The thirteenth time is the charm for Black Sabbath as 13, the legendary group's first studio album to feature singer Ozzy Osbourne in 35-years, shot straight to the #1 spot on the Billboard charts as soon as it was released.
In order to accomplish this feat a great deal of sales had to be made to people who had not yet heard the record and who were spending their money based on Sabbath's (and Ozzy's) track record and the attendant excitement surrounding the long-awaited reunion album.
So the question is, did they all buy a "War Pigs"-in-a-poke or are they now owners of something very special? The answer is clearly the latter as Osbourne and original members Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, aided by Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk (in replacement of the ailing and contractually unhappy Bill Ward) impress from the album's very first notes.
Opener "End of the Beginning" and follow-up tune, the lengthy good-vs.-evil ponderance of "God is Dead?" both utilize familiar hallmarks from some of the best early cuts; slow and lurching tempos, ominous bass lines and haunted vocals from Osbourne, all held together by Iommi's sinister sounding guitar parts.
Iommi showcases power chords on "Loner" while Ozzy sings lines like "He ain't got nothing/No one to sympathize," a situation he's personally experienced more than once; there's little doubt that Ozzy is flashing back to one of his breaking points during the portion of the song where his vocals dissolve into an agonized cry.
"Zeitgeist" is a bit of a different sound for the band; Iommi plays a slow, bluesy riff on acoustic guitar and Wilk forgoes his drum set in favor of tapping out a rhythm on congas while Ozzy's voice floats like it's coming in from distant space.
"Live Forever" is a heavy boogie and the fastest number on 13, "Age of Reason" and "Damaged Soul" are more of the harder-edged Sabbath sound and "Dear Father" closes the album with Ozzy telling the tale of a broken man who's been molested by his father and is seeking vengeance; the story changes pace and kicks into high gear mid-song as Ozzy screams "Now it's your turn to die!"
Fans will hear hints of classic songs like "Iron Man" and "Paranoid" throughout the album but this is no rehash. Some will call 13 a return to form but really it is a new form; a zenith-reaching work that may never be bettered.
Preview and purchase the album here.