REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Sabbath Stones (1996)

Bought at HMV, Stone Road Mall, Guelph ON, on import for $29.99 in 1996.

BLACK SABBATH – The Sabbath Stones (1996 IRS)

The Sabbath Stones, a record-company cash-grab, is a greatest hits compilation of Sabbath’s Tony Martin years (mostly) plus a smattering of bonus tracks. While it is not perfect, and so many great songs were omitted, it is still a really great listen from start to finish. Tony Martin is probably the most derided of all Sabbath vocalists. Having seen Sabbath live on their final tour with Martin (also including Cozy Powell and Neil Murray) I can say that I quite enjoyed that incarnation of Sabbath. Also, in 1996 when this was released, albums such as Headless Cross and The Eternal Idol were very hard to find on CD.  With that in mind, read my track-by-track breakdown.

1. “Headless Cross” — This compilation is the IRS years (that’s the record label, not the government agency) and thus starts with their first IRS album, Headless Cross. The title track is one of those underground classics. The groove here is monstrous (thanks, Cozy)  and the notes Martin hits in the chorus are superhuman. This track, back in 1989, was Sabbath getting back to a truly heavy evil sound. Shame that the keyboards (on all tracks by Geoff Nicholls) are mixed so high!

2. “When Death Calls” — One of my favourites from Headless. Beginning with fretless bass (by temp bassist Lawrence Cottle) and haunting vocals, you’d almost think this was a ballad. By the end, it’s breakneck, with Tony Martin singing these evil lyrics about how “your tongue will blister” when Satan says you’re to die! The guest guitar solo by Brian May will sear your soul.

3. “Devil and Daughter” — A third great track from Headless, an album loaded with great tracks. This is an uptempo one all the way through!

4. “The Sabbath Stones” — From 1990’s underrated Tyr album. I quite liked Tyr. “The Sabbath Stones” is a fast one, wicked, but muddy in sound as was all of Tyr. Once again, Martin hits inhuman high notes by the end.

5-7. “The Battle Of Tyr/Odin’s Court/Valhalla” — These three tracks are actually all bits of one long piece, on Viking mythology. Sabbath at the time were trying to get away from the “Satanic thing”, and Vikings were still evil enough to sing about. Some fans didn’t like that turn of events but I think Sabbath were well ahead of their time. “The Battle Of Tyr” is a keyboard-y bit, just an intro to get you in the mood. “Odin’s Court” is acoustic, with Iommi picking a simple melody while Martin sings about “leading us on, to the land of eternity, riding the cold cold winds of Valhalla”. That takes us into the main meat of the trilogy, the “Valhalla” portion. One of the most powerful of all Martin-era tracks, with great keyboard accents and a memorable Iommi riff, this was my favourite track off Tyr.  (It’s either this one, or “Jerusalem”.)

8. “TV Crimes” — A brief departure from the Tony Martin years. In 1992, he was out and Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler, and Vinny Appice were back in. The album was called Dehumanizer and even though it did not sell well, a hardcore following now consider it among the very best Sabbath albums of all time, and possibly one of the best things Dio’s ever done. Why it was underrepresented here with just one song is beyond me. There should have been at least three Dehumanizer tracks on this CD (I would have nixed “Devil and Daughter” and “The Sabbath Stones” in favour of two more with Dio singing.) Anyway, “TV Crimes” (the single) is here, and while not one of the best songs from Dehumanizer, it and “Time Machine” were the two most well-known.

9. “Virtual Death” — Tony Martin is back, with Rainbow’s Bobby Rondinelli and Geezer Butler too!  That would not last long, as Geezer soon fled back to Ozzy’s solo band to record the Ozzmosis CD. “Virtual Death” is hardly one of the better songs from the Cross Purposes album, a decent record if a bit soft. Having said that, the soft tracks were really quite good and “Virtual Death” was just a grunge song.  Black Sabbath influenced that whole scene, but they ended up copying Alice In Chains’ trademark vocal style on “Virtual Death”.  That double tracked vocal melody could have come right off Dirt.

