though the group surveyed their early catalog and found specific songs to replicate.  While most don’t go exactly by the numbers, opening track “The End of the Beginning” and third song “Loner” are musical sequels to “Black Sabbath” and “Planet Caravan.”  The former follows the structure of “Black Sabbath” to a t.  It starts with slow, doomy, heavy chords.  Then said melody is played on the root notes.  Then the song builds up and the headbanging part comes in with the only departure being that the song doesn’t end but detours into another part.  But it also starts the album with a question.  The opening line in “Black Sabbath” is “what is this that stands before me?”  The opening line in “The End of the Beginning” is “is this the end or the beginning?”  Yeah.

“Loner”, on the other hand, is “Planet Caravan” style acoustic, hippie, bongo drum music and attempts to combine the lyrical themes of both “Planet Caravan” and another Sabbath softy called “Solitude.”  Ozzy even sings through that weird, quivering bong water effect from the original “Caravan.”  Yikes.

But elsewhere you’ve just got a lot of slow, heavy, down-tuned songs, the very type you’ve heard countless times on Sabbath albums and by countless other bands.  Yes, Ozzy has a unique voice, Iommi plays occasionally solid riffs and Butler moves his fingers all over the neck of his bass to created that whirling sound.  So I’ll give them that.  There are parts of 13 which are solid and heavy.  But so what?  A few of these songs are just way too long!  Why does “God Is Dead?” have to go on for nine minutes when all they do is repeat the same parts over and over?  Also, two songs – forgot which – have stupid “funky” parts, sorta like you’d find on a Rage Against The Machine record, in other words, not good!  Furthermore Ozzy really hams it up and, sadly, sounds a little stupid when he’s deliberately singing every song very slowly decades after performing on the much more uptempo material of his solo career.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is that the lyrics are really dumb, combining a melodramatic delivery, stupid cliches and bad rhyme schemes often at the same time!  The most egregious example I can think of at the top of my head is this line from “God Is Dead?”, which goes “Out of the gloom I rise up from my tomb into impending doom.”  That’s pretty terrible, isn’t it?  They’re mostly like that!  And this is 2013!  We forgave Sabbath for the clunky lyrics and overly earnest approach on songs like “War Pigs”, “Iron Man”, “Electric Funeral” and “Sweet Leaf” because they were young guys thinking that they were making serious statements!  But now that younger bands like Electric Wizard and Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats are singing cult, Satanic and witchcraft themed songs in a fun way, Sabbath’s philosophical musings on God, Satan, death and the apocalypse make them seem like old, out of touch, buffoons.

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