Getting Into: Black Sabbath: Part II
|Written by:||ScreamingSteelUS, nikarg, tominator, omne metallum, RaduP, X-Ray Rod, Apothecary, musclassia, Starvynth|
It seems almost inevitable that a "Getting Into: Part II" is going to meet with less fanfare than the Part I; often by this point in a band's career the classic albums have been released already, the flames of inspiration have been quenched, and the coveted influence has been expended already. And we can't lie to you (if you're still sufficiently in the dark to be lied to about Black Sabbath at all) - very few people out there would stack anything in this half against the all-time great arcs featured in the last article. But by the same token, it is for the Part II that the "Getting Into" concept exists in the first place. Of course you've listened to Paranoid so many times that you can explain to us what a rat salad is, but did you know that Tyr grooves pretty hard, too? Is Seventh Star really as bad as people would have you believe? [No, it isn't.] Don't you want to know what lies out there on the fringes, beyond the very borders of Black Sabbath proper? This is where things really get interesting.
And, as it so often does, "interesting" in this context means that we start off under circumstances that do not inspire much confidence. The renewed success of the early '80s soon faded as material vices, personal conflicts, artistic ennui, and a shift in popular tastes once again poked holes in the integrity of Black Sabbath's fragile equilibrium. Members new and old started going their separate ways, and before too long, Tony Iommi was the only founder left; even he tried (unsuccessfully) to shed the Sabbath moniker. For a few years there, Black Sabbath was a shadow of the past, reduced to playing small clubs and rendered an out-of-touch dinosaur by the emerging trends on MTV and in the underground. Fortunately, there was even more success yet to come, and it all came down to finding the right members to round out the band once again. This is where vocalist Tony Martin enters the picture, where keyboardist Geoff Nicholls shines the most, and where drumming legend Cozy Powell finally crosses paths with the band; punctuated by a fantastic and short-lived reunion with Dio and Appice, the Tony Martin era is the second-longest - and the most stable - stylistic division of Black Sabbath's career, and yet it is the one most overlooked. That era also happens to be bookended with two grand finales: one from Dio, then one from Ozzy, and where we wind up today is a healthier, more universal appreciation for the legacy and legend of Black Sabbath than what endured during the time periods we're now covering.
Even if the very best days of Black Sabbath are left behind in Part I, what we learned from those albums is just how versatile the band can be, and there is yet more on offer here, as well as in the side projects eventually given more focus later on. And besides, it is hardly any damning opprobrium that some of the albums in this article are not as luminary as some of the most sublime and germinal magna opera ever stacked on wax. Good albums are good, too. Therefore, in the interest of getting to the point while you still have patience for this end of Black Sabbath's career, we shall sweep aside any final procrastination and get to that (very good, underrated, underappreciated, worthwhile) point.
1986 - Seventh Star
Originally planned to be released as a solo album by Tony Iommi, Seventh Star was billed as Black Sabbath Featuring Tony Iommi, something that looks both bizarre and ridiculous. It featured Glenn Hughes as frontman, who was known from Trapeze and Deep Purple, and had the nickname “The Voice of Rock”. This album gets way too much
Yeah, I’m doing another unpopular one from Black Sabbath. But this one is different, guys! Did you know that this specific record features Toni Iommi? You know, that famous guitarist from a band called… Black Sabbath… For real, though, this is one of the dumbest things I’ve seen on the cover of an album. This is basically saying: “Featuring this famous guy from that one band you just bought a record from”… Anyway, Seventh Star was supposed to be a record without the Black Sabbath name attached to it. And as a Tony Iommi project, this album is pretty solid. A good rock album with some nice guitar work and nice vocal work from Glenn Hughes. However, this has the Black Sabbath name attached to it. And well, it shouldn’t quite frankly. This has nothing to do with what you would expect from a Black Sabbath record. Like I said, the album itself is fine. I wouldn’t call it extremely unique, though. So, this basically has the same issue as Never Say Die!. And yet, I enjoy this one a bit more. The overall energy and vibe (it has a bit more atmosphere to it) of Seventh Star suits my tastes better. However, that all being said, this album still doesn’t come close to a lot of Sabbath’s other output.