10. “Evil Eye” — Another puzzling Cross Purposes selection.  I can’t think of a reason to include it.  There was once a legend that “Evil Eye” was co-written by Eddie Van Halen, who went uncredited.  The same rumour suggested that Van Halen either performed the guitar solo or wrote the solo for Iommi to play.  Joe Seigler of black-sabbth.com has busted this rumour as false.   My two tracks from this album would have been “I Witness” (fast one) and “Cross Of Thorns” (slow one).

11. “Kiss Of Death” — Finally we arrive at the end of the Martin years with the dreadful Forbidden album. It’s sad because it wasn’t the end that Tony Martin deserved. The album just got out of hand and next thing you know, Ozzy was back. This track was at least one of the strongest ones. A killer, slow closer with some unbelievable Cozy Powell drum fills, if it had been recorded right it would have just slammed you in the face.

12. “Guilty As Hell” — Another Forbidden track, and one of the weakest. “Can’t Get Close Enough” should have been subbed in. Just filler.

13. “Loser Gets It All”TREASURE!  The Japanese Forbidden bonus track, finally available domestically! (Please note, the Cross Purposes Japanese bonus track “What’s The Use” is still unreleased outside Japan, dangit.) This song, a shorty just over 2 minutes, is actually stronger than all the other Forbidden stuff. Good riff, good keyboards, not bad sounding. Shame it was buried on a Japanese release.  Why?  Who knows.  Maybe Tony Martin does.  Tony, drop me a line.  I’d love to talk.

And that finishes the final IRS album, and the final one for Martin. He’d been replaced once before by Dio, and now finally by the once and future Ozzy, and it’s all over for him.  Since then he’s taken a back seat to his more famous predecessors, although he released the strongly reviewed (by me) Scream solo album in 2005.  He also did a number of albums with guitarist Dario Mollo, two of which I own but have to revisit.

There are three “bonus tracks”, songs that were included under license, from the period before the IRS years.  The inclusion of these songs really make the album a fun listen.

14. “Disturbing The Priest” — My favourite incarnation of Sabbath was 1983’s Gillan/Iommi/Butler/Ward and this is my favourite song from Born Again. It’s so evil you’ll feel like you need to confess your sins after listening! I have no idea how Gillan managed such demonic screams. Brilliant selection!

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15. “Heart Like A Wheel” — I’m actually quite fond of the Glenn Hughes fronted album, Seventh Star, but this song has no place on this album. Granted Sabbath played it live on the ’86 tour with Ray Gillen subbing in for Hughes, but it’s too slow and bluesy. The title track or “In For The Kill” should have been subbed in.

16. “The Shining” — Tony Martin triumphantly ends the album with his first single with Black Sabbath.  “The Shining” has a vintage Iommi riff, and more ungodly high notes. There are early demos of this song from before Tony joined the band, with other singers, as Iommi had this riff a long time before.  A 1984 demo entitled “No Way Out” was recorded with Ian Gillan’s short-lived replacement singer, David “Donut” Donato.  Then it was re-written and re-sung by Ray Gilllen, and this version was recently released on the Eternal Idol deluxe edition. Tony Martin’s version then is the third incarnation of the song that I have, and it’s a triumphant one.  I love the way this album was bookended with Tony Martin songs.

That’s the CD: 80 MINUTES LONG! You just can’t argue with cramming that much music onto one disc. And yes, you can get 80 minutes onto a CD, and this album is the proof.

While I have argued against the inclusion of some songs, by and large this is a well-made compilation, for a record company cash-grab. Considering the Martin years have been buried, I think it is well worth owning. I listened to it all the time.

4/5 stars

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49 comments

    1. AWESOME. I did not know that about you did I? And I had forgotten the nickname “Cat”!

      I have the single from Tyr — track it down! Feels Good To Me. The B-side is an extended live take of Heaven And Hell and Paranoid (with band intro’s) and I really enjoy that live recording. I haven’t got around to reviewing it yet — but I WILL!

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    2. AWESOME. I did not know that about you did I? And I had forgotten the nickname “Cat”!

      I have the single from Tyr — track it down! Feels Good To Me. The B-side is an extended live take of Heaven And Hell and Paranoid (with band intro’s) and I really enjoy that live recording. I haven’t got around to reviewing it yet — but I WILL!

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      1. I’m not even sure where that nickname came from! Any ideas. I’m sure we have talked about those albums but I maybe never mentioned just how much I like Tyr! I really like Seventh Star too actually and I’d like to hear the Eternal Idol deluxe with the Ray Gillen versions.

