Search This Blog

Loading...

6/09/2013

Reflections: 13 (Black Sabbath) - Part 2


Waiting for Black Sabbath's latest, 13, was excruciating, and not even the fact that Australia was getting the album first could make the wait any easier. Luckily the album officially appeared as a free iTunes stream well in advance of the release, I jumped in and must have listened to it over 30 times or so.

On 7th June the album finally arrived in the shops. I took the day off work, went to the store as soon as it opened early in the morning, and grabbed my copy. Being able to listen to the album on iTunes was great, but the feeling of holding it in your hands and having that physical ownership is far more exciting. I went home and played 13 on every known music playing device I had in my room: Sega Saturn, Laptop, iPod, and Xbox 360. The one thing I immediately realized was how much better the sound quality was compared to the iTunes streams, and so the album still sounded fresh, new, and exciting to me. I picked up the 2-Disc Deluxe edition which has this really cool lenticular cover, in which you can see the flames in motion. Disc 2 contains 3 additional bonus tracks, which were completely new to me.  Disc 1 obviously contains the main 8 track album. Very cool album artwork and packaging overall.

I've had plenty of time to really absorb the main album, and 13 is really one of those albums that you need to take your time with. I mean the more I listen to it, the more the songs unfold in terms of their lyrical meaning and instrumental intricacies. That's the amazing thing about Black Sabbath music, it needs to grow on you as you can't take it all in in a couple of listens, you really need to sit down and absorb it to fully appreciate just how it's put together. The foundation of the music created by the original Black Sabbath lineup (Ozzy, Tony, Geezer, and Bill) came from jazz, blues, and rock and roll. They took all of those core fundamentals and created something that was heavier, gloomier, and darker, but never intended to be what contemporaries like to call heavy metal. That's what amazed me about their sound during 1970-1978, it was nothing like the heavy metal that we hear today. My introduction to the band was during the Tony Martin years, and yes that was heavy metal, and so were the albums with Ronnie James Dio. The albums with Ozzy on the other hand...were out worldly.

Black Sabbath was essentially four diverse and inherently flawed musicians coming together to create an objectively unique brand of music that simply could not (and will never be) replicated. These were four individuals who had their roots in jazz, blues, and rock and roll, and when they played, they reacted to each other, complemented each other, almost as if they were destined to create a sound that no one else had ever before. In the truest sense, Black Sabbath was a hard rock band playing a darker style of blues and jazz rock, they didn't contain or restrict themselves to any label (heavy metal), they just wanted to create music that they felt passionate about. They created music that was born out their pure instinct, music that reflected their heart and soul and nothing else. The best part was that the music was raw, pure, and natural, and the lyrical content covered subject matter which really meant something to them.


When Ozzy Osbourne parted ways with the band, it ended that unique sound. Black Sabbath would move on with Ronnie James Dio, Tony Martin, and surprisingly not one but two Deep Purple singers (Ian Gillian and Glenn Hughes)...and with those talents they became exactly what society had labelled them as...a heavy metal band. Now don't get me wrong, they made some amazing music during those years, but the lyrical content and sound changed so much, a departure from the humble beginnings and roots of the band. The new sound lacked the air of truth they had during the 70s, and it essentially evolved with the times, following the musical trends....the band had become a business.

The songs became darker, louder, heavier, aggressive, and they became laden with modern production processes, power guitars, overpowering and noisy drums, and a lot of screaming. The lyrics started talking about devil, angles, demons, Norse gods, and all sorts of things. It was a little ironic that throughout the 1970s the band was given all sorts of labels, and when Ozzy left the band, they immediately evolved into that perceived image. Ozzy too moved on as he became the Prince of Darkness, the hardcore rocker. His solo career catalog while good, abandoned his initial inspirations as he went on to become this abrasive act for publicity and attention.

When they released the first single from 13, God is Dead?, back in April it made me realize that Ozzy was simply made for the Black Sabbath sound. Guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler have this amazing talent of being able to accommodate different singers by altering their playing style entirely, and so to create that signature original Sababath sound they needed Ozzy. It's that perfect recipe, it's only when these guys are together that they can create that rich jazzy and bluesy hard rock style of music. These guys are simply musically made for each other. Listening to 13 in its entirely affirms this too, it blew my mind how they were able to effortlessly recapture that magic from the 70s. I was so convinced that the unique chemistry they had in the old days would have long withered away during the near 40 year hiatus, especially considering that they had musically and individually evolved so much during that time, but in 13 these men once again recapture that special chemistry and reunite with their musical foundations.