1987 - The Eternal Idol
Enter Tony Martin, perhaps the most overlooked and underrated member in the band’s history (though shout out to Geoff Nicholls who also doesn’t get his deserved dues) who gave the band a level of consistency and stability not seen since Dio walked out the door five years prior. Featuring a well rounded production that presents the songs in the best light (Singer’s drums have an undeniable punchy quality to them), Eternal Idol is easily the best latter day Sabbath release. Featuring some underrated Iommi riffs, with “Hard Life To Love”, “Glory Ride” and “Born To Lose” all getting hardwired into the brain after a few listens; while “The Shining” and “Lost Forever” are immediately imprinted into your mind. More than likely the best Black Sabbath album you haven’t heard, Eternal Idol shouldn’t be slept on, least you deny yourself some of the best blues metal to come out of Birmingham.
For The Eternal Idol, Iommi found himself once again left only with keyboardist and long-term musical partner Geoff Nicholls (the longest-serving band member outside the original quartet). His new singer was the super-gifted Tony Martin, the next best option after Dio for this kind of vocal style. The album does not completely abandon the hard rock ethos of Seventh Star but it is definitely a more heavy metal-oriented affair and even flirts with power doom ("Glory Ride"). And it is more riffy. It contains some high-quality songs, particularly “The Shining”, “Ancient Warrior”, “Nightmare”, and the immense title track. The Eternal Idol often gets overlooked, as does the whole Tony Martin era, which is a heinous crime. Despite the fact that the tracks for the album had been written having in mind that Ray Gillen (Badlands) would sing them, that didn’t happen. However, Martin nails it in his domain, guided by producer Chris Tsangarides, but he would truly shine on Headless Cross, two years later.
1989 - Headless Cross
The album Headless Cross is Tony Martin’s Heaven And Hell and the same statement stands for its title track. No, neither the album nor the song are as majestic of course, but this is undoubtedly the best Black Sabbath had sounded since Mob Rules. The first half of the album is stellar, containing not just the epic title track but also the fast and energetic “Devil & Daughter”, as well as the chilling “When Death Calls”, featuring a solo by none other than Brian May. The latter is actually the track that perfectly epitomizes how bands like Sorcerer sound nowadays (and here is a great cover of it by the Swedes). The second half is not trailing by any means and ends on a high note; “Black Moon” is an upbeat sensation with a great chorus and “Nightwing” is an outstanding closer. The riff master sounds invigorated throughout the album and Martin feels very much at home singing material that suited his voice perfectly. Said material is the heavy/doom side of Black Sabbath one cannot resist, and also the apogee of Tony Martin’s era with the band.
Headless Cross came well into that part of Black Sabbath's career where Tony Iommi was the sole founding member left. Geoff Nichols is unmissable on any 80s and 90s release, but Headless Cross also has Cozy Powell (of Rainbow on drums) and the bassist (Laurence Cottle) is merely a session musician. But what Headless Cross is most remembered for is being the peak of vocalist Tony Martin's time in Black Sabbath. Often called the most underrated of the band's vocalists (of the ones that actually had their voices put on a Sabbath record), Martin's superb and powerful vocals fit the AOR-ish take on heavy metal that Black Sabbath have crafted in this era. My first contact with it came when I was a teenager, still obsessed with the Ozzy and Dio albums, and coming upon a YouTube video entitled something along the lines of "Best Tony Iommi solos". I expected to find something like "War Pigs" or "Heaven & Hell" on top, but to my surprise it was a song I had never heard before, "Kill In The Spirit World". More than a decade later, I still find it hard to argue with that assessment. And it's not like that is even the best song on the record, with the title track still fooling me that it's actually "Running With The Devil" and Brian May's guest solo on "When Death Calls" all being highlights, and I can't say that any of the songs drop the ball. The AOR elements might be a bit cheesy at times, but the perfect production, courtesy of Sean Lynch, combined with Tony Martin's vocal performance don't let that detract from the overall experience.
1990 - Tyr
Sabbath meets Norse mythology? Why did these paths not cross sooner you may ask, and for good reason, with a collection of songs that have more purpose and passion than much of the 80’s output; Tyr completed the band’s overlooked habit of releasing classics at the turn of a new decade and signed off in style. Featuring a good number of highlights amongst its nine tracks, Tyr is somewhat forgotten for reasons not to do with its quality; with the likes of the surprisingly uplifting “Valhalla”, the slow mournful acoustics of “Odin’s Court” and the bait and switch blues of “Heaven In Black” showing the band’s diversity. For those who want an undiluted dose of heavy metal, look no further than “The Law Maker” (and bask in one of Iommi’s most underrated solo’s) while “Jerusalem” oozes with a heavy blues sound.
