BLACK SALVAGE – Salvaging the forgotten albums of Black Sabbath’s career

Black Sabbath are largely credited for creating what we now call DOOM METAL. However, aside from the Ozzy years and the two well-known records with Dio, the rest of their albums are largely unremembered.

There are a total of eight of these forgotten records. This piece features a review of each of them. Sure, not all of them are great. However, some of them feature the best songs that Black Sabbath ever wrote and can easily hold their own against masterpieces like “Paranoid” and “Heaven and Hell.”

“What is this that stands before me?”

It’s a dumpster filled with Black Sabbath’s forsaken albums and we’re going diving…

bornagaincover1-572x572Born Again (1983)

After the successful and legendary “Heaven and Hell” and “Mob Rules” records with Dio, the band released “Born Again.”

Dio was out. Vinny Appice was out. Bill Ward was back. And they needed a vocalist. Sabbath’s manager picked Ian Gillan of Deep Purple fame.

Gillan’s pipes are legendary – “Machine Head” and “Perfect Strangers” come to mind. I mean, the chorus to “Highway Star” is always stuck in my head. It’s a banger for sure.

So, what’s this record all about? It starts off with a fast number (“Trashed”) with lyrics about driving drunk. Musically it is similar to “Neon Knights,” but without the memorability or polish. This sentiment holds true for the rest of the record.

The doom-y “Disturbing the Priest” is probably the stand-out song on the record, with its moody synth lines, slow tempo, and Gillian’s impersonation of King Diamond’s maniacal falsetto laughter. Even still, 10 minutes after listening to the damn thing, you’ll have forgotten it.

All-in-all, it doesn’t sound to me like there was much effort put into writing the songs or recording them. It’s a nail-in-the-coffin kind of record; it would have been unsurprising if the band decided to call it quits after releasing this turd. But, the power of the riff compelled Iommi and Sabbath trudged on.

The verdict? An unmemorable record of poorly produced songs that don’t sound much like Black Sabbath or Deep Purple. The best thing about the record? The cover art.

 

seventhstarSeventh Star (1986)

“Born Again” was supposed to be released under a different moniker. “Seventh Star” was supposed to be released as an Iommi solo record. Both were released with Black Sabbath written on the cover.

“Born Again” sucked. Not much to redeem it from its home in the dumpster. “Seventh Star” is a small step-up. The production is better but the songs still just aren’t there. It’s apparent that this isn’t a Black Sabbath record when you listen to it.

This time around they got another former member from Deep Purple: Mr. Glenn Hughes. His singing is forgettable here. Even the title track is a snooze-fest.

“Danger Zone” has a pretty cool riff, if Black Sabbath were a glam metal band and Don Dokken was the vocalist.

I’m not going to dwell much more on this. It’s a flop. Even as an Iommi solo record, it’s a flop. And y’know what? I take back what I said earlier in the review; this is not a step-up from “Born Again.” It might just be a step-down. It’s just more listenable due to better production.

The verdict? Don’t bother. Bland and dated. Ratt Sabbath should have been the name they released it under.

 

eternalidolThe Eternal Idol (1987)

This is the first album to feature Tony Martin on vocals. The last two featured hard rock heavyweights on vocals but both albums were lackluster.

“The Eternal Idol” is the beginning of something of really special, which is fully realized on proceeding albums. The production is clear and polished and the songs are memorable and unmistakably Sabbath. It is as if Iommi realized after the last 2 flops that he should stick to doing what he does best: DOOM.

You could really argue that Tony Martin was the best vocalist that Black Sabbath ever had. He was definitely technically proficient but for me, no one compares to Ronnie James Dio. None-the-less, Martin never really got the credit that he deserved. His range, vibrato, and melody are impeccable. There are renowned power metal vocalists that cannot compare to Martin.

The best songs on “The Eternal Idol” are slow-tempoed, colossal and moody, particularly the standout track, “Ancient Warrior.” The last song on the record (the title track) is my personal favorite. It is dark and doom-as-fuck, implementing the quiet-loud structure that was made famous by their self-titled song on their self-titled album. The lyrics, too, are the embodiment of doom.

“Dying world is killing us so slowly. I believe no god may save us now.”

Some of the more up-beat rockers are a bit forgettable, such as the song, “Hard Life to Love” and “Born to Lose.” And, quite honestly, aside from “Ancient Warrior” and the album’s namesake, the album is largely disposable.