13 to me is the album that not so much is a throwback to classic Black Sabbath, calling it a nostalgic retro album is far from the truth. Nor does it redefine or revolutionize the genre. What it does is serve as a reminder....a reminder to the industry, to the fans, and even to the band members themselves...of what Black Sabbath really was, and what this so called heavy metal music really is. Black Sabbath kick started a culture which spawned countless bands and acts, but with virtually none of them appreciating the true foundation of their beloved genre. To be fair, even the band members themselves forgot this when they too became heavy metal contemporaries during the 80s and 90s, but listening to 13...it's like the band has finally come back home and rediscovered their true selves.

Enough with the drugs, sex, Satan symbolism, dragons, vikings, social rebellions, and all of that nonsense. 13 is a wake up call for the heavy metal culture and the music industry, a showcase of the true heart and soul of heavy metal. No! this is not heavy metal, Rolling Stone Magazine don't know what they're on about, this is a unique blend of rock, blues, and jazz played darker, heavier, and gloomier. The meaningful lyrical content doesn't glorify evil or darkness, but rather it brings attention to the darkness and pain of reality and tries to make sense of it. This special blend of music is above and beyond some mere label and cultural lifestyle. No one needs to have a million tattoos, get loaded on drugs and alcohol every night, or be a degenerate to call them-self a fan of this incredible music.

It's all about the music....man.


13 is a mature album, an output of experienced individuals who are grizzled veterans of life and and have been industry players for over four decades and counting. They have seen and done it all, been through the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the glory and shame...all of it. They have experienced the jazz of life and the jazz of the music industry, they have lived through the good, bad, and everything in between. Even now they soldier on and face trials (Tony Iommi's ongoing battle with cancer). All of that rich life experience and their incredible journey as musicians, all of it oozes off the music contained in 13. In a way their nearly three decades apart as recording musicians was necessary, they needed to grow and evolve separately before finally coming together at the right time to create this album.

The album opens up with The End of the Beginning, a song that I heard for the first time during the Sydney concert. It's perhaps the most modern sounding song of the album, clearly the brainchild of bassist Geezer Butler due to the science-fiction nature of the lyrics which covers things like cloning, time travel, space, and all that razz. It's musically a rich song as it starts off dark and gloomy, has some interesting riffs, and finally wraps with a majestic and uplifting melody. It sounded great live, definitely a set-list keeper. Following that track is God is Dead? which I spoke about at great length when it was first released as a single. Regardless of what anyone says, I still believe this is among the strongest songs on the album, as even after listening to the entire album I still love it just as much.

Loner is a fun song with a ton of swing and charm, it's easily the grooviest song on the album with some catchy riffs, jazzy solos, and cool vocal melodies. The subject matter of the lyrics is pretty grim, but I can't help but smile and swing when I listen to it...it's just such a cool song.


Zeitgeist is a special track, it's a soft and mellow ballad akin to classics like Planet Caravan and Solitude. It took a while for the song to really click with me, but once it did I couldn't stop listening to it. It's a refreshing and unique song, with simple and beautifully poetic lyrics that have deep symbolic meaning. The acoustic guitars are jazzy and beautiful, the drum beats are subtle and create a haunting atmosphere, the mellow bluesy bass holds everything together cohesively, and Ozzy truly shines as a vocalist in this song.  Ozzy's vocal melodies are hauntingly infectious and out of this world, especially the way he ends the song. Anyone who had any doubts about Ozzy as a singer will be pleasantly surprised, we all forget that he was once just a kid who dreamed of being just like The Beatles, and that influence shines in this song as he sings with that same simplistic and pleasant melody.

Age of Reason was the most praised track in early previews and reviews of the album, and it reportedly had the working title of "Epic". Rightfully so, as this song is indeed the epic anthem of 13, similar to how Children of the Grave, War Pigs, and Symptom of the Universe were the epic anthems of their respective albums. It certainly ticks all the right boxes of a Sabbath epic: meaningful lyrics which delve into politics, war, and social issues, the heavy and profound drumming, the constant tempo changes, the cohesive bass, and above all that one lengthy, epic, and album defining guitar solo which will surely reach iconic status.

Live Forever is cool song, it's catchy, fast, and simple, and it touches on  a  very simple dilemma regarding life and death with the main lyric  going "I don't wanna live forever....but I don't wanna die!". It's a fast paced song, dealing with life and death, something that's accepted and taken as pure reality, and yet it will always invoke feelings wonder, curiosity, fear, and uncertainty upon mankind. The reality of mortality is difficult to come to terms with, and since the beginning of time, even now, and probably forever...mankind will continue ponder over just what it really means.