Tyr is a very good album. For me, it’s that simple. I know that there are some purists out there that basically dislike every Black Sabbath album that doesn’t feature Ozzy or Dio, but I don’t care. In fact, I find some of the Tony Martin records to be quite underappreciated. Tyr does have the elements that I’m looking for in a Black Sabbath record. It’s moody, gloomy and powerful. Just like on Headless Cross, Tony Martin delivers a wonderful performance. His style and approach blends in nicely with the music. Furthermore, the focus on Norse mythology was a good idea, because it gives the album a strong and consistent direction. “Anno Mundi” is the strong opener that kicks off Tyr, and it immediately sets the (right) tone. It might almost be too strong as an opener. The reason being that it’s probably my favourite track on the album. With that being said, there are some other marvellous songs to be found here. Both “Jerusalem” and “Valhalla” are incredibly good. The rest of the album is very solid as well. The only track that doesn’t feel so good to me is “Feels Good To Me”. It’s the one song that I sometimes skip when listening to Tyr. But like I said at the beginning, all in all I consider this to be a strong effort from Black Sabbath.
1992 - Dehumanizer
Despite the fact that the three albums with Tony Martin that came before Dehumanizer were all commendable releases, 1992 was a fantastic year for us Black Sabbath fans. It signified the (brief) return of the one and only Ronnie James Dio, the most powerful and talented vocalist the band ever had. And it wasn’t just Dio; the great Geezer Butler also came back, as did Vinny Appice, which meant that we suddenly had the Mob Rules line-up reformed. For me personally, Dehumanizer holds a very special place because it is the first Black Sabbath album I ever bought. So, subjectively, it is perfect. Objectively, it is arguably the heaviest and doomiest album in their entire career. The riffs are absolutely monstrous, the drums are so, so loud in the mix, Geezer just rips, and Dio is simply otherwordly. It came out in the most unfavourable time possible, when Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, and the like were being played in a loop on MTV. Strangely enough though, the silly and weird video of “TV Crimes” got decent airplay but one couldn’t help but notice that Black Sabbath’s heavy metal was out of fashion at the time. That said, the Dio albums are timeless so that years later you listen to each one of them again and think “what an astounding album!”. All four of them (yes, four, The Devil You Know too is a Black Sabbath album and Sharon can focus on trash TV which is what she does best) don’t sound dated today, which is something one might raise as criticism even for the finest Tony Martin albums. Anyway, there are no filler songs here, Dehumanizer is all-killer and easily the band’s best since Mob Rules.
Outside of the first 5 Black Sabbath albums, I had a bad grasp on their discography for the longest time. Dehumanizer was the very non-Ozzy Black Sabbath album I ever listened. I’m not sure why I picked this album in particular when I was 15 years old but I like to believe it was due to the artwork. Something about it intrigued me. Perhaps I identified with the young man getting the cyborg-treatment by a futuristic version of the grim reaper. After all, I was a ratboy stuck on the computer for far too many hours a day at the time. Introspective visions aside, there was something that struck a chord in me right away as the opener “Computer God” started: The heaviness. Damn, this album hits hard! From the weird mechanical sounds in the intro, to the “I don’t give a fuck” LOUD drumming of Vinny Appice and the impending doom of the massive riffs and the thundering bass. It all sets such a dark mood and then Dio comes along and roars “Waiting for the reeeevoluuuuuuution”. At that point in my life I only knew him from Holy Diver but realized very quickly that he indeed was a metal god. Dehumanizer is without a doubt of the heaviest Black Sabbath albums, period. It tangents the realm of doom metal and thrash metal constantly. Retrospective analysis only makes it shine brighter as you compare it to many bands within heavy metal that started to hit their low points by then.
In between all the darkness, I always felt that each of first 5 classic Black Sabbath albums had at least one silly moment hidden in the riffs and vocals. But Dehumanizer truly feels like a down-to-the-bone serious, dark and aggressive album. Bear in mind that this was released in the 90s where many metal subgenres were at their lowest moment due to the popularity of alternative music. But here comes a group of men ranging from late 30s to mid 40s, spearheaded by a 50 year old man singing about the dangers of technology and manages to not sound cringy as hell. Think about that!
