By: David Scott Barron
It’s official - Black Sabbath are back and heavier than ever! Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, and Geezer Butler made a surprise visit for select media and friends on Wednesday (April 10) in Hollywood, CA to preview 13, their first new studio album in 35 years. We were honored to be asked to attend this event hosted by the publicity powerhouse firm of The Mitch Schneider Organization.
The approximately 75 invitees arrived at the Montalban Theatre, dressed mostly in black, for the listening premier of 13, produced by the iconic producer Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers). The Sabbath lineup has had it’s share of changes through the decades and this time around is no exception, with the addition of Brad Wilk (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave) sitting in as a guest on drums.
Once everyone had checked in through security that was tighter than a facelift, we were handed a one-sheet flyer with the song list and run times. The song titles themselves revealed that the emotions and ideas conveyed on 13 would cover a myriad of things: religion, the inner soul, reflection, conspiracy, and even God.
The event was hosted by Jack Osbourne, who was in great spirits; looking happy and healthy. His production company, Jacko Productions, had created a short ten minute behind-the-scenes film for the audience. It was a rare look into the inner world of rock legends creating music with a mastermind producer. Rubin expressed his excitement to get to work with Black Sabbath; a band he grew up with. The band explained that it was decided to record at Tony Iommi’s studio in Birmingham, England after he was diagnosed with lymphoma. The mood was light, fun but serious, with a pinch of British humor thrown in, of course. Geezer jokingly stated, “Back in the day, the band spent more money on cocaine then we ever did in the studio!” Ozzy and the guys teased the new kid Wilk some, but in the end of the video, Ozzy claimed, “This is a record I like, and it’s quite possibly the most important of my career.”
After the short film, we were plunged into pitch blackness as 13 was played in its entirety. The sound mix in the theatre was fantastic and loud – as Black Sabbath should be. And it was badass. I was able to hear each band member distinctly with crisp precision.
Featuring eight songs ranging from four and a half to almost nine minutes long, 13 is a musical masterpiece. The song titles are: “End of the Beginning,” “God is Dead,” “Loner,” “Zeitgeist,” “Age of Reason,” “Live Forever,” “Damaged Soul,” and “Dear Father.”
The epic Sabbath sound can be heard throughout the entire album, but I distinctly recognized Rubin’s signature influence that brought 13 to a level of damn near perfection. Much like a personal trainer sculpts their clients, Rubin imparted his ideal heavy sound and mix with Black Sabbath. What I heard was a cleaner Black Sabbath mix; heavy as hell, but simple. Throw in some change of pace, heavy grooves, and percussion, and voilà! You have a great album.
Right out of the gate Sabbath fans will love the first track, “End of the Beginning,” as the band oozes it’s dark, heavy sound with pounding drums and thundering bass lines, coupled with Iommi’s recognizable guitar riffs. From the opening lines of Ozzy belting out “Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end,” I was hooked. After hearing the full eight minute song my mind was already made up – I was buying this album without a doubt.
Perhaps this upper echelon of hard-core, jaded Music Journalists and Editors were just playing it cool in the beginning, but I slowly saw people starting to rock in time to the beat. By a few songs in, quite a few heads were banging in unison to the melodic auditory brilliance. I don’t think there was a person there that was unaffected by the pounding beats of pure SABBATH!
Track two, entitled “God Is Dead” is one that you may recognize from the 27 second teaser video released by the band last week. I’m not trying to rub it in here, but the other 8 minutes/27 seconds – ROCK! The song has Ozzy contemplating the difficulty of life on earth and the existence of a higher being. Singing such lines as “Blood on your conscious/ Body is a shrine/Is God Dead?/God is Dead…Will someone please tell me, is God really dead?” The track is the longest on the album, coming in at 8:54, and was met with audience applause at the end.
My sleeper hit for 13 is the fourth track “Zeitgeist.” Laden with a cool, slower, bluesy intro and coupled with Wilk’s conga beats, the song sticks with you till the very end. I honestly couldn’t read my own chicken-scratch handwritten notes I tried to scrawl in dark. Stripped of the flashlight app on my phone, without night vision goggles, I simply did the best I could. After a while I just succumbed to the music…
Ozzy’s vocals had a very different feel on this record. It was a refreshing and pleasant surprise as compared to his solo stuff, which tends to sound the same to me. Each song showcased Ozzy’s voice in a contrasting way, highlighting the incredible range and pitch that he is capable of achieving. For a man of 64 years of age, Ozzy still has the pipes any teenager would kill for.
I loved the length of the songs and have a feeling that the band never once thought about radio cuts, single releases. Black Sabbath can pretty much do what they want, and they didn’t compromise the music for commercial mandates. It really doesn’t matter, because this album is so good, it is almost guaranteed that all levels of rock radio (college, internet, mainstream) will be playing tracks from this album.
After the entire record was played, Jack introduced Black Sabbath to the media to a rousing round of applause. It was nice to see Tony in good spirits, waving to the crowd. The whole band looks amazing, and from what I had just heard in 13, they represent the epitome of musicianship. So, lock up your womenfolk – Black Sabbath is not only back, but coming to a town near you soon! Stay tuned for North American tour announcements. Black Sabbath has European tour dates for later this year listed below.
Writer’s Note: Shortly before publishing this article, Jack Osbourne filed a report from the event to Fuse News as part of his new gig as a Video Journalist for the music network station. It also includes parts of Jack’s short film on Black Sabbath mentioned above. You can watch it HERE on Fuse TV.
Black Sabbath European Tour 2013 Dates:
11/20 – Helsinki, Finland – Hartwall Arena
11/22 – Stockholm, Sweden – Friends Arena
11/24 – Oslo, Norway – Telenor Arena
11/26 – Copenhagen, Denmark – Forum
11/28 – Amsterdam, Holland – Ziggo Dome
11/30 – Dortmund, Germany – Westfalenhalle
12/2 – Paris, France – Bercy
12/5 – Milan, Italy – Fiera Arena
12/7 – Prague, Czech Republic – 02 Arena
12/10 – London, U.K. – 02 Arena
12/12 – Belfast, Ireland – Odyssey Arena
12/14 – Sheffield, U.K. – Arena
12/16 – Glasgow, Scotland – Hydro
12/18 – Manchester, U.K. – Arena
12/20 – Birmingham, U.K. – LG Arena