Damaged Soul hands down is the best track on the album, and unquestionably a true masterpiece. If I could label just one song on the album as perfect, a song that is among the greatest of the greats in the immense Black Sabbath music catalog, Damaged Soul would be it. If I wanted to show a newcomer a song which pretty much encompasses the true meaning of Black Sabbath in the purest sense, then Damaged Soul would be one of the songs I'd point them towards. It is a pure dark blues rock song, with shades of songs like Behind the Wall of Sleep, Sleeping Village/The Warning, The Wizard, and essentially the first self-titled Black Sabbath album. In Damaged Soul the entire band comes to unison, playing reactively to each other with Ozzy singing along the instrumental melodies as he always does, but in this song that signature style of singing truly shines. It's a doomy gloomy style of blues, with the guitar, bass, and drums all reacting to each other and complementing each other. Lyrically it's easily the most powerful song on the disc, it speaks of a bruised, battered, and grizzled soul that is a true veteran of life, and offers a reflection on the pains and dilemma of reality, touching on religious themes. It's a very profound song which really hit close to home. The best part of the song is how it ends, it's gloomy and mellow throughout but then when it hits the 6 minute mark the band suddenly breaks into this fast, relentless, groovy, and soulful jam! The guitars, bass, drums, and harmonica (courtesy of Ozzy) all jamming and swinging passionately together as one thick cloud of jazzy bluesy ecstasy. The entire song just feels so pure, raw, and natural.

The albums closes with Dear Father, a dark, sinister, and frightening song that touches on a the still topical issue of molestation crimes committed by religious figureheads. The song essentially tells the story of a man who is seeking revenge on a priest who had violated and destroyed his childhood innocence. The lyrics talk about the hypocrisy of these religious figureheads, and how they have misused and abused their authority and religion. The man in the song seeks to murder the priest, and by the end of the song he succeeds in his revenge. It's a scary and chilling song, which ends with the sound of thunder, rain, and church bells...signifying the end of the album that is 13. A fitting end too, because the very first song in the very first Black Sabbath album (1970) began with the sound of thunder, rain, and church bells...and so it is a poetic for the closing number in 13 to end with those sounds.

Interestingly, if you listen to both songs together they tell the complete story, with Dear Father being a prelude to the song Black Sabbath. Dear Father tells the story of how a sinful priest met his mortal end and punishment, and the song Black Sabbath tells the story of a sinful and frightened soul that has just departed from its deceased body, and is now facing the torment and consequence of death and after-life punishment...that soul being the wicked priest.

Of course I can't finish this post without talking about the drummer situation. Having Bill Ward on the album would have been great, I mean who wouldn't want him on board, but life isn't perfect and he made a decision to not be a part of it. Brad Wilk (of the Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave fame) performs drumming duties admirably, he shines in songs like Age of Reason, Damaged Soul, and Dear Father. His playing style no doubt has that loose jazzy swing to it. No one can replace Bill Ward, but Brad Wilk fits into the Sabbath sound with great ease.


Quick thoughts on three bonus songs, they're pretty good but I can see why they didn't quite make it to the main album. The eight songs on the main disc are perfect picks and irreplaceable. Still, the bonus songs offer something different, in particular the song Methademic. This song is fast, aggressive, loud, heavy, and pure up-tempo heavy metal at its finest. I love it, but it doesn't really fit with the style of the main album so it's appropriate for it to be a bonus song. It sounds like something that would fit comfortably in the albums the band did with Ronnie James Dio. Interestingly enough, this song is anti-drugs as it talks about the pain and pointlessness of addiction, a huge far cry from songs like Sweet Leaf and Snowblind which romanticized drugs and addiction! Looks like these guys have really grown up....

13 overall is a very strong, mature, and powerful album. None of the songs are weak, sure some are more amazing than others, but each song brings something unique and special. It's great to have such diversity and variety in the album, it has a little something for everyone. 13 to me lives up to all the hype and anticipation, it's the first official studio album by the original band since 1978 and it is joyous to see that even after such a long hiatus, the band chemistry did not fade away, in fact it sounds stronger than ever before on 13.

Perfect fairy tale endings usually don't happen in life, you don't always get that profound closing chapter, but in the case of Black Sabbath and 13, this is as perfect a closing chapter as you could ever dream of. With 13 the band comes to a conclusive full circle. This album was a gift to the fans, and a perfect curtain call for the over 40 year legacy of Black Sabbath. I feel so privileged to have been able to experience all this...the album, the build up, the tour, the historic release, listening to the first time fresh and new...all of it. It has been a monumental year in the history of music, and the feeling of being a small part of it is incredible.

13 gives the band, the fans, and the entire legacy of the band much needed closure. I will cherish this album for the rest of my life, and given the lyrical content and musical design of it, I have no doubt in my mind that this album is of a timeless grade.


Ozzy Osborune, Tony Iommi, and Geezer Butler, I thank you for making this incredible album.














1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent review -- many thanks ... I need to listen to 13 a few more times now.
    jp

    ReplyDelete

Keep it clean, keep it cool