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

Black Sabbath
13
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”

Almost six decades after forming the short-lived Rising Sons, the two legends reconvene to pay tribute to the classic blues duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee on the warm and rootsy Get on Board.

Deep into Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder’s Get on Board: The Songs of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, percussionist Joachim Cooder lays out, letting the two elder musicians can take a pass through “Pawn Shop Blues.” To start, they loosely play around with the song’s intro on their acoustic guitars. “Yeah, nice,” remarks Mahal off-handedly in his distinctive rasp—present since he was a young man but, at 79, he’s aged into it—and Cooder lightly chuckles. They hit the turnaround and settle into a slow, loping tempo. It’s a casual and informal affair—some notes buzz, and it sounds like one of them is stomping his foot intermittently. Except for Cooder’s slide choruses, neither guitar plays a rhythm or lead role. They simply converse.

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The emotional wallop of the acoustic guitar sometimes flies under the radar. Even if you mostly play electric, here are some things to consider about unplugging.

I have a love-hate relationship with acoustic guitars. My infatuation with the 6-string really blasted off with the Ventures. That’s the sound I wanted, and the way to get it was powered by electricity. Before I’d even held a guitar, I knew I wanted a Mosrite, which I was sure was made of fiberglass like the surfboards the Beach Boys, Surfaris, and the Challengers rode in their off time. Bristling with space-age switchgear and chrome-plated hardware, those solidbody hotrod guitars were the fighter jets of my musical dreams. I didn’t even know what those old-timey round-hole guitars were called. As the singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey strummed off into the sunset, the pace of technology pushed the look and sound of the electric guitar (and bass) into the limelight and into my heart. Imagine my disappointment when I had to begin my guitar tutelage on a rented Gibson “student” acoustic. At least it sort of looked like the ones the Beatles occasionally played. Even so, I couldn’t wait to trade it in.

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Need an affordable distortion pedal? Look no further.

We live in the golden age of boutique pedals that are loaded with advanced features—many of which were nearly unthinkable a decade or so ago. But there’s something that will always be valuable about a rock-solid dirt box that won’t break your wallet. Here’s a collection of old classics and newly designed stomps that cost less than an average concert ticket.

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