Forty-three years after singlehandedly inventing heavy metal, Black Sabbath are set to release 13, next week, their 19th studio album, and first to feature the (mostly) original lineup of Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, and Ozzy Osbourne since 1978's Never Say Die.
See also: The 20 Greatest Metal Albums in History
Sabbath's original drummer, Bill Ward, has been vocally about his dissatisfaction with the terms of the reunion, and was replaced for 13 by Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine. Nonetheless, 13 is a very big deal for Sabbath fans, and metal enthusiasts worldwide. And so, last night, at Harmony Gold Music, the faithful gathered to hear Butler and Osbourne talk, see videos, and eat cake-pops, pita chips, and spinach dip. Not very metal.
After a brief introduction by Ozzy's son Jack (now hirsute and far burlier than fans of The Osbournes may recall) guests were treated to the the premiere of music videos for 13's lead singles: "God is Dead?" and "End of the Beginning."
Directed by Peter Joseph, and billed as a "short film," "God is Dead?" may have seemed heavy handed, but throughout their history Sabbath have made a career of being heavy handed. Joseph himself has achieved notoriety for his film series, Zeitgeist, a sweeping indictment of capitalism, Christianity, and the US government. Joseph said Sabbath was a "monstrous influence" on his work, and "God is Dead?" assembled footage from Zeitgest, intercut with vintage clips of Ozzy and company. Streets ran red with blood, citizens pressed up against police barricades, and in one memorably lengthy shot, a businessman glutted himself on shrimp cocktail. "God is Dead?" is just under nine minutes, and the music is classic Sabbath.
"End of the Beginning" also harkens back to the live studio feel of their legendary first few albums. Iommi's dynamic and incendiary soloing throughout the latter half of the song should, alone, dispel doubts about Sabbath's continued relevance.
The video however, was little more than excess footage from a recent episode of CSI in which Sabbath preformed the track. A message tacked on to the end from CBS reminding viewers to watch the show prompted chuckles from the audience. It was difficult not to wonder what the band would have said about premiering a cut from Paranoid on primetime network television.
Next was a surprise, albeit brief Q&A with Osbourne and Butler. The two were perfect English gentlemen, with Ozzy greeting the initial applause with a "Now fuck off."
Both were both quick to credit Rick Rubin, the iconic producer who helmed 13, for their return to form.
"Rick has been wanting to do a Sabbath album with the original band for as long as I've known him," said Ozzy.
"He told us, 'forget heavy metal,'" said Butler. "'You guys did this pre-heavy metal.'"
Some record minutia was divulged. What was the inspiration for "God is Dead?" Surprise, Ozzy hasn't been reading Nietzsche. Rather, It was the headline of a magazine he glimpsed in the waiting room of a doctor's office.
Osbourne confessed his favorite live song to be the tried and true "Paranoid," While Butler's remains "War Pigs."
Perhaps in reference to the mysteriously empty third chair on stage, the two spoke warmly of Iommi, whose commitment to the record did not waiver despite his cancer diagnosis. "Tony is without any shadow of a doubt, in my opinion the best riff-maker on the planet," said Osbourne. "If he can do a Black Sabbath album whilst battling cancer, the rest of us haven't got a fucking problem in the world."
The mood was playful, and both members seemed genuinely grateful to be playing together again.
"We hope you enjoy our little record. It took us long enough to make," said Osbourne, aka The Prince of Darkness.
After four decades and numerous incarnations, it's hard to say whether Black Sabbath is the same group that emerged from the industrial squalor of Birmingham, even with ¾ the original lineup. The sheer might of their early catalog may never be matched, but 13, currently available to stream on iTunes, proves that they are still capable of creating formidable, heavy rock music.
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