Despite a very public campaign to have original drummer Bill Ward rejoin too, Rage Against The Machine’s Brad Wilk provides the drums for this record, and despite having a different feel to Ward (and a very skeptical public), provides a very good performance.
It’s a very weighty album. Five of the album’s tracks are over seven minutes long each, and only one, the acoustic number ‘Zeitgeist,’ is less than five minutes in length. Its not really the sort of album you can just stick on in the background or take at face value, might take a few listens to really get to grip with what the band are doing here.
The record opens up with a very doomy, slow riff deliberately designed to evoke the self-titled opener of their debut. After about two minutes it kicks up a gear and gets livelier, slowly evolving through a few different moods and shedding comparisons to that eponymous track. There’s a few riffs that could be on the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or Sabotage albums in there too, and an odd breakdown with the now famous line “You don’t want to be a robot ghost…” that wouldn’t actually be totally out of place on Technical Ecstasy or Never Say Die. There’s plenty of lead guitar action throughout, and the high-in-the-mix bass from Geezer brings a lot of character out.
That’s how most of the record goes… starting off sounding a bit like a deliberate attempt to remind you of past songs, shifting gears through different Sabbath eras after a while, and then ending up as relatively fresh overall somehow. Sure; you might think that part of “God Is Dead” is meant to remind you of “War Pigs” or “Fairies Wear Boots,” but then they’ll do something that would never fit on the Paranoid album, and then add bits that almost even sound like something off of the Dehumanizer album briefly at other times.
“Loner” for example quite obviously channels the spirit of “N.I.B” when it starts off, but even that takes a turn to sound like some sort of modernized “Rock N Roll Doctor” (or something) halfway through, but with a guitar solo that would maybe be more at home in the band’s Dio-era material.
It’s a clever way to get around fan expectation really. Suggest the past just enough so that people can’t say it doesn’t sound like the old days, mix in just enough of the post-Ozzy Sabbath sound so that fans of that can’t say its too regressive and then the loud modern production combined with Ozzy’s aged vocals help make it sound new enough too.
The only track which perhaps is a little too close to the bone is the aforementioned “Zeitgeist” which is a modern track but with the feel of “Planet Caravan.” While most other tracks mix in tails or drum fills from different Sabbath eras, because of the quiet, simple, sombre vibe they are going for, this can’t really happen here, and so for a lot of fans this is just going to sound a bit too close to “Planet Caravan” for comfort. If you can get past that though, its actually a pretty neat song.
If you are a huge Sabbath fan already or just getting into Sabbath for the first time and still in the excitement phase then I can imagine that this album is something you will automatically love. It ticks all the boxes of what you would want or expect from them. If that’s the case though, you’ve already bought it haven’t you?
If you are a bit skeptical and unsure of whether you might like the album however, I can fully understand. First of all, when the band reunited the last time, they stated that they didn’t have good new material within them anymore. Secondly, now that the album has been released and reviewed everywhere, it is very easy to see terms like “riff recycling” or “living in the past” or “Not as good as The Devil You Know” written online or in print and get worried that this album isn’t worth your time at all.
When I first got this album, I wasn’t really keen on it. I flip-flopped between disliking it for being a pandering exercise and half-enjoying it but not really paying it any attention. When given the attention that the album requires, and repeat listens for it to grow on me however, the album finally “clicked” and its virtues began to outweigh its drawbacks. Once it actually has clicked, it’s a real joy to listen to and becomes more and more entertaining each time you stick it on. Sure; Its impossible to listen to this album and not make comparisons to the band’s earlier work (or the recent Heaven And Hell and Ozzy solo albums) if you are familiar with it, but I think the band have done a very good job of acknowledging that reality and rolling with it.
Taken for what it is, 13 is a good album. Its even a good Black Sabbath album. Its even a good album from 2013. Its got some variety but is still massively consistent, and its got a good balance of fast and slow, loud and quiet, modern and retro. Take a moment, and give a track like “Damaged Soul” or “Dear Father” a good, clear, uninterrupted listen or two and see if it can click for you too.
[Ps. If you can, try and get the version of the album with bonus tracks (as many as possible, if you can). This is just personal taste of course, but personally, I think the bonus tracks are as strong, if not stronger than anything on the main album. “Methademic” in particular is very strong, and “Pariah” has a really fun main riff.]