REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Born Again (deluxe edition)

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BLACK SABBATH – Born Again (1983, 2011 deluxe edition)

Born Again is my favourite album of all time. #1. Numero uno.

It wasn’t always that way. When I first owned it (on cassette) I really only enjoyed two songs, “Trashed” and “Zero The Hero”. But I was persistent. Soon other songs started to emerge from the muddy morass that is this album: “Born Again”, “Keep It Warm”, “Disturbing The Priest”. Now, years after first hearing this album, it is an indispensible part of my collection and my musical background. I don’t know exactly why I love it so much. It’s an ugly duckling of an album, uglier even than its cover.

In 1983, Don Arden (father of Sharon Osbourne) recommended that Black Sabbath tap Ian Gillan (ex-Deep Purple) as new lead vocalist replacing Ronnie James Dio. Gillan had just folded his self-titled band (the excellent Gillan) to rejoin Deep Purple, but the reunion failed to happen. Drummer Bill Ward, at this point an alcoholic and still reeling from the death of his father, but still managed to come back long enough to record this album. (Soon, he was out again and replaced by ELO’s Bev Bevan, whose picture is also included inside.) Gillan said he was expecting this to be some new supergroup, under a new name, and was surprised when it became the next version of Black Sabbath.

“Trashed”, a fast smoker, kicks you in the nuts right from the beginning, with Ian Gillan’s colourful storytelling. “It really was a meeting, the bottle took a beating, the ladies of the Manor, watched me climb into my car…” No question what this song is about – drinking, ladies, and fast cars.  Narrowly escaping death, the drinking driver in question proclaims at the end, “Oooh, Mr. Miracle, save me from some pain. Oooh, Mr. Miracle, I won’t get trashed again.”

An atmospheric instrumental called “Stonehenge” (a dark watery piece) seques straight into the biggest asskicker of the whole album. “Disturbing The Priest”, the most evil sounding song on any Sabbath album, is actually anything but. Lyrically it’s just about recording the album next door to a church and waking up the neighbors! You can’t tell that from Gillan’s hellish screams or Geezer Butler’s fluid, lyrical bassline.

Another brief instrumental (“The Dark”) acts as in intro to “Zero The Hero”, the epic single, the most evil video the band ever made, and the riff that Slash (allegedly) ripped off for a little tune called “Paradise City”. Gillan sings his patented “English-as-a-second-language” style of lyrics: “Sit by the river with the magic in the music as we eat raw liver.” Raw liver?  What the hell? Musically, this song is the definition of heavy metal.

Side 2 of the original LP begins with another fast scorcher, but still a much more straightforward song than anything on side one. “Digital Bitch” smokes from start to finish. Angry, vicious and brutal, this is a rock song for metal heads. “Keep away from the digital bitch!” warns Gillan.  Iommi’s riffery is tops.

“Born Again” is, I guess, a fucked up blues, filtered through Tony Iommi’s echoey underwater guitar sounds. If I had to compare it to another song, it would be Deep Purple’s “Wasted Sunsets”, for mood and vibe. Yet this is a much darker beast, highlighted by a metal chorus replete with screams.

Another fast rocker, “Hot Line”, is up next which the band used to play live. Very similar to “Digital Bitch” in style.

The final track is “Keep It Warm”, a midtempo song with rich vocals by Gillan, and more of that Engligh-as-a-second-language lyricism. “Keep it warm, rat, don’t forget pretty pretty one that your man is coming home.” Rat?

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So: if this record is loaded with such amazing riffage and tunes, why was it so unpopular? Why did it almost destroy Black Sabbath as a band? Why did it rate so low, everywhere? The answer is simple to me — the production sucks. Rumour has it that Geezer Butler snuck into the studio and turned the bass up so high that it couldn’t be fixed in the mix. As a result, this is a muddy, bass-heavy album with non-existent cymbals or even treble. Bill Ward’s drum sound is similar to the sound of hammering on a sheet of 1/8″ thick steel. Even his drum style has changed — in the 70’s he was much looser, then he got stiff and this was the first album where he sounds so stiff and relentless.

