Black Sabbath – 13

In the unholy lore of the secret cult of metal, The Big Four is a monolithic presence – an assemblage of power that operates similarly to Christianity’s Holy Trinity. And when I say The Big Four, I am not talking about Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax. I am talking about Black Sabbath’s first four albums.

It’s certainly an understatement to say that the band’s early recordings are paradigmatic and genre-defining. They are the crucial slabs of primordial thud that set the template for all heavy metal to come. Granted, Sabbath’s post ’70s output had its share of duds.

Of course there was a lot of the requisite hype and excitement when The Mighty Sabbath (sans drummer Bill Ward, who was sadly “negotiated” out of the deal for issues of filthy lucre) decided to record together again after an extended hiatus. But as we know, such reunions are often misguided affairs.

I have excellent news for the world: Black Sabbath’s 13 is about as good as it could be – which is to say that it’s not so bad. Producer Rick Rubin apparently whupped the old boys into shape, even though Ozzy was reportedly lit to the gills throughout the sessions.

The axis of Sabbath’s power is the mighty riff, and Guitarist Tony Iommi has managed to deliver several stompers on 13 – assuming the listener makes it through the meandering first two songs. Track one, “End of The Beginning,” is a so-so reworking of Paranoid’s “Electric Funeral.” And then disaster strikes. Track two, the godawful “God is Dead?,” is a laughable and way-too-long contemplation of existential questions featuring lyrics that rank up there with those of the great philosophers in Kansas and Bad Religion.

But if the listener can just hang on until the third track, the rest of the album gets pretty good, which is about as much as one could expect. Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler are still masters of psychedelic sludge, and drummer Brad Welk provides a sturdy if unobtrusive rhythmic foundation. Circa 2013, Ozzy is probably the band’s weakest link. Sure, the songs all go on a little bit too long, and the tempos are a little slow. But the band hits a solid groove on tracks like “Age of Reason” and “Live Forever,” proving that they can still crank out bad vibes better than their younger, fitter, and more able of mind acolytes.

13 is a laudable attempt to by the band to attain uber-heaviness one more time. And Sabbath kinda/sorta gets there. The album won’t blow your mind, but at points the screaming guitars might blow your speakers if you crank it loud enough.

Black Sabbath
[Universal Republic]