The first Black Sabbath album in 35 years to feature singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler, 13 is led by producer Rick Rubin’s insistence that they return to the sound that made the band and defined (if not invented) heavy metal and all that followed it its wake.
The album opens with the enormo-riff of End Is The Beginning, an eight-minute showcase of the band’s (rounded out by former Rage Against The Machine drummer, Brad Wilks, after original fourth member Bill Ward refused to participate, citing contractual issues) power, led as always by Iommi’s immense playing. Once the denseness of the music settles in it’s a let down to realise that the weak link is Osbourne’s unconfident, weedy vocals.
Iommi remains the main man throughout 13, delivering riffs relentlessly as he revisits key moments of Sabbath’s past – lead single, God Is Dead, holds its own against anything on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or Sabotage; the jazz-fusion of the bongo-led Zeitgeist is effectively son-of-Planet Caravan; Damaged Soul is pure heavy blues with a wailing harmonica that harkens back to 1969’s self-titled debut album.
13 suffers from Ward’s absence and from Osbourne resembling his stumbling and addled reality show persona more than the singer of the greatest, most influential metal band of all time. It is, however, a record that holds its head up high in 2013 and a triumph in comparison with the last couple of original line-up albums, and we can forgive it not reaching the heights of those first five Black Sabbath albums because, let’s face it, those records remain nearly perfect 40-something years later.