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Black Sabbath

13

Black Sabbath
9
The big deal here is that 75-percent of the original Black Sabbath line-up, including the perennially confused Ozzy Osbourne behind the mic, have reunited (sans ostracised drummer Bill Ward) for a new studio disc. Crunching the numbers, it's the best percentage/line-up we've seen from this long-suffering legends for a long time — the last album with the classic line-up being 1978's Never Say Die. Here, ex-Rage Against the Machine dude Brad Wilk is behind the kit, and he plays it straight, almost to the point of no personality, doing his best Bill Ward, but taking it down a notch. He hits hard and powerfully, but you're left wanting more of what he's capable of. It's a minor complaint in the face of such doom/trad metal magic though. Opener "End of the Beginning" sludges slow like classic drab Sab, then picks up the pace, doing the Sabbath boogie like only they can, with Ozzy oddly sounding like the only guy who's a bit restrained. The melodic mid-point of the tune is a nice surprise, sounding oddly '90s — definitely a bit of the happy, bouncy Sabbath sound. I didn't hear advance single "God Is Dead?" until in the context of 13, being too afraid of disappointment, but it doesn't — the only bummer being how similar it is to the opener. It's a great, stomping, powerful doom tune. "Live Forever" has some of the crash, crush und burn of the Sabotage era; the sordid depression is mixed with an up-tempo boogie that just baffles, confounds and pleases. "Damaged Forever" loosens things up with a side-step shuffle that drags and burns, harmonica wailing, guitar soloing interestingly — a nice breather at that late point in the disc, the production of the mysterious Rick Rubin bashing and crashing, although playing it a bit safe and controlled. It's a small issue considering it sounds like Rubin helped the band find their mojo again, finally. Colour me pleasantly surprised, a bit baffled at the lukewarm reaction out there, considering it's heavy, credible and lacks the dull, oppressive feel that the Heaven and Hell disc had overwhelmingly. Here, every riff is full of life, the chemistry popping out in the open spaces, Ozzy's melancholy once again finally, and fittingly, overtop the soundtrack of metallic joy and madness, the whole thing combining to create a perfect metal sound the way only the masters can. (Universal)

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