Please allow me to skip the obligatory opening paragraph about this being the most important Metal album in 35 years, how Black Sabbath soldiered on despite Tony’s illness and Bill’s departure, the addition of studio drummer Brad Wilk and blah blah blah and dive right into the kiddie pool of lukewarm musical water that is Meh-ster of Reality. (Sorry, I mean 13.)
First, the bad news: As a whole, 13 is an unsatisfying hodgepodge of past glories chopped up and glued together by the band and album doctor Rick Rubin, resulting in very little more than a Frankenstein caricature of a greatest hits package.
Ozzy’s singing (as well as the band’s groove) at the beginning of “Age of Reason” is immediately reminiscent of 1976’s “All Moving Parts (Stand Still),” while “Zeitgeist” (cool as it is) shamelessly bastardizes “Planet Caravan” (1970) and “Solitude” (1971) to create the album’s stoned-in-mom’s-basement moment. The drum fills in album opener “End Of The Beginning” are so close to those played on “Black Sabbath” (1970) that it’s downright embarrassing, while “Loner” is 1970’s “N.I.B.” with stale, barely-disguised dashes of “Air Dance” (1978) and “Dirty Women” (1976) thrown in for added blandness. (Couldn’t Ozzy think of anything to add at the end of the song’s first verse other than a dopey “alright now”?) And strip away the studio massaging, and all we really have on 13 in terms of vocals are the fumes and moans of a tired, once-mighty frontman who switched off ages ago.
Criticisms aside, there are some genuinely great moments on here. Every single guitar solo on this thing is (of course) extraordinary, as Iommi clearly put down each note with commitment and vigor. The band interplay during the last two minutes of “Age Of Reason” is pure, classic Sabbath and serves to remind the world of what makes this band so damn special in the first place, while Brad Wilk’s drumming on the album is undeniably solid and respectful of the task at hand. (That said, I yearn for Bill’s beautifully sloppy swing around the 3:25 mark in “End Of The Beginning,” but this is a mere quibble.) And I can’t get enough of “Live Forever,” even if the chorus does subtly pilfer 1973’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.”
Considering that 13 is obviously the only modern Black Sabbath album in the marketplace – and thus the most-likely purchase a kid is going to make if he or she wants to check the band out – I suppose it does serve as an adequate “young person’s guide” to a crucial band. However, the album will ultimately fail to stand alongside the group’s greatest material - or add to the band’s legacy - once more experienced Sabbath listeners remove the rose-colored earbuds of nostalgia and reverence and actually listen to it with objective minds.
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