Yet, as a package, to me it works. I love this album and the sound is part of that. From the cover art, to the look of the band, to the songs & videos, this is a picture of pure rock and roll evil! Sabbath is usually at their best when plying the darkest waters, and Born Again is indeed the darkest of the dark. I think this CD remaster goes a long way towards making the album enjoyable. (The liner notes are also excellent.)

After this tour, Gillan left for Purple (for real this time), and the band hired yet another singer — David Donato who later turned up with Mark St. John (Kiss) in a band called White Tiger. Donato joined the original members for a photo shoot, but this new lineup produced no music, and Sabbath disbanded. Tony Iommi began work on a with another ex-Purple singer, Glenn Hughes (notice a pattern here?)…but that is another totally confusing and convoluted story!

Gillan maintains to this day that he was “the worst singer that Sabbath ever had,” while Ozzy thinks this is the best Sabbath album since he left the band. But, much like Another Perfect Day by Motorhead, it is a different sounding album that has a strong cult following.

You decide!

AND NOW! Onto the bonus disc.

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First up is “The Fallen”, a heavy fast rocker with a great riff. It is a riff unlike most Iommi riffs but it’s a solid one. The song has been heavily bootlegged before, but the deluxe edition is its first official release. Interesting but not essential is an extended version of “The Dark”, the watery intro to “Zero The Hero”. Next is the live set at Reading. This is the first official release of anything featuring the Sabbath lineup of Gillan/Iommi/Butler and Bev Bevan. I have a bootleg of the Montreal show (Black and Purple), which is awful. Gillan’s voice was all over the map on that one, maybe his monitors were off or maybe he was hoarse, but he sucked that night. This Reading show is much better! You have to remember that Ian Gillan, of all the Black Sabbath singers, put his own spin on these songs. He didn’t always sing the words as they were written, and his voice is so idiosyncratic that it’s hard to put Made In Japan out of mind. That’s not a bad thing to me, I love Ian Gillan. It may not be to everybody’s taste.

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Strongest on the live stuff were “Digital Bitch” and “Hotline”. “Zero The Hero” is sloppy, but drummer Bevan is solid. In fact it is Bevan with whom I am most frequently impressed here. Aside from some “percussion” sessions on the Eternal Idol album, this is the first official release of any Sabbath music with Bev Bevan on drums, and certainly the largest chunk of Sabbath music available with his performances.

The crowd goes absolutely nuts for “Smoke On The Water”, more so than any Sabbath song before it. It’s weird hearing any band that’s not Deep Purple sing the story about Montreaux, but I think they had no choice. They really did have to play it or the crowds would have rioted. Sabbath play a blocky heavy metal version of the song.

Disappointingly, there is no Dio-era material. On the Montreal bootleg, Gillan sang “Heaven and Hell” (gloriously screwing up the words) and “Neon Knights”.

Still, this is an absolutely great reissue. Wonderful packaging and liner notes, finally answering the rumours about that album cover.

5/5 stars! This will always be my favourite Sab platter. Plus it tends to scare the neighbors.

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15 comments

  1. Now, it might just be me, but…Hot Line and Keep It Warm, sound (im speaking more guitar sound ) like they belong on Judas Priest’s “Turbo” (do keep in mind, today is actually the first time I have heard the original cd [Born Again] in its entirety)

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  2. First off, this was never supposed to be anything other than a BLACK SABBATH recording. Any tales saying otherwise is just them trying now to re-write history.
    And, the first line of lyric to “Trashed” isn’t “It really wasn’t easy”, it’s “It really was a meeting”.
    Oh,and for the record, they played pretty much every song from this one live at one time or another on tour that year, not just “Hot Line”.
    Oh, and the line-up with David Donato did produce some songs, one of which (“No Way Out”) can be found on youtube.
    “The Dark” isn’t the extended song on the bonus disc, but “Stonehenge”.
    About them playing “Smoke On The Water”: That was a huge misstep, a decision more than likely made by management and not the band; and was something that a lot of fans revolted against.
    Otherwise, nice review.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback! I heard No Way Out recently and it was cool to finally have.

      I worded the opening of this poorly. What I should have said was that when Gillan met up with the other guys, the idea was to form a new supergroup, but it ended up being called Black Sabbath which took Gillan a little by surprise. This is according to his book Child in Time.

      Cheers!

