If there is one band that does not need an introduction here, it would be the mighty Black Sabbath! With that said, I’ll jump right into the review, because this is a record you should hear. So many things could have gone wrong with “13”, but it actually turned out well. For one thing, Ozzy’s vocals sound phenomenal. Regardless of how much studio manipulation may have been done, it is amazing that his basic voice is still intact to sound this good. Strangely enough, the only part where his vocals are poor are the opening lines to “End of the Beginning”. Once things pick up in that song, he retains his old 70’s and 80’s voice perfectly (though it certainly does not reach the crazy highs he was hitting on “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”). With that out of the way, we can move to the next area of concern: the lack of Bill Ward. Obviously Bill Ward is a great drummer with a distinctive style, but if there was just one member of this lineup that could have been replaced it was him. Brad Wilk proves this perfectly as he pretty much nails Ward’s style. The fills are exactly what you’d expect in Sabbath, and though the entire opening track is derivative of the band’s title song, Wilk also manages to sound exactly like Ward would in this situation.
Now I can talk about what is undeniably the best part of every Black Sabbath album: the godly guitar player known as Tony Iommi. Never before has the world seen a guitar player who can write the most memorable riffs imaginable, and can also shred (using mainly a pentatonic scale) like a madman. I can never decide whether I enjoy his riffs or his solos more, but on “13”, they’re both brilliant. You can pretty much pick any track and there’s at least a classic riff or two on there. For example, after a few slower minutes in “End of the Beginning”, there is a riff that locks into a huge groove. It’s so simple, yet very effective. Likewise, the main riff in “Loner” just screams “Master of Reality”, with its mid-paced, driving feel. It really is astounding that these riffs feel so fresh, because Iommi doesn’t really do anything out of the norm in terms of the phrasing of the riffs or the notes he uses. In fact, this is always what amazed me with his solos. For the most part, they tend to use exactly the same notes, but each solo is memorable from start to finish, and the leads on “13” are no exception. See the outro to “Loner” for one of my favourite examples, but much like great riffs, they are numerous on this record.
Despite all of this praise, “13” is not devoid of criticism. Black Sabbath appears to have an incessant need to include useless interludes or songs on their records. I won’t say “Zeitgeist” is pointless, but did we really need a “Planet Caravan Pt. II”? The only major positive of the track is that it allows Geezer Butler’s fantastic bass playing to shine. Otherwise, this song just kills the momentum created by the previous track, and it really only prepares you for the underwhelming middle part of the album. The two tracks that follow “Zeitgeist” are by no means bad, but compared to the brilliance of the opening three songs and the final two tracks, they are a bit pedestrian. To be fair to "Age of Reason", it does have the most evil sounding riff in the band's history, which is composed of a mind-numbing amount of tritones, and it also contains one of the best guitar solos on the record.
All things considered, “13” is still a pretty great record. Given the band’s history and their age, everything could have gone completely wrong on this record. Nevertheless, Black Sabbath has managed to add a worthy record to their legacy. If for nothing else, buy this album for the astounding performance delivered by Tony Iommi, and you will be reminded why he is the creator of metal!
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"End of the Beginning"
3.9/5 or 78%.
Written by Scott