Highlights: “Computer God”, “TV Crimes”, "Master Of Insanity”, “I”
1994 - Cross Purposes
Continuing the "Tony Martin deserves better" theme, his return to the band after the crash and burn reunion with Dio ended with his refusal to be an opener for Ozzy Osbourne; Cross Purposes reassembles the band after another line up fell apart, with this album being the sole release featuring both Geezer and Martin, while Rondinelli takes his seat behind the drum kit for his only studio outing. While not immediately recapturing the spark the Martin era had, Cross Purposes does have moments of excellence, from opener “I Witness”, hard hitting riff lead “Psychophobia” and the jewel in the crown that is “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle”; while “Immaculate Deception” and “Dying For Love” are solid, though don’t quite hit the same heights as the previous three tracks. The album does unfortunately feature a good few tracks you can easily press skip on without missing much of note, with “Virtual Death” being one of the few Sabbath tracks I actively avoid.
Cross Purposes has it pretty rough, especially retroactively. Being another Tony Martin right after a short-lived Dio reunion, a vocalist that is more universally beloved and one that Martin has been accused of emulating, and retroactively because it was shortly followed by Forbidden, universally considered the worst album of this era, if not of Black Sabbath period. However, Cross Purposes is not a bad record, at least not as bad as Forbidden. The AOR tidings of the previous Martin albums has been diminished for something a bit rawer and slightly grunge inspired. Geezer Butler remained at the bass' helm after Dehumanizer, even if the drums are Bobby Rondinelli's (also of Rainbow) only contribution to a Black Sabbath record. It's pretty sad that this is the only album to have the combination of the power of Martin's vocals and the power of Butler's bass, as the songwriting on Cross Purposes lacks the staying power that a lot of the other material in the previous period had. Songs like "Psychophobia" have extremely fat riffs and rich sounds, but something just doesn't work about it, although that's not necessarily the case for all the songs here, like the doomy "Virtual Death", which is the closest Black Sabbath has ever sounded to an Alice In Chains song.
1995 - Forbidden
Ah yes, the infamous Forbidden, Can you imagine if this was the final studio album by the band? Considered the nadir of the band for both the right and wrong reasons, it features a limp and castrating production; what bright spots this album has is snuffed out by a stifling sound that relegates Iommi’s riffs to powerless guitar, and the legendary, and taken far too soon, drums of Cozy Powell, to lifeless thuds. Many listeners get as far as the flawed opener “Illusion Of Power”, with its directionless dirge compounded by a rap feature by Ice T and press stop there and leave it at that. Those who persevere will find that many of the songs on here are of the good to great quality if you can get past the production issues*, from the bluesy “Get A Grip” to the traditional Sabbath sound of “Guilty As Hell” and the power metal esque “Rusty Angels”. For as bad as the album starts it ends with a bang with the title track being an overlooked Sabbath classic and the epic closer “Kiss Of Death” showing that the album fails on the merit of its production rather than the quality of the songs contained therein. Leave this album to the end of your deep dive into the band, there are far more easily accessible albums to be had though approach it with an open mind and be rewarded.
*Check out the Forbidden Demos for a better, heavier and more natural presentation (though instrumental) of the material here
Forbidden marked Neil Murray’s and Cozy Powell’s return to Black Sabbath and, subsequently, the reunion of the Tyr line-up. I like Tyr quite a bit but, unfortunately, this last album with Tony Martin is comfortably Black Sabbath’s worst. Much of the criticism it gets is focused on the production by Body Count’s Ernie C, as well as on the appearance of his bandmate Ice-T on the opening track, “The Illusion Of Power”. While I don’t have any reason to defend either of these dreadful choices, Forbidden’s problems are far greater and can be summarised in the following two: uninspired performances and poor songwriting. I have to really try in order to find any potential redeeming qualities here. Let’s see… “I Won’t Cry For You” is a nice ballad, “Rusty Angels” has good riffs and a memorable chorus, “Kiss Of Death” is a decent closer, and that’s that. Overall, Forbidden is plain hard rock, at times heavy, and sometimes bluesy. If you remember Seventh Star, listen to “Sick And Tired”; it is probably a track that was written for that album but was not good enough to be there. It is very likely that Black Sabbath rushed through the creation of Forbidden in order to get out of their contract with I.R.S. and move on to the reunion of the original line-up. And it is a real shame that this is the last record to feature Tony Martin on vocals and Geoff Nicholls on keyboards, because they both deserved a much more respectable exit from the band. Anyway, there is no point discussing it more; Forbidden is as bad as everyone has been telling you all this time.
