As I’ve mentioned before, albums by bands who have been away for a long time are always approached with an err of caution. But add the fact that you’re a legendary metal band on top of that and things can get shaky. That’s how I approached the new album by Black Sabbath. There was a good chance that it was going to be horrible and a good chance that it was going to be mediocre. But after hearing the first three songs, I was amazed. The album isn’t perfect, but it’s Black Sabbath at their best and it proves that they never should’ve let Ozzy go.
What’s most enjoyable about the album is that the band is just being themselves. They’re not following any music trends to stay relevant; they’re doing what they do best. Maybe that’s why so many songs here sound like they come from their first two albums. The thing I noticed instantly about the opener “End of the Beginning” is that it sounds an awful lot like “Black Sabbath” from their debut album. When that heavy dooming riff hits you, you almost expect black clouds to form overhead. It’s that damn brutal. With the line “Is this the end of the beginning? Or the beginning of the end?” it’s clear that the band has no interest in dabbling in anything other than dark thoughts we try to shove out of our minds. Everything about this song represents Black Sabbath perfectly: darkness, creepy lyrics, and kick ass guitar riffs. It’s an awesome opening track that sets the tone for the rest of the album.
The doom and gloom continues on the next track “God is Dead?” We are greeted by another slow menacing riff that sounds like it’s ushering in the era of damnation, especially as we get further into the song. Ozzy shows that even though the past few years haven’t been kind to him, he’s still a great singer. His voice sounds amazing here, especially since he manages to sound really creepy without sounding cheesy. Also, it shows that they are still good songwriters. The whole song is about fighting and questioning your own faith, but the one line I really love from the song is “I watch the rain as it turns red/Give me more wine/I don’t need bread.” Something about that line is witty and seems to be referring to giving in to your sins.
There’s something about these songs where you can tell the band was ready to make music again. It doesn’t sound they decided to make an album just for the money; they were just ready to start making music again with most of the original line up. And with songs as strong as “Loner” and “Zeitgeist” it shows that this is the line up that just works, even if it has its kinks. “Loner” has this great riff that sounds like it was ripped straight from “N.I.B.” Compared to the first two songs, it doesn’t sound gloomy, rather having a more hard rock sound with a hint of dark flavor. The latter track finds the guys toning things down with a soft acoustic guitar and soothing bongo drums. There is some psychedelic influence here and Ozzy has an extra dose of creepy with the echoing effect added to his vocals. Because this song has a different sound from the other tracks here, it makes me wish they threw in some songs with different tempos and sound instead of having each one overly heavy. It’s not that bad, but it gets to be too much at times.
Just about all the tracks are 8 minutes long, but they manage to keep the music fresh that you don’t even notice the track length. With songs like “Dear Father” the music will subtly change sound and tempo, even if it’s only for a minute, but it’s enough to keep the listener interested in the song. This track starts out heavy like the others, but during the bridge the music picks up and loses some of its heaviness. It really gets you moving. Another interesting thing about this song is that it ends with thunder and rain sound effects and tolling church bells. This is exactly how the first song on their first album began. Whether or not it was intentional, it’s still cool nonetheless.
Overall, the album gets 8/10. It may not be the best album Black Sabbath’s ever done, but considering they haven’t done an album with Ozzy since 1978, it’s a damn good record. All of the songs are worth listening to and when hearing them, you can tell that the time was right for them to make music. They didn’t get back together solely for the money; they wanted to make a new record. Older Sabbath fans will be pleased to find that most of the new material sounds like their classic stuff. It’s heavy, dark, and brooding with its apocalyptic theme.