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Album Review: Black Sabbath - "13"

Ozzy & Co.'s latest relies heavily on the sounds of their past, with flickers of hope for the future.

Black Sabbath
Vertigo/Republic Records

Black Sabbath’s 13—the first studio album in 35 years with vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler—finds the band revisiting its classic, heavy blues-based and bigger-than-life riffing. With producer Rick Rubin at the helm, Sabbath has delivered a fantastic comeback album that pulls no punches. The opening tracks “End of the Beginning” and “God is Dead?” feature over 16 minutes of demonic riffs that harken back to the band’s self-titled 1970 debut, and they lure the listener in with dark progressions before unleashing fierce jams. Ex-RATM Brad Wilk’s deep-in-the-pocket drumming sounds carefully practiced and works well within the songs, but doesn’t exactly capture Bill Ward’s incredible swing.

After an epically long and heaving introduction, the album kicks up the tempo and showcases the band’s interlocking tightness. “Zeitgeist”—complete with bongos, gentle acoustic guitar, and Osbourne’s ghostly modulated vocals—is easily the softest song in the batch, but also contains some of the strongest musical moments. Iommi’s reverb-drenched solo is among his most uplifting and expressive, consisting of a stylistic blend of Clapton and Reinhardt. Meanwhile, Butler’s masterful bass lines deftly guide the song with melodic aplomb. It’s a moment that proves what diehard fans have known for years: These musicians are not only masters of the almighty riff, but they truly understand the immense power that can result from contrasting the hard and soft.

Sabbath’s signature wall of sound returns with a vengeance during the second half, and in the end, 13’s biggest downfall is that perhaps it relies too heavily on the past, rather than pushing into unexplored songwriting territory. Regardless, 13 shows why Black Sabbath continues to be relevant in the worlds of rock and metal.

Must-hear tracks: “Zeitgeist”