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      1. Thanks for the kind reply, and thanks for not being defensive and realizing I was trying to be helpful and not be a smarta$$.
        No, you didn’t word that wrong, I’ve been seeing/reading that all over the place online and in some books on Sabbath the past couple years, and it is rubbish, lol.
        I was in my late teens when “Born Again” came out, and was collecting any and every magazine I could find back then that had any articles about them. And there was never at any time that it was said that they were to be anything other than BLACK SABBATH with Ian Gillan.
        Hell, if they were going to do some kind of super group (by the way, that term wasn’t even around back then, either, lol), then why the hell did they bring Bill Ward back, and get their old manager back, and bring back most of their old road crew, and announce they wanted to get back to the old days of Black Sabbath, lol.
        Even Ronnie James Dio stated in a few interviews back then how when they let him go it was because they wanted to go back, and he didn’t see that as being forward looking enough.
        (He is also the one told about them getting all the old roadies and stuff back.)

        Anyways, on another note, I’ve just recently rediscovered this album, and am blown away by it all over again, hearing things in it I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. And, to think, just about this time last year I was considering this a huge misstep in their career. But now I see what exactly it was they were trying to achieve with this record, and that was to go back to the sound they had around the time of “Sabotage”, if not earlier to “Master of Reality” and start from scratch (that’s even more reason it bothers me that they are now trying to claim that they weren’t going to call this a Black Sabbath record).

        I think what helped me really appreciate this was after listening to “13” over and over for a few days, putting this one in next.

        So glad to see someone else getting the same pleasure out of it! Cheers!

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        1. Thanks again for your comment. Oh another thing, the opening lyric of “Trashed” — I had been singing it all wrong for many years now!

          I’m happy to say that not only do I derive a lot of pleasure from this old album, but I’ve managed to turn some friends onto it as well. I really became a Deep Purple fan via this album. I became aware of Gillan, and in the video he just looked so cool, with that long black hair obscuring his face!

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      2. Same here! Even though I had heard of Deep Purple, and of course had heard a few songs (primarily “Smoke On The Water”, ironic as that is, lol), it wasn’t until this album that I had an interest to seek out their back catalogue and check it out. You may also be interested in trying to find an album by the Ian Gillan Band called “Scarabus” if you don’t already have it. It is awesome. Matter of fact, “Disturbing The Priest” heavily borrows musically and melodically from the title track of that one.
        And this: “Gillan, and in the video he just looked so cool, with that long black hair obscuring his face!” is like reading my own thoughts, lol, because I felt the exact same way – and stil do somewhat. :)

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        1. That music video scared my sister — she hated Gillan and his hair. Hahaha.

          I don’t have Scarabus but I do have the song on a couple albums. I have a Gillan live album and a couple compilations with that song. I too noticed those similarities! But you are the first person who’s ever mentioned it, that I know of!

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        2. Oh, I meant to mention in reply to you saying that you’ve been singing the opening line of “Trashed” incorrectly for several years that I had always thought a line in “Paranoid” was “Can you help me? Are you for my brain?” until, ironically, I heard Ian Gillan singing it live, and realized it is “Can you help me occupy my brain?”, lol.
          Great to know that Gillan did that song (“Scarabus”) live. I’ll have to look for that! Thanks!

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        3. I think a lot of the joy about rock music from childhood is FINALLY finding out the “real words” that you were singing wrong for years! With Ian Gillan, the real words didn’t seem to make much more sense than the imagined. But I’ve grown to love that about his style.

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  3. Funny, Trashed and Zero the Gero are the only songs I really enjoy from it at the moment.

    And be those the unmixed demos on that other disc there?

    Lastly, I believe Iommi chose the do Smoke because he thought it was a bum deal that Gillan had to sing so much Sabbath and nothing of his own. Also, Sabbath rehearsed, among others, ELO’s Evil Woman. I so want to hear that version

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  4. Honourable mention on the bonus disc goes to Ian Gillans rendition of the song Black Sabbath. That laughter, man…

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  5. If you’re looking for a good Sabbath ’83 bootleg, their show at Worcester (released under too many titles to name here), is an excellent quality recording. Almost as good as a professional mix. Gillan isn’t 100%, but he’s a better than most other nights on the tour.

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