After a lengthy absence--33 years--Black Sabbath have returned with 13. And unbelievably, this is your grandmother's Black Sabbath.
Eschewing a turbulent history that left the band frequently in musical flux and misdirection --particularly those middle years--today's Sabbath, complete again with the exception of drummer Bill Ward, comes to us straight from its storied, early past.
It wasn't an accident.
"Yes, it was [a conscious effort], because we wanted to go back to the basic sound we had," guitarist Tony Iommi says by phone from New York. "[Producer] Rick [Rubin] wanted us to go back to the basics of everything, the way we worked--everything. And we wanted to do that too."
13 is not a half-hearted attempt to profit from nostalgia for that original sound, like many "reformed" bands make these days. Tracks such as "God is Dead?" and "End of the Beginning" reveal a deeper passion to make something as powerfully important as when their trailblazing music redefined rock and roll's edges in the early '70s.
"When we first started we were playing jazzy blues stuff. Once we started getting down to really writing our own stuff, that's when the sound came about, really. I wanted to create the same vibe as a horror film. It's got tension and these evilly things going on," he explains, laughing. "I wanted to do that with music and I came up with these notes that were evil."
Those "evilly things" have been a focal point in the band's fractured career, encased in Iommi's fat guitar chords and searing riffs, Terry "Geezer" Butler's note-bending bass romps, and Ozzy Osbourne's occult-filled lyrics.
Once again, Iommi's guitar flashes dark lightning across Butler's thunderous bass while Osbourne's vocals sound focused and--most importantly--clear and strong.
The music doesn't ring out quite as ominously as it did in the band's original heyday (maybe because it's not as glaringly original as when the band's eponymous 1970 debut appeared), but it's still the sound of Black Sabbath again reaffirming its primal self.
"In the beginning, we walked in, played a set and left," Iommi says with another laugh, of the band's early studio sessions. "So to go back 40 years was a little difficult, but it's basically us going into the studio and playing live and natural."
Iommi emphasizes that 13 wasn't enhanced with overdubs or layering.
"You're hearing it exactly how we did it (in the studio)," he says.
The only thing missing is Ward. Iommi sounds a little saddened, maybe more miffed, that Ward elected not to rejoin the band--and remained mum about his reasons. (Press reports indicate Ward's decision stemmed from disapproval with his touring contract and performance pay.) In his place sits former Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk.
"[Brad] was very nervous at first, but once we spent a few days with him and he got more comfortable ... he really came into his own," Iommi says.
13 is Sabbath's second attempt to regroup and record a studio album, the first one coming in 2001. At that time, Osbourne was too busy with his MTV shows, while the others had individual projects.
This time, there was no distraction.
"Everybody had a different attitude toward what we were doing this time. We wanted to make an album together. ... Everybody was ready to put everything into it," Iommi says. "I'm really happy with the album and what we did."
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Read our complete interview with Tony Iommi. Black Sabbath is scheduled to perform Friday, August 30 at the US Airways Center.