There’s a lot invested in the first album under the Black Sabbath banner since 1995’s Forbidden. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler are still together after the ill-fated Heaven And Hell and Ozzy Osbourne is back in the ranks, but the inclusion of Brad Wilk in place of Bill Ward keeps this from being a complete reunion of the original lineup. Factor in a Rick Rubin production job and a couple health scares and you’ve got a great album with all the ingredients to make it even better.
Even if you don’t factor in Rubin’s insistence on a back to the roots approach, 13 sounds exactly like you thought it would. Their first three albums are the most obvious reference points but the structures and tone aren’t too far off from Iommi’s most recent works and there are traces of Born Again in his soloing style. The band dynamic is also identical to what one would expect as Iommi’s signature riffs drive the songs, Geezer provides a powerful bass presence, Wilk is competent though lacking Ward’s jazzy flare, and Ozzy’s vocals are edited to sound about as good as they can at this point…
The lyrics are also pretty solid though there isn’t anything quite as apocalyptic as “Electric Funeral” or the band’s self-titled anthem. The tone is a somber yet contemplative one as songs like “God Is Dead?” and “Dear Father” sit in on religious debates while “Live Forever” and the bluesy “Damaged Soul” discuss the inevitability of death. While the topics are nothing new, they sound a bit more real when delivered by a group of men in their sixties and fit the songs incredibly well.
But while a downtrodden doom album was just what we wanted from Sabbath, there are moments where this album feels like it may actually be too slow. While the exceptions of the “Planet Caravan” sequel “Zeitgeist” and the upbeat “Live Forever,” all the songs are slow plodders with occasional signs of life in the form of a speedy bridge. There’s not a badly written track on here but the overall album feels like it needed to be more dynamic. Just listen to the album with “Methademic” and “Naivete in Black” in place of “End Of The Beginning” and “Age of Reason” and you’ll see just how excellent this album could’ve sounded.
If the tolling bell at the end of “Dear Father” means that this will be the last Sabbath album, then I will take this as a rocky but ultimately strong swan song from a group of seasoned veterans. But I will also take this album as a sign of greater potential if this turns out to not be the case. Either way, 13 is a great entry into the Sabbath canon that is even better if you get ahold of the deluxe edition. Of course, nothing can fill the void that was created by the nonexistent follow-up to The Devil You Know…
“God Is Dead?”