13, Black Sabbath’s first studio record with Ozzy Osbourne since 1978’s Never Say Die!, starts off just as one might expect. “End Of The Beginning” punches through with a trunk-rattling dirge of murky low-end guitar guts. It then swivels away into grey as Osbourne ponders his placement in time.
Producer Rick Rubin, the great conjurer of past inspiration, got founding members Osbourne, guitar demon Tony Iommi and bassist, and lyricist, Geezer Butler in the same room for the first Sabbath release since 1995’s Forbidden, and they don’t mess around.
Sabbath has had a revolving cast of players over the years with Iommi being the one constant. A full-on reunion had been gestating since 2001. When sessions finally recommenced last year original drummer Bill Ward dropped out citing, lamely, a “contractual dispute.” It’s a shame that 13 isn’t a complete reunion, but who better to take Ward’s place than the tough, militaristic Brad Wilk from Rage Against The Machine? The songs are given a harder edge thanks to his presence. You couldn’t ask for better personnel to keep alive the name of Sabbath.
This album is dense. The first two songs alone stretch out to nearly seventeen minutes. On “God Is Dead?” Osbourne sings of “blood on my conscience and murdering mind.” Voices echo through his head as he wonders on the current state of God. The question in the title switches to a pronouncement, then back again to a question.
It’s clear Rubin was using past classics as a template for this excursion. There are a lot of familiar sounds. “Zeitgeist” could be the sequel to “Planet Caravan” off Paranoid with its bongo hits from the cave. Osbourne travels saintly through the universe. “Lost in time I wonder when my ship will be found,” he hums. At the end Iommi teases out the despondency of your soul with his guitar. The next song, and the heaviest, “Age Of Reason,” keeps the mind from drifting. It exists on many different floors and Iommi’s guitar collapses one after the next. Nobody slides down the neck in unison with the drums the way he does. The results crush your spine.
The running motor of “Live Forever” kicks the listener into a metallurgical trance. The floor becomes the ceiling. “Damaged Soul” is heavy slow-groove blues, until Iommi lets loose a few lacerating solos. “I’m not dying cuz I’m already dead / pray for the living cuz now I’m in your head,” Osbourne warns.
There are no mid-90’s Ozzy ballads here. He’s not trying to sing his heart out, instead relying more on his low-registered croak and quiver. Iommi slays each song with dark psychedelia, while Butler and Wilk maintain their rhythmic hammer.
This is the metal that Black Sabbath created somewhere around the moon landing and this is the metal only Black Sabbath can masterly recreate in this fucked-up Internet age. Their music still has the tremors of occult, like you’re walking through a sixteenth-century forest with dark, hooded clans. The songs are long, drawn out and pulverizing and if you’re not used to that sort of thing, you may grow weary. If you are used to that sort of thing, then this is what your life has been missing lately.
Old fans of Sabbath will be very pleased. The purveyors of black magic metal have returned with perfect timing. In a world riddled with pockmarked landscapes and hate elevated, Black Sabbath is needed. Miley Cyrus and Keisha’s electronic goat-fuck party anthems just don’t accurately mirror this world. Damaged souls need damaged music in which to drink and smoke to and 13 is the perfect embellishment.