On April 10, Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler surprised a small crowd at the Montalban Theater in Hollywood for a first listen of Black Sabbath’s new album, “13.” They were onstage for no more than a minute and beyond a thank you, all Ozzy wanted to know was whether the crowd liked it.
They gave him a thumbs up.
In a “making of” documentary for the album, Osbourne calls it “quite possibly the most important album of my career.” Producer Rick Rubin says that Osbourne, guitarist Iommi and bassist Butler, who had not recorded together since 1978, created a mission statement for the band and then went through songs written at Iommi’s home in Birmingham, England, the city of Sabbath’s birth. They discarded the songs that did not fit the statement and focused on the eight that did, five of which clock in at more than seven minutes.
Naturally, the album has a massive guitar-bass-drum (provided by Brad Wilk) sound and lots of lyrics about death, demons and despair. Now streaming for free on iTunes, here are our first impressions of “13,” which Vertigo/Republic will release on June 11.
1. “End of the Beginning” — Like so many classic Sabbath tunes, it begins slow with fat chords and poses a bit of a silly question – “Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?” –- before picking up speed and density. The song’s ultimate message? “Rise up, resist.”
2. “God Is Dead?” — With lines such as “lost in the darkness” and “rivers of evil,” the album’s longest track uses tried and true elements such as the sound of wind blowing and a huge chorus. What’s unique is Iommi going for an airier guitar sound than usual.
3. “Loner” — Nothing exceptional here, just standard-issue Sabbath.
4. “Zeitgeist” — The big change of pace track – acoustic guitar, hand percussion and Osbourne’s voice put through a trippy ’70s time machine. Iommi has an electric guitar solo that echoes the work of jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. Sabbath as you have never heard them before.
5. “Age of Reason” — Big riffs, big drums, old school production – a track that hits the listener like the “Vol. 4” album. Butler, Iommi and Osbourne are all fighting for a larger allocation of space in the sonic spectrum and they rip through fat hooks as Wilk’s drums wander the way Bill Ward used to do, adding a hypnotic element. The song is a journey through five movements of various tempos and riffs with no let-up in the thickness of the sound. Clearly, the album’s most adventurous and rewarding track.
6. “Live Forever” — An exceptional Osbourne vocal in which he tackles one of life’s big dichotomies: “I don’t want to live forever, but I don’t want to die.”
7. “Damaged Soul” — A nearly eight-minute track that displays Iommi’s strengths as a guitarist playing over that uniquely sludgy Sabbath tempo. It concludes with a tempo shift into a boogie blues complete with blues harp, another interesting twist on the Sabbath trademark. Osbourne’s vocal is heavy on the echo; on first listen, the only decipherable words were “evil,” “demons” and “Satan is waiting for the righteous to fall.”
8. “Dear Father” — A nursery rhyme from hell about a request for forgiveness, “Dear Father” hues closer to Osbourne’s solo material than any of the other track. A huge melodic hook gives it some commercial potential as it concludes with a bit of the cliché – thunder, rain and a steeple bell ringing.