The original hellraisers and masters of heavy metal have returned with a thunderously nostalgic collection of new material in the form of ’13’, Black Sabbath’s first studio output since 1995’s ‘Forbidden’.
And let’s be clear from the outset, there’s a good reason why this album skyrocketed to the top of the charts and re-established this legendary British outfit as the undisputed godfathers of their genre. All the staples of classic Sabbath are here on this album: killer riffs, doom/gloom/hellish lyrics, Ozzy’s unmistakable vocals and the infectious blend of rock, heavy metal and groove that made these almost mythic icons the trailblazers they are. Things kick off in grandiose fashion on ‘The End of the Beginning’, an 8 minute journey into vintage Black Sabbath territory, with axe man Tony Iommi proving his place amongst the great riffmasters of the genre is well deserved. Throughout the album, his simple, effective and incredibly catchy riffs propel many of the songs, with lead single ‘God Is Dead?’, ‘Loner’ and ‘Live Forever’ being amongst the standout ‘riff-tastic moments’.
It’s no secret that Ozzy Osbourne’s vocals are an acquired taste and that live he may not quite have the gusto of his younger years, but in my opinion, they’re exactly where they need to be on ’13’, his first time singing with his band mates on a studio album since 1978’s ‘Never Say Die’. It’s a trademark outing for the Ozzman, with him having a stage to show his worth on tracks like ‘Age of Reason’ and the incredibly low-key, semi-psychedelic ballad ‘Zeitgeist’.
The bass and drums section of the album is also a tour de force, with Sabbath original Bill Ward being replaced (unfortunately for those hoping for a full reunion lineup) by Brad Wilk. His style, emulating that classic Sabbath style with his own unique brand of playing injected into it, is the perfect tag team partner for Geezer Butler’s groove and infectious basslines. Production-wise, it’s a polished, refined album with a great sound, clear on the ear and stripped right back to the raw power that made early Sabbath records so formidable. It is without doubt an influence of Rick Rubin, who has made a name for himself in recent years for taking aged or (by some considered) over-the-hill artists and getting them back to their roots, and it is him we can thank for the crisp, nostalgic audio journey that Sabbath invite us on.
For those who want a token more, the deluxe edition of the album boasts three extra tracks: ‘Methademic’, ‘Piece of Mind’ and ‘Pariah’. If you ask me, and I may be slightly biased, it’s definitely worth investing in the deluxe edition to take the 9 songs up to 11. There isn’t a bad track in the whole standard album and the bonus songs are no exception.
If you’re looking for validation and proof that Black Sabbath are still relevant and can offer great music, then ’13’ is the album for you. It’s a trip down memory lane for some, yet manages to retain a current, fresh feel. It is undoubtedly one of the best rock/heavy metal albums of the year and possibly of the last few years. A great return to form for a band that has seen highs and lows, personally and professionally, but yet seemingly weathers any storm and endures as an unkillable entity within their genre. My advice? Go out and buy this album, you won’t be disappointed.