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Reviewed by : Martin Popoff
Rating : 7.5

Apologies, ‘cos there’s too many (Billy Ward, squire), emotions in motions swimming through my head to stroke this in any way other than track by track.

Bought in early and warmly when opening track ‘End Of The Beginning’ collapsed into those melodic chords after the main two predictable bits, and then more deeply with the wah solo and the second, new melodic break with vocals—shades of ‘Dirty Women’. By this point, Sabbath has seemingly re-done ‘Black Sabbath’ possibly to show that drummer Brad Wilk is wiling to fill atmospheric slow passages like Bill Ward. Then this one does a traditional slow gallop, and yeah, then the parts start coming that really win o’er the deep fan (hopefully). A promising and useful eight minutes.

Almost all long songs, ‘God Is Dead?’ is friggin’ nine minutes—we’d have a whole side of old vinyl for tracks one and two if this was KISS or VAN HALEN—and it’s one we’ve had to live with for a while, and no one is too thrilled, nor am I because it’s another The Devil You Know song, essentially. The fact that it picks up to (the same) slow-mid gallop as the first track is a comparison-causing neg, even though it’s a fine Geronimo riff.

May I say at this point that it would have been nice to have gotten the one piece of Rick Rubin that actually mattered and matters: the red-line production and/or bald-faced riffing of TROUBLE, Manic Frustration, Electric (THE CULT) and MASTERS OF REALITY, mostly Manic Frustration, of course. Evidently he doesn’t even do that anymore, so he does... what? Some abstract thing like have bands recapture their early magic? Always debatable and mostly unattainable. I liked him better when we ascribed to him a sound. The production here is just efficient and proper, like Bob Marlette. Whoop.

‘Loner’ is charmingly simple and power-chorded, not so much riffy, and then it’s into a ‘Planet Caravan’ checked box called ‘Zeitgeist.’ Ah hell, did it add versatility for you? Was it trippy? Personally, I can’t help but revert to that 13-year-old metalhead buying Technical Ecstasy as a new release and skipping over, for 20 years, ‘She’s Gone’.

‘Age Of Reason’... damn, this is slow but it’s really cool, with Ozzy singing in that rap-blues phrasing thing he’s known for, from Sab, from early Oz. Cool tune with a plowing palaver of a riff and a Sabbath Bloody Sabbath dreamy evil break of unfolding Man, Myth & Magic mag creepiness.

Track six of a Stonehenged eight is ‘Live Forever,’ which opens with an Iommi Geronimo riff from the SOUNDGARDEN before breaking into an olden and beholden Sab shuffle o’er which Ozzy drapes a recognizable Sab vocal melody (I think from ‘Megalomania’ or is it also ‘Dirty Women’?). Pretty cool though, ‘cos it’s a throwback to that languid, searching era, in any event, from ’75 to ’78.

‘Damaged Forever’ is another rich, dimensional addition, its slowness being helped toward interesting by its complex bluesiness, or not really bluesiness (I swear, this is the least bluesy band in the world called by its leader, “a blues band”) but dialled-back doom. Nice touches: harmonica, yet another well-written break passage, yet another new axe tone stuck on a solo, and lots of Brad Wilk bashing, again, a smarmy approximation of what Ward might have done if and when allowed to jam.

Closing out, it’s ‘Dear Father’, and I know—I just know—and can picture a whole pile of my favourite Sab friends and experts (well, Monte Conner, mostly) saying the album in total is too slow. Still, this is another slow track better on average than quite a few from The Devil You Know. Part of that is it’s just nostalgic to hear Ozzy singing, but also, I suppose, because the production is more real and old school, if not also boringly perfect. Best moment of the album is here—near the end of the fast bit, Ozzy does one of the growly Sabotage scream/shouts. Why didn’t Rick or anybody pick up on this? All it did is make me wish Ozzy did a ton more of this.

Recapping, it was always going to be a challenge for the Sabs not to be compared to the band from an impossibly earlier time—think about how THE STOOGES must feel, or even THE ROLLING STONES, living with those legacies. In any event, 13 is the type of record that sounds built by committee to get favourable reviews, to not offend. Personally, I would have rather had the pinch of Krautrock that the band—out of their minds—threw into Sabotage, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Never Say Die, or (not the band, but its secret weapon) Ward One: Along The Way and When The Bough Breaks. But by the same token, I’m pleased it doesn’t sound like a Zakk/Ozzy album or Iommi solo, both of which are too modern. At this point, I’m really curious to see what everyone else says, but down this end of town, yeah, a little bit of a missed opportunity to be brave.