Black Sabbath album, but through external pressure it found itself labeled as such. Conversely, The Devil You Know was released under a different name, but it is every bit a Black Sabbath album through and through - even more so than some other albums that bear the familiar seal. This reunion of the Mob Rules/Dehumanizer lineup took the name Heaven And Hell to distinguish itself from concurrent reunions of the Ozzy/Bill-era lineup being billed as Black Sabbath, which is a little ironic considering how much better The Devil You Know closes out the show than 13 eventually did. This is the very definition of a late-career classic: it's a fun album, a joyous resurgence whose unbounded spirit manifests in hyperbolic performances and song titles like "Atom And Evil," "Eating The Cannibals," and "Breaking Into Heaven," and it is also one of the most mystical, daring, and haunting collections of recordings to result from the careers of its makers. The songs are as malefic and menacing as Dehumanizer, yet not as acerbic; as energetic and exciting as Heaven And Hell and Mob Rules, yet endowed specially with eeriness brought on by age. Every riff is locked in competition with the next to be the most evil, the most overpowering, the most redolent of doomy darkness; the bass and drums rumble and shake with frightening thunder; instrumentally, this is just Black Sabbath showing off that they’ve got all the epicus doomicus metallicus you want right here, and it should go down in history as one of the best works by one of metal’s most important bands and one of the most impressive ways a band has celebrated four decades of existence. But The Devil You Know will also be remembered, perhaps even chiefly, as the last album recorded by Ronnie James Dio before his death, and this is as much a celebration of his talents as anything else – recording at the age of 66, Dio had not lost a single sliver of his trademark power and passion. If anything, the hints of grey pulling at his voice only enhance his wizardly aura and make him an even more perfect narrator than before; “Fear” generates shivers the likes of which Black Sabbath had not inspired since the days of its occult genesis, and one can hear the creak of ancient floorboards and smell the musty odor of long-hidden tomes when listening to Dio’s venerable expressions of fatal caution in “Bible Black.” This is a perfect album to listen to in tribute to him, and there are few recordings that better encapsulate just what kind of fun, grimness, and musicality Black Sabbath could achieve simultaneously when operating at its best.
Standout Tracks: "Fear," "Bible Black," "Atom And Evil," "Follow The Tears"
In 2007, Black Sabbath put out a compilation of material from their three Ronnie James Dio-fronted albums, dubbed simply The Dio Years. As something of a bonus, Dio also got back together with his old Sabbath mates for 3 new tracks that appeared on the comp as well: "The Devil Cried", "Shadow Of The Wind", and "Ear In The Wall". In the process, the foursome of Dio, Iommi, Butler, and Appice decided they might as well commit to recording even more music together, and thus Heaven And Hell was born.
On The Devil You Know, the first and only full-length from this short-lived group, the chemistry is particularly strong for guys who hadn't played together for over 25 years. Dio's vocals are strong and charismatic as ever, and he even sneaks some sounds from his latter-day Dio material into the mix. Iommi's riffs are pleasantly varied, ranging from slow and plodding, as on "Follow The Tears", to more up front and energetic like "Eating The Cannibals" demonstrates. With Geezer and Vinny Appice backing it all up with a pleasantly audible rhythm section as usual, it all comes together for a pretty enjoyable, memorable release that can easily hold up to the likes of Heaven And Hell, Mob Rules, and Dehumanizer.
This would end up being the final album Dio recorded before his untimely death in 2010, and it marks a fitting capstone to his long-running career.
2013 - 13
Nothing on or about 13 is vital to Black Sabbath's catalogue, and it may be telling that the most frequent praise afforded the album is that its existence prevents Forbidden from being remembered as the final Black Sabbath album. At its best moments, all that 13 manages to be is a reflection of the band’s earliest classics, more of a victory lap than an entirely distinct piece of work ("Loner" repacks the unmistakable swagger of "N.I.B.," "Zeitgeist" consists of lost transmissions from "Planet Caravan," etc.); much of its novelty lies in the appeal of hearing the Ozzy-Tony-Geezer lineup recorded with modern production techniques, and even that is undercut by the controversial absence of Bill Ward (who was excised from the band's final spurt of activity for reasons variously attributed to contract disputes, physical unfitness, and personal conflicts). Studio drummer Brad Wilk pulls off a performance more at ease with Black Sabbath's doomy thunder than might be expected from his work with Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave, so the choice of replacement serves the band well, but there's no getting around how incomplete it feels listening to a "final" Black Sabbath album 43 years on without any involvement from Bill Ward. Nonetheless, even if 13 isn't the brilliant career-closer that The Devil You Know was, it is a pleasantly lucid and competent send-off that packs in a few final riffs worth remembering. Ozzy channels his old self for long enough not to be a distraction, though the real draw is hearing Tony and Geezer together for one last evil ride, and there are a couple of replayable tracks that sound like more than just a "greatest hits" reminder. 13 may be a show-stopper only in name, but it is at least a comfortable way to end a decades-long career.
