Sound — 7
For the first time in 18 years Black Sabbath is releasing a full length studio release, and with Ozzy on vocals for the first time in 36 years. Black Sabbath has already cemented themselves in music history as the band that created doom/sludge metal. This was ultimately the result of an engineering accident where Tony Iommi's fingers were injured and he began to down-tune his guitar and use prosthetic fingertips in order to play. This approach on guitar, and the band's original interest in riff-driven blues of the time lent itself well to a heavier sound. After seeing the line outside the theater to see the movie "Black Sabbath," they took the name for themselves and began to focus on darker lyrical subjects. From here they went on to release classic hits such as "Iron Man," "Paranoid," "N.I.B.," "Sweet Leaf," and "War Pigs," to name just a few. As listeners we all can judge the merit of "13" for ourselves, but the band doesn't really have anything left to prove. There was a false-start reunion of Black Sabbath in 2001, which fell apart as Ozzy put it on hold to continue work on a solo album. There have also been a few reunion concerts here and there, but they failed to produce a full-fledged reunion. Oddly enough, while the album is titled "13," it is the 19th studio album released by Black Sabbath. "13" will be the first album of new material written and recorded by Black Sabbath with Ozzy on vocals since before most of our readers were born. Initially, the reunion and album were to include the original 4 members in 2011. The project was once again delayed, though only briefly, by Tony Iommi's diagnosis of lymphoma. Bill Ward attempted some last minute legal negotiation on his contract, but instead he was nixed from the reunion. This was at least in part due to Tony Iommi's desire to finish the album quickly (according to multiple interviews) as he didn't know how he would react to his cancer treatment. Bill Ward was replaced by Brad Wilk, the drummer from Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave. The recording process had to be scheduled around Iommi's cancer treatments causing further delays. They completed recording the album and announced the album title as "13" in January 2013, and from there the mixing process began. The standard edition of "13" includes 8 tracks and clocks in at approximately 54 minutes, while the deluxe edition has 3 additional tracks and clocks in at 69 minutes. Most tracks on the album range from 4 1/2 minutes long to a little over 8 minutes, with the bonus track "Peace of Mind" the only track under 4 minutes. The first single from the album, "God is Dead?" was released in mid-April to mixed reactions from the online community of fans. The second single, "End of the Beginning," debuted on the television crime drama "CSI" in early June just a week before the album release. All lyrics were written by Ozzy and Geezer Butler, and all music was written by Tony Iommi. According to interviews with Iommi, the album was recorded mostly live in the studio including the solos. The guitar and bass tones are immaculate for the genre, and overall the album is mixed well. Brad Wilk does a respectable job on drums. The album opens up with the track "End of the Beginning," which in all honesty comes across as a pretty mediocre track chugging along at a forgettable mid-tempo. The next track, "God is Dead?," does a lot better job at creating that vibe Black Sabbath is known for but isn't very original. The third track, "Loner," begins with a riff that immediately reminds me of "Locomotive Breath" by Jethro Tull. I can't help but wonder if this has something to do with Iommi's short stint in Jethro Tull. The fourth track, "Zeitgeist," is the first track that really caught my ears and held them. It is a slower track, with acoustic guitar and unusual percussion that is carried by the bassline. The next four tracks are all pretty standard Sabbath-style doom metal, and they mostly escape sounding like a cover band of themselves. The next three tracks, available only with the deluxe version, contains two of the better songs from the album. The tracks "Methademic" and "Peace of Mind" are solid tracks that seem to pick up somewhere in the neighborhood of where Black Sabbath and Ozzy left off in the '70s, but the track "Pariah" seems more like a weak B side with the exception of having a really solid solo by Iommi on the track. This is NOT a modern metal album, and doesn't try to sound like it is. This is an album that attempts to pick up where Black Sabbath and Ozzy left off with each other in the seventies, with mixed results.
Lyrics — 7
Ozzy is an odd dude with an odd voice, and people seem to either love or hate his vocals. What can be said about Ozzy's voice is that somehow it is still mostly intact. His age doesn't seem to have much impact on his vocal ability, which is amazing considering the hard life he has led (mostly in full view of the public). There is minimal vocal processing going on for most of the album, with the occasional subtle or not-so-subtle effect thrown in for variety. The lyrics on the other hand, seem to be hit or miss. Some of the lyrical offerings seem to be pretty solid but others go into the realm of cheesy clichs. A good example of the cheesy side of lyrics can be observed on the track "God is Dead?," where Ozzy proclaims: "The blood runs free/ The rain turns red/ Give me the wine/ You keep the bread/ The voices echo in my head/ Is God alive or is God dead? / Is God dead?"
Overall Impression — 7
While recording the album, Iommi came into the studio one day to discover a lot of vintage amplifiers had been brought in. The logic behind this is the label thought this would help Iommi find an early Sabbath-sounding guitar tone, which is kind of funny. Ultimately, Iommi made the point that they were trying to get him to find a good tone to imitate his own tone and instead used his normal equipment. I've had some of the most mixed emotions I've ever had regarding an album release after listening to "13." At times the album seemed to be an almost a formulaic caricature of previous Black Sabbath hits, but at other moments I found myself impressed with the musical atmosphere they create. I really find myself enjoying "Zeitgeist," "Peace of Mind," and "Damaged Soul." I didn't completely hate any tracks on the album, but I was under-whelmed by "God is Dead?" and "Pariah." The bottom line is this is a decent album, but not mind-blowing. Iommi does play some really interesting solos on the album, and according to interviews they are all tracked live in the studio which is impressive in this modern age of ProTools and such.