13. The number is loaded with superstition, taboo, and mystery. Its unlucky reputation has enamored metal bands since the genre’s inception.
Black Sabbath has had an arguably unlucky journey during the creation of this album. The band officially reunited with all four original members (Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward) on 11/11/11. Drummer Bill Ward left due to financial concerns. Guitarist Tony Iommi was diagnosed with lymphoma. Singer Ozzy Osbourne’s son, Jack Osbourne, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Osbourne, after being sober for approximately five years, relapsed and his marriage to Sharon Osbourne was allegedly falling apart.
Fans worried whether the metal pioneers would be able to deliver. Forums became battlefields, with one side crying out “No Bill, no Sabbath!” as the other side clutched onto their old copies of “Paranoid” and “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” for dear life, secretly hoping their heroes would not disappoint them.
So Sabbath recruited Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk to sit on Bill Ward’s stool, and they charged forward to create “13,” an instant classic that fits right at home with the rest of their Ozzy-fronted discography.
The ironically-named “End of the Beginning” starts the album off with your standard Sabbath doominess, both musically and lyrically. Like the rest of this album, it sounds like a blast from the past, with Ozzy crooning thought-provoking lyrics over Tony Iommi’s simplistic but powerful riff work and Geezer Butler’s rumbling bass. The song debuted on the season finale of “CSI” last month. It would have made a better choice for a single than “God is Dead?”, the next track on the album.
“God Is Dead?” is the second track and the first single released from this album. The music video was released yesterday and caused a ruckus on the Internet, with overly-religious people complaining about the song’s offensive title. Osbourne was inspired to write the song after seeing the phrase on the cover of a magazine and thinking about how many people have died in the name of religion (although he does not believe God is dead). The single clocks in at 9 minutes and sometimes seems too long, even for Sabbath. But it still has their classic sound and was given mostly positive reviews on its release.
The first thing that pops into my head when I hear the intro riff of “Loner” is “N.I.B.” I literally expect Ozzy to shout “oh yeah!” in between verses. Brad Wilk is good at channeling Bill Ward’s drumming style, knowing exactly when and what to do with his drum fills and using the toms at the precise moment.
“Zeitgeist” is 13’s “Planet Caravan”. mellow acoustic vibe, spacey phaser effects on Ozzy’s vocals, and exotic percussion. Osbourne sings about traveling on a space ship that eventually crashes. It’s like listening to a cleaner version of something left over from the “Paranoid” sessions, like if Sabbath had recorded this in 1971, but with our technology.
“Live Forever” starts off as another slow, early Sabbath-sounding song before the drums kick in with “Fairies Wear Boots”-type riffage. The lyrics still play on Sabbath’s signature “Heaven and Hell” themes, but also remind the listener of the band’s mortality. (“I don’t wanna live forever / But I don’t wanna die / I may dreaming, but whatever/ I live inside a lie.”) All the current members outlived singer Ronnie James Dio (who was part of Sabbath from: 1979-82, 1991-92, 2007). Iommi recorded the album while being treated for cancer, and Osbourne went back on drugs. It serves as a stark reminder that “13” *may* be this band’s last album (although they entertained the possibility of recording a follow-up). As I listened to this song, I thought, “Oh shit. These guys are still human,” something we often forget when we think of our heroes, musical and otherwise.
In “Damaged Soul,” Ozzy breaks out the harmonica, adding extra doom to another classic Sabbath-sounding song. Some of the lyrics rank right up there with “Hand of Doom”: “I don’t mind dying cause I’m already dead / Pray not for the living, I’ll live in your head / Dying is easy, it’s living that’s hard / I’m losing the battle between Satan and God.” Iommi nails it again, over Butler’s rumbling bass and Wilk’s spot-on drum fills. This is everything that is great about Sabbath compressed into one song.
“Dear Father” is the final track on the standard edition of the album. it is heavier than the rest of “13,” both musically and lyrically. It has strange time changes and discordant arpeggios, reminding one of Ozzy’s “Diary of a Madman” in parts. There are unexpected key and mood changes at the end. The lyrics come full-circle to the first track most people have heard from this album, “God is Dead?”: “Your molestations of the cross you defiled / A man once holy now despised and reviled… Dear Father forsaken, you knew what you were doing / In silence your violence has left me in ruin.” These should also be placed in the top tier of Ozzy-fronted Sabbath lyrics.
At this point, I’ve been listening to this album for 50 minutes. Unlike other albums, I was not constantly wondering, “how many songs are left?” or “I’m not sure if I like this or not”. I was actually sad that “13” was drawing to a close.
I blasted it on my iPhone and excitedly ran to the living room, proudly proclaiming to the rest of the household, “THIS is Sabbath!”
Then commences the second disc, with the three bonus tracks.
“Methademic” sounds like “Bark at the Moon”-era Ozzy, but with Sabbath acting as the band, if that makes any sense. It sounds newer than the other songs on the album, definitely more 1980s and than 1970s. Perhaps it is best that it was left off the standard edition of the album due to its different vibe, but it’s a good song nonetheless.
“Peace of Mind” is another classic Sabbath song, with the lyrics possibly referencing the events the band went through during the recording of this album: “I wish somebody would empty my head / I am so sorry for the things that I’ve said / This hopeless feeling that’s living inside / I’m just a lonely soul who’s trying to find some peace of mind.”
“Pariah” starts off as another slow-to-mid-tempo doomy song but has the coolest riff of the album. It is slightly more complex than the riffs on the rest of “13,” showing how the band has matured while still keeping most of the elements of their signature sound. It would have been a suitable ending to the standard release, and is another case of, “why didn’t they put it on the regular CD?”
Whether or not “13” is Sabbath’s final album, it is an instant classic. Musically, it feels like you were teleported back into the 1970s, as if they simply picked up where they left off with Ozzy–but had gotten ahold of today’s recording technology. This album shows why these men are the kings of heavy metal. An instant classic that fits nicely between “Paranoid” and “Volume 4”.
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10
1. End of the Beginning
2. God is Dead?
5. Age of Reason
6. Live Forever
7. Damaged Soul
8. Dear Father
2. Peace of Mind