Standout Tracks: "God Is Dead?", "Loner," "Live Forever"
By now, I’m used to long-disbanded groups reuniting for a last hurrah, but the Black Sabbath reunion was the first real instance of this happening after I first became a fan of metal music, and it was quite the occasion: a first new album under the Sabbath name in 18 years, and a first album from the group featuring Ozzy on vocals in 35 years. It wasn’t a complete reunion of the classic line-up, with Bill Ward’s health resulting in Rage Against The Machine’s Brad Wilk handling drums on 13, but it was still a landmark occasion to hear Ozzy on a Black Sabbath song again. 35 years is a long time, and Ozzy did sound different to how he did on the first Sabbath records; so did Sabbath themselves, with 13 criticized in some quarters as a product of the loudness war, although I personally enjoy hearing Tony Iommi riffs with the weight of a modern tone. This modern tone didn’t mean a change in style, though, as 13 bared all the hallmarks of a classic Black Sabbath record, from the heavy, doomy riffs and the blues-y jams to the eerie vocals and slick bass licks. The songs on 13 aren’t necessarily the strongest renditions of this style, as the length of the tracks (over half of which are over 7 minutes long) does cause the album to drag at times; however, for what was a 45-year-old metal band, the result could have been much worse. “End Of The Beginning” and “God Is Dead?” make for a solid opening one-two, “Zeitgeist” is a decent reprise of the “Planet Caravan” sound, and “Age Of Reason” has some quality riffs. It wasn’t the very final studio output from the band (see the next entry), but 13 was a far more fitting full-length swansong for Black Sabbath than Forbidden, considering their iconic place as founders of the genre.
2016 - The End
The final studio record from Black Sabbath, or at least sort of. Only half of The End is studio material, and even that half is made up of studio outtakes from their last album, 13. The rest is made up of live recordings from the last tour. Still, The End is true in its name as "the end" of Black Sabbath, who would disband after their final concert in February 2017. Only officially distributed for attendees of their final tour, it's somewhat of a rarity on arrival. It's not the only case of original Black Sabbath material appearing on non-studio albums, with some songs on 1998's Reunion and 2007's The Dio Years being original as well, but The End has four of them, so basically an EP's worth. I can't say that any of the songs here are that vital, and I certainly see why these didn't make it upon the final product, an album that already had four more songs on its deluxe edition, so this is the B-side of the B-side. But still, none of these would feel that out of place on 13, with the worst thing about them is their unremarkability. As far as the live part goes, the tracks vary, and you'd be better off listening to other live albums from the same period, like 2013's Live... Gathered In Their Masses and 2017's The End - 4 February 2017 Birmingham.
And Now Some Extra Sabbath On The Side:
The sixth studio outing of Ozzy Osbourne's solo career was recorded with the same lineup as No Rest For The Wicked (1988), so no major musical changes were to be expected. Also the second album with Zakk Wylde is strongly characterized by the work of the exceptional guitarist who was able to shape the sound of Ozzy Osbourne like no other guitarist after Randy Rhoads' tragic death. The rhythm section, featuring Bob Daisley on bass and drummer Randy Castillo, picks up on Tears where they left off on Wicked, and keyboarder John Sinclair remains so unobtrusively in the background that his existence can once again only occasionally be guessed at. Remarkable is the involvement of Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister in the songwriting process, who is co-responsible for four of the eleven original tracks.
Despite the slightly increased heaviness in the guitar sound, the material on No More Tears sounds more radio-friendly than ever, which is mainly due to the increased number of ballads ("Time After Time", "Road To Nowhere", "Mama, I'm Coming Home") and the overall rounder and cleaner sound. Nevertheless, the production has managed to preserve the sound of the eighties and transport it into the nineties without appearing like a relic from the past. But what distinguishes No More Tears even more clearly from all previous albums by and with John Michael "Ozzy" Osbourne are not nuances in terms of sound and production, but rather the frontman's changed life circumstances, because it was the first album Ozzy had recorded completely sober and free of any toxic substances. The fact that this phase of sobriety almost seamlessly led to a long phase of health problems may be one of the reasons why No More Tears must be considered Ozzy's last really good album to date.
