Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
If any band deserves a victory lap, it’s Black Sabbath. The quartet may not have invented heavy metal when they exploded on the scene in the early 70s but they were the first to popularize it, release million selling albums and are the touchstone for nearly every metal band since. This well publicized reunion for three of the original foursome (drummer Bill Ward sits it out, reportedly due to contract disputes) is their first studio set of new material since 1978. Add fan Rick Rubin as producer, no newcomer to reviving dormant careers, to top off this bloody sundae.
The good news is that Black Sabbath sounds tight, rehearsed and vital, no mean feat for these types of reboots from oldsters trying to capture former glories. There aren’t any future gems here on the order of “Paranoid” or the immortal “Iron Man” but these songs could have been album tracks on any of the band’s early recordings. Ozzy has lost some of his edgy vocal fire yet his voice is in surprisingly rugged form and when the outfit strips down to the sludgy, psychedelic blues that informed their early work on “Damaged Soul,” it really does sound like the good old unhappy days are here again. The typically lumbering tracks are long with over half clocking in at seven minutes or more but they never overstay their welcome and even the one acoustic ballad fits into the overall ominous vibe.
Lyrically it’s all pretty silly, especially in light of what we now know of Ozzy’s very suburban home life. His bat head eating days are long over which makes titles such as “Live Forever,” “End of the Beginning” and “God is Dead” little more than clichéd metal wordplay. Blood, lust, religion, sins and all manner of creepy death appear often but they only prop up the music and give Ozzy something to moan about. Few listen to Black Sabbath for sharp insights into life or more likely what happens after life is over. Their audience lives for guitarist Tommy Iommi’s bone crushing metal licks and this batch delivers its share. A summer tour will mix these new tunes with the classics and should be a metal maven and/or air guitarist’s ultimate dream. Or nightmare.