Black Sabbath – 13 (2013)

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13, long-awaited and so very hard-fought, begins with a morbid and massive riff, so clean and so spooky – so free of gimmickry – that it’s utterly transportive: This is what made Black Sabbath such as scary-ass experience in the first place.

“The End of the Beginning” eventually launches into a driving groove, fired as all of their best songs are not by Tony Iommi’s graveyard riffs or even Ozzy Osbourne’s hellhound wail, but by the blood-curdling thunk of bassist Geezer Butler. Iommi doesn’t lay back for long, though, unleashing a solo that is as furious as it is cathartic – and, considering everything he went through over the course of this album’s conception and recording, that may be the most impressive thing of all about this reunion project: How visceral, how present, Iommi sounds.

13, due on June 11, 2013, and featuring Black Sabbath’s first full-length studio work with Osbourne since 1978, is a testament to the ties that bind, to overcoming, and to still sounding as evil as shit. The lead single “God Is Dead,” which sports another thunderously elastic performance from Butler, is only an appetizer for vicious, utterly destructive and completely brilliant deep cuts like “Damaged Soul.”

From the unfettered rage of “Age of Reason” to the timely, emotionally serrated lyrics that propel “Dear Father,” 13 is the sound of a trio of old friends – plus Brad Wilk on drums – finding themselves again.

Sure, “Methademic” takes on a sad irony, considering Osbourne’s back slide into addiction over the course of these sessions. “Zeitgest,” despite Ozzy’s old-school water-logged vocal, wanders more than it intrigues. Bone-crushingly assertive, Wilk lacks some of Bill Ward’s innate swing. “Live Forever” sounds like they’re trying a bit too hard. But those are mere speed bumps, as the on-balance very satisfying 13 hurtles along.

Producer Rick Rubin has stripped away the artifice that so often obscured Sabbath’s trademark power over the decades, and at the same time, allowed the songs to breathe. (It’s been easy to forget, as Ozzy turned into a reality-show punchline, that these guys basically invented prog-metal.) Ultimately, whatever its brief missteps, this doesn’t feel like a bid for critical acceptance, or even a cheap attempt at throwback reverie – both fair assumptions at this late date. Instead, 13 plays by its own rules, by Black Sabbath’s rules.

Along the way, many of the darker themes here – perhaps inevitably – lead us back to Tony Iommi’s brave struggle through what will unfortunately be a lifetime of dealing with cancer. That only serves to imbue lines like “I don’t mind dying, because I’m already dead,” from “Damaged Soul,” with a deeper, most powerful resonance. Even so, 13 doesn’t feel like a valedictory moment, much less a farewell. It serves as a reminder of what happens when a great band gathers itself hoping for a third-act triumph – and then, despite the obstacles, delivers.

Black Sabbath’s most recent previous album with Ozzy Osbourne may have been called Never Say Die, but this is the one that lives up to that lofty ambition.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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  • JC Mosquito

    It’s like the essence of Sabbath has been distilled here… it’s OK, but it come off a little bland, like it’s been done before. And why are the best cuts the three “bonus” tracks and the Best Buy “BONUS” bonus track? Add those four, chop off the first two, and it’s a better album.

  • Fred Phillips

    I’m still trying to compose my thoughts on this record, which surprises me a little, but on the bonus tracks I agree with JC. Some of them are better than some of the regular album tracks. I wouldn’t get rid of “God is Dead?” though. I like that one. I think some of the longer tracks wear out their welcome a little, but I guess I should save that for my review.