Standout Tracks: "Mama, I'm Coming Home", "No More Tears", "Hellraiser"
Dio enjoyed in its earliest years, with Holy Diver in particular proving to be a milestone as significant for Ronnie James Dio's legacy as Rising or Heaven And Hell, the band's momentum slowly evaporated over time; already by 1985's Sacred Heart the sound had become formulaic, and the years after the final classic of Dream Evil are better expressed in choice hits than full albums. Though probably none at the time realized that Master Of The Moon was to be the last Dio album, it was a graceful note to end on, one that wraps up some of the band's highs and lows, some of the ambitious shots and safe plays - an album of fundamentally solid heavy metal with a little bit of filler and a little bit of magic. Master Of The Moon takes a hard rock-based approach that feels curiously anachronistic for 2004, and yet earnestly alive when considering both the pedigree and the passionate performance of the man behind it all. Amidst the AC/DC-style stomp-and-clap rhythms of "The End Of The World," the demented Alice Cooper opera of "Shivers," and the hard-headed Accept-y speedball of "Living A Lie," there's a definitively Dio glamour glistening in the moonlight. The title track's dreamy shades of lunar fantasy are a beautiful venue for RJD at his most captivating, and the other most memorable tracks stack up well against the band's career at large. Returning guitarist Craig Goldy works in some magnificent solos and Scott Warren injects some healthy variety throughout the album with his many-textured keys, but of course at the end of the day it all comes down to the sheer charisma and power of Ronnie James Dio himself, who sounds as magical as he did when he first hooked up with Rainbow 30 years prior. Master Of The Moon is a title we could well bestow on Dio - Holy Diver it may not be, but it's still an album that fairly represents what this band could offer.
Standout Tracks: "Master Of The Moon," "I Am," "In Dreams," "Shivers"
Black Sabbath fans who expect an Iommi album to resemble his main project, for this is through-and-through a self-consciously heavy collection of songs. The results of this scattershot composition are, of course, varied: some singers are natural complements, others draw out surprising intersections between their own styles and that of Black Sabbath, and a couple of the tracks sound like little more than drab Sabbath demos cut with recycled riffs. As the album progresses, the structures and pacing begin to feel more and more repetitive, and even at its best, Iommi is more of a display case than a complete album, so the most rewarding listening experience is to go through it all once, select your favorite individual tracks, and replay those at will. Iommi is certainly worth sampling, however, for it sports the best songs to come from the Sabbath family between Dehumanizer and The Devil You Know, and the choicest cuts are often surprising: "Who's Fooling Who," a collaboration with Ozzy and Bill Ward, and "Just Say No To Love," featuring the logical inclusion of Type O Negative's Peter Steele, fall well behind the venomous, grungy groan of "Meat," featuring Skunk Anansie's Skin, and single "Goodbye Lament," featuring vocals and drums from Dave Grohl, guitar work from Brian May, and bass from Headless Cross session bassist Laurence Cottle. Iommi features an eclectic mix and although it doesn't always hit, its range is a bit surprising, and its highlights are some real hidden gems from Tony Iommi's diamond-encrusted career.
Standout Tracks: "Meat [feat. Skin]", "Laughing Man (In The Devil Mask) [feat. Henry Rollins]", "Goodbye Lament [feat. Dave Grohl]", "Time Is Mine [feat. Phil Anselmo]"
Seventh Star might not be the most beloved Black Sabbath album, but it turned out to be more pivotal in Iommi's career than Black Sabbath's. Being left as the only founding member, it was supposed to be a solo Tony Iommi record, but it had the "Black Sabbath" name forced upon it. Tony Iommi and Glenn Hughes tried to get together for another album in 1996, had some sessions, but the recordings were abandoned. Said recordings circulated as the Eight Star bootleg, before they were polished and mended with some re-recordings for 2004's The 1996 DEP Sessions. Well, that has led to Tony Iommi and Glenn Hughes getting back in contact and actually fully recording an album together, 2005's Fused. Each of the try has a pretty different sound, with varying amounts of blues and metal and hard rock. Fused sounds more like an Audioslave record than anything Black Sabbath, and in some ways it reminds me of Cross Purposes in it being a heavier record than usual, but in a style that feels a bit more grunge than it fits Iommi's playing. However Hughes' vocals fits the style much better, making Fused a pretty heavy radio rock record, and better than most radio rock from around that era.
