(Note: This review refers to the deluxe edition of 13 with three bonus tracks)
I put off listening to Black Sabbath’s reunion album 13 because I assumed it would be awful. Well, I am pleasantly surprised to report that it is not that bad!
Black Sabbath to me was the first heavy metal band in that it contained in its music all the different components of what we associate with heavy metal – Fuzzy downtuned riffs, horror movie lyrics, wailing vocals, heavy drums.
Black Sabbath was a better version of Led Zeppelin whom I never cared for that much. Tony Iommi was a better soloist than Jimmy Page, Geezer Butler more of a thumping presence on the bass guitar, Bill Ward like John Bonham only quicker and more nimble, and Ozzy Osbourne whose voice can be a bit annoying is still nowhere near as irritating as Robert Plant.
It is Iommi who sounds the most inspired on 13. His riffs and solos are big and aggressive and way out in front. Osbourne sounds no different than he normally does. Butler comes in and out of the mix. The drums are handled by Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. He does a good job of mimicking Bill Ward’s style.
The best moments on 13 remind one of past Sabbath glories. Loner, my favourite song, is a speedy barnburner like Symptom of the Universe, Supernaut, and Paranoid (which it also lyrically resembles). The acoustic overdub freakout Zeitgeist is like an updated Planet Caravan. The rocking Methademic brings to mind Hole in the Sky. End of the Beginning makes me think of Iron Man or Into the Void. Peace of Mind is similar to Killing Yourself to Live.
I have heard some criticism of Rick Rubin’s production and it is a bit too clean at times. I would have liked the nastier, blurrier tone of earlier Sabbath records. Still, he does get the large size of Sabbath’s music right, the depths of its heaviness.
Black Sabbath had plenty of brilliant songs but never made a great record all the way through as there was always some dumb filler present (a silly instrumental, acoustic throwaway etc). 13, at over an hour long, is no different but that is also a good thing as this very well could be a Black Sabbath album from their 70’s heyday.