When Sabbath announced that ‘13’ was going to actually happen, I admit, a let out a little bit of urine. “Excitement” is not a word that captures the true spirit of the occasion, this is something that seemed less likely to happen as time passed, so the release of ‘13’ IS a big deal. For that reason this review has been left a good few months to make sure it’s discussed objectively – rather than the over-excited biased “oooh it’s new Sabbath” rambling that would have happened if done straight away.
First off, it’s important to understand the importance of this album. When the people who invented a genre release a new album, when half of them have kissed death on the lips and walked away, not to mention the known problems with the ‘machine’ which separated drummer Bill Ward from the pack. ‘13’ is a monumental release before you even listen to it.
The absence of Ward on drums does make a noticeable difference, replacement, Brad Wilks (Rage Against The Machine) does an amicable job of completing the Sabbath sound, but there is a certain experimental danger that Ward bought to the table that is missing. The drumming is solid, but doesn’t have the Jazz edge that forms a cornerstone of the classic Sabbath sound.
Lyrically, 13 proves as intriguing as earlier Sabbath material, it’s like folk music with balls. Each song attempts to tell a story, using poetic licence to make them engaging. For plainly obvious reasons, there is a more mature approach to the storytelling here though, maybe it’s the fact that no-one in the band is having to steal their dinner, maybe it’s the lack of urgency that comes with being a new band – whatever the reasons, there is a loss of the anarchic early Sabbath.
Production is polished, and musically precise, there are a lot of different moods within ‘13’ that get explored in different ways. It took me weeks to get over the congas in ‘Zeitgeist’ – an almost prog/Floyd kinda track that actually kinda works really well.
In summary, Black Sabbath have returned with ‘13’, an album to be proud of. While retaining the truth of where they came from and who they are as artists, yet confident enough to bring their many years of experiences into the mix. You get your doom riifs, you get your doom riffs with melody, you get your melodic doom riffs with great lyrics – and then you get Sabbath. It’s disappointing that the original line-up couldn’t have shared in the party – but the machine continues to churn & burn.