Friday, September 6, 2013

A Look Back At Black Sabbath's Seventh Star

Originally intended to be Tony Iommi’s solo debut, there is no denying that Seventh Star has the oddest status in the Black Sabbath discography. It doesn’t get torn apart like Forbidden or divides opinion quite like Born Again, but rather seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle with its successor The Eternal Idol. Context aside, this album is still responsible for many of the tropes that the band would come to adopt through the late 80s and early 90s.

In addition to being the first Sabbath album to feature Iommi as its sole original member, Seventh Star saw them fully embracing styles that had merely been hinted at before. Songs like “In For The Kill” and “Turn To Stone” show a proto-power metal sound that Dio never could’ve predicted while “Heart Like A Wheel” is the band’s first glimpse at the blues since their earliest days. There is also inevitable influence from the time period in its prominent keyboards, reverb heavy production, and all-out power balladry on “No Stranger To Love” and “In Memory.”

The lineup may result in a faceless rhythm section but the overall performances are worth noting. Iommi himself is as smooth as always though his leads are more focused than his riffs as the always-underrated Geoff Nicholls dominates “The Sphinx” and brings some nice Hammond touches to “Angry Heart.” On the other hand, vocal legend Glenn Hughes contribution is sure to divide listeners as he provides his amazing range and soul but lacks the atmosphere that truly makes a standout Sabbath singer. At least Joe Lynn Turner was busy at the time…

And with that to consider, it is hard to recommend this to traditional Sabbath fans. It doesn’t quite match the riff-driven Ozzy era, the majesty of the Dio era, or even the B-movie darkness of their other 80s ventures. The new sounds are also a point of concern as they provide a source of transition but ultimately make the album a true product of its time.

Black Sabbath’s twelfth studio album may essentially be the best album that Rainbow never made, but it may have more in common with their other efforts from the decade than one would initially think. It is worth wondering how things would’ve been if this had been released properly, but thankfully the band evolved well from here and Tony for a few more chances at a solo career in later years. I’d go for Fused to hear an astounding Iommi/Hughes collaboration or Headless Cross for the best of late 80s Sabbath but this is still worth looking into if you get the chance.

Current Highlights:
“In For The Kill”
“No Stranger To Love”
“Heart Like A Wheel”
“Angry Heart”

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Look Back at Witchfinder General's Death Penalty

Witchfinder General was one of the more fascinating bands in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal Movement. Despite having a short run that offered very little success, the two albums released in their early 80s heyday showcased a unique sound that proved to be incredibly influential in the development of the doom metal subgenre. 1982’s Death Penalty makes for a fascinating debut as it shows how they were deserving of their accolades despite sounding like what would happen if the guys from Wayne’s World ever tried their hands at Sabbath worship…

For starters, the band members’ inexperience is made glaringly obvious throughout the album. Phil Cope’s guitar playing may be competent but the production job makes the drums sound like cardboard, the bass is only heard on rare spots, and the vocals are an acquired taste at their best. While Zeeb Parkes has a decent voice that recalls a cross between Ozzy and Diamond Head’s Sean Harris, he lacks charisma and even basic technique at times with “Invisible Hate” suffering the most due to some horribly executed voice cracks.

The lyrics are also worth noting, as they seem to follow Venom’s old school example of sex, drugs, and the Devil. Of course, many of the early 80s bands executed these now dated themes with a pronounced sense of menace or camp, but Witchfinder General’s method is much more vapid. The occult themes on songs like “Burning A Sinner” and “R.I.P.” are close to their Hammer Film aspirations but they lack the foreboding sense that made Sabbath’s horror themes so inspiring. In addition, “Free Country” is a rather lame drug anthem and “No Stayer” has some of the worst lyrics ever written.

But with that said, almost all of these faults are redeemed by the facts that Parkes and Cope happened to be a pretty good songwriting team. Even with their dumb lyrics, “Free Country” and “No Stayer” are actually among the best songs on here as the former rides some punk influence and the latter offers an equally upbeat introduction before going into some fun hard rock riffs. The album’s last three songs will also be of particular interest to traditional doom fans with “R.I.P.” offering some catchy vocal lines and “Burning A Sinner” matching a groovy main riff with the most jovial chorus ever written about a woman burning at the stake.

Some people always claim that a given band never rose above an obscure status due to record company politics or what have you, but there is often another very visible reason for why that band never caught on. Much like Anvil, Witchfinder General was a band worth praising on the basis of their influence but could never be a household name due to their rather boneheaded approach. Death Penalty offers some well-written proto-doom for fans of the genre and some unintentional comedy for everyone else. I would recommend a Saint Vitus or Pentagram album before it, but it’s a purchase that’s pretty hard to regret either way.

Current Highlights:
“Free Country”
“No Stayer”
“Burning A Sinner”