(Photo: Universal Republic)
Ozzy Osbourne records with the reunited band for the first time in 35 years.
With producer Rick Rubin helming, 13 (*** out of four) revives Black Sabbath’s classic molten-metal style, along with three-quarters of its classic lineup. The elements of the group’s early ’70s albums are all in place: colossal guitar riffs that threaten to collapse under their own weight, bass and drums that plumb a cavernous sonic underworld and, of course, Ozzy Osbourne’s keening yelp.
The songs, five of which top seven minutes, lumber along at a deliberately dire pace, occasionally breaking into a bluesy swing (Damaged Soul) or stretches of menacing improvisation (Zietgeist). The lyrics offer rudimentary philosophical rhetoric and moralist musing, particularly the faux shock-rock meditation of single God Is Dead? The album’s closing song, Dear Father, is also one of its most powerful, an accusation against an abusive clergyman sung from the perspective of his victim.
The 35 years that passed between albums featuring the Osbourne/ Tony Iommi/ Geezer Butler lineup probably makes 13 seem more portentous than it actually is, but it’s still a near-perfect re-creation of the sound that formed the foundation of modern metal.
Get the Album here : Black Sabbath – 13 (Deluxe Version)
WEST HOLLYWOOD — Polishing off a cup of wonton soup, singer Ozzy Osbourne is relating how paparazzi mobbed him as he left high-end organic grocer Bristol Farms.
“They were all over the car,” music’s Prince of Darkness laments. “It’s worse when you try to see doctors in Beverly Hills and you have to sneak down alleys …”
Bassist Geezer Butler interrupts. “Did you get me any English peas?”
The long-haired pair, clad in black, park on a sofa at the Sunset Marquis to chat about the reunion of Black Sabbath, founded in 1969 with fellow chums Tony Iommi and Bill Ward in England’s industrial Birmingham. New album 13, the first studio effort with Osbourne since 1978’s Never Say Die!, arrives Tuesday. A tour, launched overseas in April, resumes with U.S. dates in July.
Once they get past discussing a new Richard Pryor documentary and Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra (“Fast-forward through the sex scenes,” Osbourne advises), the two take on the fraught topic of Sabbath’s rocky road to reconciliation. They’re all smiles.
“It’s like getting together with old friends,” says Butler, 63. “We’re not taking each other for granted.”
Osbourne, 64, chimes in. “It takes a while to switch off being Ozzy. I’ve been on my own for 35 years and it took me three or four gigs to become un-Ozzy and be a member of Black Sabbath again. Now it’s one unit. It’s great, a different feeling entirely. It’s the chemistry of these guys around me that makes it happen. The shoe fits.”
A lack of material and drive, plus the explosive success of MTV reality series The Osbournes, derailed a 2001 reunion attempt. In 2011, the reassembled band revealed plans for an album and tour, temporarily foiled when drummer Bill Ward bowed out in early 2012 over contractual disagreements.
Producer Rick Rubin’s proposal to hire former Cream drummer Ginger Baker was instantly nixed.
“Did you see the documentary?” says Osbourne, referring to Beware of Mr. Baker, a blunt account of the exiled drummer’s drug addiction, bankruptcies and volatile nature (it opens with Baker striking the director on the nose with a metal cane). “He’s crazier than me. I don’t think Mr. Baker would have taken the job. He’s not our biggest fan. It would have been interesting for a few days.”
Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave was hired, despite a shaky start.
“It didn’t work the first few days and we all panicked,” Butler says. “Rick helped him along and we jammed some of the old stuff first. Brad was great. He wore his old original Black Sabbath T-shirt once.”
Rubin envisioned an early Sabbath reboot for the eight-track 13, recorded at his Shangri-La studio in Malibu.
“He kept referring to the first album, and he’d ask us questions about songs like Planet Caravan,” Osbourne says. “He was adamant in saying, ‘I don’t want you to do a heavy metal album.’ We started as a jazz-blues band and he wanted a feel of the blues.”
Rubin pushed the band to stretch and demanded multiple takes but didn’t dictate a template.
“He didn’t try to change what we were doing,” Butler says. “It was good having someone we trust to keep us focused. It had to be daunting for him to work with us. We think we know more than anybody else.”
Iommi arrived at the studio with loads of ideas and CDs full of guitar riffs, the cornerstone of Sabbath classics.
“We had plenty of ammunition,” says Iommi, 65, reached by phone in London. “Rick brought us back to our roots and the vibe of the early stuff. He said, ‘Treat this like the second album and wipe out the last 40 years.’