In Tony Martin’s defense, he had no part in writing the songs on this record. The lyrics and melodies were written by Ray Gillen of glam metal act, Badlands. To Gillen’s credit, he was a great vocalist and Badlands were one of the better glam acts of the day. However, Tony Martin really shines on his forthcoming records with Black Sabbath.

The verdict? “The Eternal Idol” is not one of Black Sabbath’s greatest albums but it beats the last two and it is a fair introduction to vocalist Tony Martin.

 

headlesscrossHeadless Cross (1988)

Holy shit! After the ambient introduction, when the first song kicks in, it kicks your face in, your eyes widen, and all you can manage to mutter is: “holy shit.”

Everything is perfect. The bass guitars. Iommi’s riffs. The dark, moody synthesizers. And Tony Martin… TONY FUCKING MARTIN! His voice is so powerful.

“There’s no escaping from the power of Satan.”

That shit gives me goosebumps every time.

After the title track finishes, there is a legitimate hesitation to wanting to hear the rest of the album. “Will it live up to what I just heard?” Yes, yes it will.

“Devil and Daughter” is next. It is more up-beat but the riff is compelling and the chorus is catchy as hell, with lyrics about Satan and his daughter. It’s evil and memorable but it’s the next song which gives the title track a real run for its money.

A somber synth line introduces “When Death Calls.” It’s cinematic sounding, like the soundtrack to a funeral in the rain. Martin sings over it as Cozy Powell builds the tension with his cymbals. Iommi picks a clean lick and then everything bursts into a huge doom metal anthem. It is mind-crushingly good, right up there with the band’s best songs of their career.

The next three songs are more upbeat and very eighties sounding, but not in a bad way.

After they’ve rocked us a bit, it’s time for one last bit of melancholic doom with the closer, “Nightwing.” The metal riff in this song is wickedly delicious – very reminiscent of Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus. Quite honestly, fans of both of those bands’ epic doom style would very much like what Black Sabbath did with this whole record. It is a beast.

The verdict? Epic doom metal from the godfathers of doom: Black motherfucking Sabbath. “Headless Cross” is the crowning jewel of Sabbath’s records with Tony Martin at the mic. Highly recommended!

 

tyrTyr (1990)

The record starts to spin, and, “shit, is this ‘Children of the Sea’?” No, it’s not but it does have that feel at the beginning with the picked guitar lick and soft, sweetly sung melody. Obviously, it eventually explodes into heavy riffs and wild singing and it kicks ass. It’s heavy on the keyboards too, which work well in creating a dark, somber atmosphere.

Never satisfied with keeping the slow-tempo throughout, Iommi and crew deliver a fast rocker next, but y’know what? It fucking rules – the chorus in particular, where Tony Martin sounds like he is doing his best Dio impression.

“The Sabbath Stones” is another stand out. HEAVY. That’s the word for it. SLOW AND HEAVY. It’s so doom, it fucking hurts, man. Bang your head in slow-mo for maximum enjoyment.

The next 3 (“The Battle of Tyr,” “Odin’s Court,” and “Valhalla”) are the album’s conceptual Norse trilogy. It begins with the instrumental (“The Battle of Tyr”), continues onto the soft ballad (“Odin’s Court”), until it finally bursts into the metal-as-fuck, mid-tempo rocker (“Valhalla”).

It’s a bit odd to hear Black Sabbath sing about Norse mythology but apparently after all the Satanic lyrics on the “Headless Cross” album, Iommi told Tony Martin to tune down the evil. Can you believe that?!

The last two songs (“Feels Good to Me” and “Heaven in Black”) are a bit anti-climactic. It would have made more sense to close with the Norse trilogy. “Feels Good to Me” is a down-tempo ballad, with cheesy lyrics. “Heaven in Black” is a palm-muted galloping chug. It’s a cool song but just not a great closer.

The verdict? A fantastically dark record that deserves more praise. While not quite as amazing as the “Headless Cross” record, it is damn near close. Recommended!

 

dehumanizerDehumanizer (1992)

This is the best record Black Sabbath ever did with Ronnie James Dio. Yes, I’ve heard “Mob Rules,” and yes, I’ve heard “Heaven and Hell.” I love both of those albums very much. They are two of my favorite records of all time. However, I will say it again for emphasis: “Dehumanizer” is my favorite Dio-fronted Black Sabbath record.