Bill Ward's rare stints as a vocalist in Black Sabbath (often overlooked for having occurred during the band's lean years), something in the vein of conventional power pop or early hard rock might be expected from a solo outing, maybe even something more in touch with Ward's jazz and blues roots. Of all the Sabbath members to strike out on their own, Ward did wind up straying furthest from heavy metal, and his ventures proved to be the most interesting as a result - but Ward One, his 1990 solo debut, can still be classified as a metal album. It is quite often metal, with heavy guitars and an aggressive character, only of a stranger, more esoteric, and more experimental variety than those of Ward's cohorts; the songs are crammed with information, featuring disquieting melodies half-whispered atop noisy collages of audio samples and layered instruments that resemble a blend between upbeat post-punk and murky darkwave. Littered with curious English folk-isms and inchoate suggestions of industrial rock, Ward One is chiefly a work of aesthetic and sensation, with its outré, often sinister atmosphere coming out as its most memorable quality, but it maintains an appreciation for lithe hooks and smooth transitions. Like Tony Iommi, Ward chose to work with a variety of vocalists and musicians, but where Iommi allowed strong personalities to dominate with mixed results, Ward's companions complement the overarching concept of the album, so although it is fun to hear such guests as Ozzy Osbourne and Cream's Jack Bruce playing along, there is never a danger of being lost in the cast instead of the compositions. Ward One is a surprisingly creative work, certainly one of the most interesting releases of all the Sabbath solos, and reason to wonder what would have become of Black Sabbath had they indulged more of these ideas.
Standout Tracks: "Snakes And Ladders," "(Mobile) Shooting Gallery," "Sweep," "Bombers (Can Open Bomb Bays)"
G//Z/R - Plastic Planet (1995)
Geezer Butler's solo band went through several incarnation, each making our cataloguing life harder by constantly changing names. You have Geezer Butler Band as the heavy metal one in the mid 80s that didn't actually release anything, and then you have a continuous Geezer band, but that has used "G//Z/R" on 1995's Plastic Planet, "Geezer" on 1997's Black Science, and "GZR" on 2005's Ohmworks. Out of these, it is Plastic Planet that is most interesting because of the vocals of Fear Factory's Burton C. Bell, and since all the albums sit in a space between groove thrash, alternative metal, industrial metal, sludge metal, and nu metal, it's much closer to Fear Factory than anything Black Sabbath, so one's enjoyment of Plastic Planet is more reliant on their enjoyment of the former rather than the latter. As someone who doesn't really like Fear Factory, I still find it a bit hard to get into Plastic Planet, even if it's still quite clearly better than the other two (especially the last) albums. Back in the day I had just one song from each of the albums that I listened to, and surprise, that song, "Seance Fiction" is still my favorite because of how doomy it is, but there are some punky tracks on Plastic Planet that offer some highlights while others like "Drive Boy, Shooting" are absolutely embarrassing. Probably the best thing about this album is that one of the song, The Invisible, appeared on the Mortal Kombat soundtrack.
Tony Martin is probably the most overlooked out of all Sabbath's vocalists, and the one for whom it's the most difficult to name something he's done outside of Black Sabbath without doing any research. After a more AOR focused in 1992 done in between Sabbath stints, his next solo album only came in 2005. Here he also teams up with another overlooked ex-Black Sabbath member, keyboardist Geoff Nichols. Not only that, but the album opens with "Raising Hell", a reworked demo from while Martin was still in Black Sabbath before the Dehumanizer sessions, thus Scream managed to find a way to also include another ex-Sabbath member, drummer Cozy Powell.
It shouldn't be that surprising that a lot of Scream sounds like what Martin did while in Sabbath, with dark riffs, catchy melodies, the solos and keys all sound very familiar. Even if it's a slightly more modern take, it's mostly very conservative and safe in its tackled sounds. The "Iommi" factor is missing, but the attempt to replace it ain't too shabby. A lot of the songs proved really memorable after barely a couple of listens. And when I say that this is a Tony Martin solo record, I mean it, as he extends beyond vocals to do a bunch of the guitars, bass, and drums here, even violins (seriously, listen to that title track). If you're wondering whether he assembled a band after this and kept releasing albums, it only took until 2022 to come out with a new one.
||Written on 25.04.2022 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.|
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