“Rick wanted 30 songs. I told him, ‘No chance of that.’ He said, ‘Can you get 25?’ No. I said he’d be lucky to get 10.”
Sabbath crafted 16 without unearthing six shelved in 2001. Recording was a democratic, collaborative joy, in contrast to past stints when Osbourne was AWOL until late in the process.
“I thought we’d have to keep Ozzy on track, but he was there all the time,” Iommi says. “I haven’t seen him like that. He’s been really good.”
Osbourne explains, “For the first time, I felt people were listening to me.”
It wasn’t all smooth wailing. Diagnosed with lymphoma in 2011, Iommi is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment that will continue for the next year. Cancer didn’t stand in the way of Sabbath’s return.
“Making an album, going on tour took my mind away from it and gave me something to aim for,” he says.
Iommi’s resolve inspired his bandmates, Butler says. And once Osbourne was assured Iommi could manage the task, he was keen to finish.
“It was now or never,” he said.
Osbourne also faced hurdles. During 13‘s creation, he relapsed into drug and alcohol abuse for 18 months, another setback in a lifelong addiction battle. He’s three months sober. What saved him from an early grave?
“Sharon,” he says, referring to his wife since 1982. “It’s fair to say without my wife I would have been long dead. She pushed my a– where it needed to be pushed and she didn’t mince her words. I’ve had my ears bent over the years. I work out. I don’t do drugs or alcohol. I don’t smoke. I don’t want to be a dead guy before my time.”
Sabbath’s survival defies laws of chemistry, given the band’s legendary substance abuse (private planes delivered sacks of cocaine). After the band’s rise to global glory on the back of five platinum and three gold albums, Osbourne was sacked in 1979 for his drug intake. Was it fair in light of his fellow players’ indulgences?
“Yes!” Osbourne says. “I’d be drunk and loaded on the couch at 9 in the morning.”
“It was the right thing for all of us,” Butler says. “I got fired first, then they asked me to come back. Then Ozzy left and came back and got fired. The whole band was disintegrating.”
Sabbath imploded under mounting off-stage miseries.
“It was called management rip-offs,” Osbourne says bitterly. “Why am I still driving a VW and the manager’s got three Rolls-Royces? We got royally scammed and spent all our time fighting and being ripped up by lawyers. You don’t feel happy at the end, but you think, ‘What if I jump ship and get in a worse situation?’ It’s like a divorce. I couldn’t live with it or without it.
“I didn’t know anything about the contractual world and I was signing anything that came my way. Getting fired was the best thing that could happen. My heart wasn’t into it anymore. I was just working for the man, paying lawyers, paying taxes.”
Replaced by Rainbow’s Ronnie James Dio (who died of stomach cancer in 2010), Ozzy popped up now and again as Sabbath forged ahead with a steadily revolving lineup. Only Iommi has remained a constant in the Sabbath timeline.
“I find it difficult to walk away,” he says. “I don’t accept that I can’t do it. I carry on and try to keep everything together. I’d love to see if we can go for five years, but I don’t know if I’m going to go on for six months.”
The three are cautiously optimistic about Sabbath’s future beyond 2013, though saner lifestyles and a cozier bond improve their chances. The mayhem and animosity are gone. Osbourne is a doting grandfather whose last record purchase was Adele’s 21. Iommi listens to Frank Sinatra. Butler, who gave up booze and drugs in 1980, is a vegan PETA booster with nine cats and four dogs.
Not that Sabbath ever matched its menacing public image as devil worshippers.
“The song Black Sabbath that got us tainted as Satanists warned people against black magic,” Butler says, noting that new single God Is Dead? could fit on Christian radio, and 1971’s After Forever “is one of the most Christian bloody songs you can imagine.”
Misconceptions didn’t dissuade fans who bought 75 million albums the past 43 years.
“We wanted to make scary music,” Osbourne says. “We weren’t created by some business guy and we didn’t read a book. We did this naturally. We had a dream and it became fantastically true. People called us The Beatles of hard rock. It’s hard to get your head around that.”
Iommi, too, was stunned by Sabbath’s profound influence on bands from Metallica and Judas Priest to Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana and Van Halen.
“When you’re creating it, you don’t realize what you’ve done,” he says. “Years later, some of the biggest names in the music world would say, ‘Without you, we would have never done this.’ We did something to stir them along. You couldn’t wish for better than that.”