The riffs – Jesus fuckin’ Christ – the fuckin’ riffs, man!

It opens with a bang; Vinny Appice is back and he’s hitting harder than ever. He starts “Computer God” off before Iommi comes in, reminding us all that he is the original Riff Lord. Christ, even Geezer Butler sounds better than ever. He’s all over that bass and it’s mixed in perfectly.

Dio? It’s fucking Dio, man! The greatest metal singer that there ever was. And, here on this record, he’s got some of the best lines of his career. I would argue that “After All [The Dead]” is one of the doomiest songs Black Sabbath ever wrote and it features some of my favorite Dio vocals, ever. PERIOD. Go listen to this song and then try to tell me it’s not one of the greatest songs Black Sabbath ever wrote. DO IT!

Seriously though, there isn’t a bad song on here. That’s apparent when you get to the last song (“Buried Alive”) and you’re wishing there were 10 more songs coming.

The whole album rips. I mean, there’s really not much more I can say. Go listen to this fucking record. Buy it if you can find it. Pirate it. Check it out on Spotify or YouTube or whatever technology suits your fancy.

The verdict? My personal favorite Dio-fronted Black Sabbath record. Dark, heavy, unique and one of the DOOMIEST records of their career. Also, check out Dio’s solo album “Strange Highways” for more songs that sound eerily similar to those on “Dehumanizer.”

 

crosspurposesCross Purposes (1994)

And just like that, Ronnie James Dio and Vinny Appice are gone again and Tony Martin is back.

Can you imagine how awkward the phone call from Iommi to Martin must have been?

“Hey, uhhh, sooooo… Dio bailed on us. Yeah, I know we treated you like dirt but uhh, wanna come back for another record?”

They make a record. It’s alright but when placed next to the last three, it just fails in comparison. In fact, I’d say that it probably ties with the first record with Martin: “The Eternal Idol.”

The production is top-notch and everyone sounds great. It just never clicks with me, aside from the standout track, “Virtual Death.” Most of the songs sound like second rate power metal but “Virtual Death” is what Iommi does best: a doom-y dirge.

When I could listen to “Tyr” or “Headless Cross,” there’s really no need for me to ever listen to “Cross Purposes.” It’s missing the passion and the soul of those other two records. Martin says it best on the last song off of “Cross Purposes:”

“What’s the use?”

The verdict? Another Tony Martin record. Nowhere near as grand as “Tyr” or “Headless Cross.” Stick to those two instead.

 

blacksabbath-forbiddenForbidden (1995)

This record starts off with a sludgy, doom riff, courtesy of the original riff lord himself: IOMMI. It’s a damn good riff. And then Tony Martin comes in with harmonized layers of intensely sung melodies. And I’m just sitting there, like, “where the fuck did this come from?”

The doom continues on and then all of a sudden, Ice-T is doing a spoken word bit over it. Yes, that Ice-T – the Los Angeles rapper known in the metal world for the metal/rap hybrid act Body Count. (Ernie C of Body Count actually produced the whole record. Strange, I know.)

Quite honestly, it actually doesn’t spoil the riff or the song for me. It’s still a killer song and a return-to-form for Black Sabbath after their last record. Tony Martin sounds much better here. He sounded bored on “Cross Purposes.” There’s an anger and a snarl to his voice on “Forbidden” and it works well.

“Can’t Get Close Enough” starts off sounding like a 90’s rock ballad but once the heavy comes in, it’s all good. It still has an explicitly “90’s feel” to it but it works and I dig it.

The following song’s (“Shaking Off the Chains”) intro riff is the definition of heavy. Tony Martin has some weird phrasing over it though. It’s like he wants to be rapping over it but is too nervous to, so he does some sort of rap-sing instead.  He redeems himself on the chorus though. It riiiiips. And the bridge is as close as Black Sabbath is ever going to get to playing punk.

The title track isn’t all that great. The closer, “Kiss of Death,” is a bit better but it almost sounds formulaic with it’s typical loud/quiet approach. As the quiet, finger picking fades away, you realize that it’s the end…

Or is it?

The verdict? Not bad. Not great. Better than “Cross Purposes,” but just barely. The best part? Getting to refer to Black Sabbath as Rap Sabbath.

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