His show is long over. His solo career is stalled. Sharon even left him for a while because, at 64, Ozzy Osbourne had frighteningly fallen off the wagon, much like Alan Arkin’s granddad in Little Miss Sunshine. And yet our little Prince of Darkness always seems to thrive in chaos, self-induced or otherwise, and the Sabbath reunion we’ve long been promised is strikingly good, especially considering we’ve been waiting for it since Carter was President. The disappointment of 13 lies only in how tantalizingly close to perfection it lies.
The good — scratch that, astonishing — news is that Tony Iommi, while undergoing treatment for lymphoma, has somehow managed to convincingly rewrite his classic Sabbath riffs. Geezer Butler’s bass keeps its menacing rumble. and Ozzy, like the elder god he is, seems only to gain vocal power and dexterity as he ages. The bad news is drummer Bill Ward — rather, his absence, due to good old royalty disputes. Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine was more than happy to step in, but while he has the plod down, Ward’s groove eludes him. The effect is noticeable, especially when he compensates with generic sessionman fills.
The rest of the band, however, is working overtime to recapture that somewhat clumsy yet majestic sound they grew out of sometime during their fourth album; producer and professional graverobber Rick Rubin clearly wanted to recreate Paranoid, not Sabotage, and so he had the band play live, left in the mistakes (they’re not entirely in tune, which is especially shocking in a digital age) and added familiar sound effects and elements. Rubin’s style is more Mutt Lange than Rodger Bain, though, and that cottony, fuzzy bad-acid wash is gone. Turns out it’s as much a necessary component as Ozzy is.
Even with those caveats, 13 — named after the year, not their chronology — is largely a success, though it does take the better part of two eight-minute epics for these guys to feel comfortable summoning up those old demons. “Zeitgeist” does a great imitation of “Planet Caravan,” “Live Forever” nicely updates “Fairies Wear Boots,” “Damaged Soul” is a pretty good mashup of “Snowblind” and “The Wizard.” It’s comforting, because these are almost certainly the original group’s last recordings together; Rubin even tacks the beginning of their theme song onto the end of this reunion, as if to complete some sort of mystical circle. Of all the bands to go out on sentiment.
Impact: 80. Those riffs should sound dated by now, especially when cleaned up, but they don’t.
Innovation: 65. Now that he’s actually a geezer, Butler deals with mortality by rhyming “gloom,” “tomb,” and “doom.” Oh, well.
Integrity: 84. Prepare to get stoned from sheer sense memory.
So long has metal languished in exile, banished from a EDM-fixated pop conglomerate that moves from one distressingly similar shiny object to another, that the genre’s best bands have reversed the historical process of their forbears: no longer preoccupied with impressive neo-prog expressions of dexterity and complexity, today’s epic noise porn is beginning to collapse back into itself, tightening its sonic attack and refining it into a formula. The great pre-mainstream consolidation has begun, in other words, and it’s why The Black Dahlia Murder has steadily been creeping up the Billboard 200 with each release.
Naturally, it’s also why they’re hated by the hardcore, as only melodic metalheads can be. This revolving-door quartet made their bones by combining Swedish black metal (up top) with Floridan grindcore (down below) and then filling the middle with Ryan Knight’s ridiculously versatile guitar leads and Trevor Strnad’s frightening vocal metamorphoses, complete from throat to shriek. (If you don’t know much about metal scenes, picture a bunch of demons playing Megadeth as if it were blindingly fast punk.) It’s an extreme sonic emulsion that, historically, could only come from a Detroit band, and it nears perfection on Everblack. You wouldn’t expect the year’s catchiest metal to be titled “Raped In Hatred By Vines Of Thorn,” much less actually stoop to singing its title. Yet here we are: Like some eldritch ancient language, BDM sound incomprehensible at first, but their genius eventually forms coherently in your head. With this album, the translation is more or less instantaneous.
That’s because of an even more impressive feat — Black Dahlia’s now refined their sound to an instantly recognizable sonic stamp while simultaneously daring to ramp up the insanity: this is the hardest, fastest, most relentless record they’ve ever made, jacking up the blast beats, removing most of the genre’s cliched breakdowns, and keeping Knight’s admitted brilliance to a few well-placed bursts of sonic glory. At ten songs and forty-five minutes, there’s still enough mayhem here for four or five other albums, and while it sags ever so slightly in the middle — “Phantom Limb Masturbation” and “Control” suffer precisely because they’re unnecessary bids for black metal legitimacy — the relentlessness is, finally, just varied enough to add shading while remaining tightly wound enough to stick in your head once your ears recover. It’s like ear candy delivered with a paintball gun.
Impact: 92. It only stops long enough to let you catch your breath.
Innovation: 78.They built this machine, they get to polish it.
Integrity: 85. If anything, their new rhythm section only drives them harder.