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        1. It definitely worth a look. One other thing — Mitch Lafon did a recent interview with Tony that was posted on Bravewords a couple weeks ago, and it was excellent. Tony seems like a nice guy.

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        2. I’m not sure — Mitch did the one with controversial new singer, Darren Smith…

          Speaking of new singers I’m reading good reviews of Jizzy Pearl’s debut with Quiet Riot.

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        3. Prato, that’s who it was. Lafon, Prato, they both have five letters in the name :)

          I’ve read it and you’re right it was a great interview.

          I wish Ozzy didn’t rag on the Jake period so much. Who wouldn’t buy a CD/DVD reissue of the live video Ultimate Ozzy?

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        4. The sequined bathrobe you mean? And what the hell is with him going barefoot on stage. Maybe I’m just a germophobe but that drives me nuts — Bare feet on stage! Like ewwww. And wouldn’t you get splinters? Rollins is the only one allowed to do it, because he would kick my ass if I told him he can’t.

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        5. I’m sure Ronnie Van Zane would have had something to say about it too! Can’t see Rollins letting a splinter bother him. He sees a splinter he eats a splinter. GRRR

          And yes I do mean the bathrobe. And the hair.

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        6. ROLLINS!! Yeah, he had a rug to jump around on too. Black, of course.

          And I’m pretty sure the Crowes did too? I’m having to think back to the Three Snakes tour, but there were lots of candles (and roadies in monk robes) and I’m pretty sure Chris was standing on a rug. Well, barely standing. He was so out of it that night, and not in a good way. It was pretty sad.

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        7. I don’t think that was really a good period for them honestly. Three Snakes is a very muddled album, not really all that coherent, but it has its moments.

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  1. Actually I have never heard any of the Sabbath/Martin era. The last one I bought before the Martin era was Born Again and than I did not buy another Sabbath release until the Dio/Sabbath Greatest hits and Radio City.
    I actually got a boot of Ray Gillian singing with Sabbath so kinda of I guess….
    I will say that Tv Crimes is a awesome song as well as Computer God and I, actually the ones from Radio City. Perhaps I should check out the Dehumanizer album now 20 yrs later,
    But give Iommi credit he carried that name thru same lean times I mean down to clubs but like u said Mike he had the great Cozy on the skins!

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    1. Deke, check out Dehumanizer again. If you like the Radio City stuff I think you will dig it. I think when Vinny Appice is on drums, Sabbath acquire a specific Appice groove that I enjyoy.

      I have always stood by Tony through every incarnation of Sabbath, but I admit frustration at many times. Just when things were going right, Dio quit again…and then Geezer a year later…and then the Forbidden album was really hard to swallow.

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      1. Will do…I guess I was like the general public who gave up on em..for me it was after Gillian left and went to record with Purple. I read the articles that were written on Sabbath at the time like in Metallion magazine but I just moved on. You my friend are a diehard !

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        1. Well what happened Deke is that since I had Columbia House as a kid I was tempted to buy a new album every month. When they finally got Tyr it was mid 91 but I ordered it and fell for it immediately…I made it a goal to get all the Sabbath albums especially the ones with different singers. I liked all of them…and then Dehumanizer came out and I was BLOWN AWAY by its heaviness. So I was hooked! They couldn’t shake me, after Dehumanizer.

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  2. I have a big blank between ‘Mob Rules’ and ’13’ in my collection, I keep meaning to buy ‘Headless Cross’ but its never quite happened. I will get both it and ‘Tyr’ at some point this year.

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  3. Yeah good ol Columbia House I used that as well back in the early 90s to get all of Robert Plants solo stuff and discs at the time I would not pay $20 for like Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits,Billy Joel,Genisis,Mellancamp..it was a great way to stockpile 14 CDs off the top.
    I would than finish my commitment ASAP and do it all over again…
    Good ol Columbia House…RIP

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  4. If I ever came across this comp in a record shop, I’d buy it. But I still just want to own all the albums. I have everything up to the mid-80s, including the deluxe Born Again! Oh, and Dehumanizer. But a lot of these later-period albums are next on my list for sure.

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    1. This is worth getting for a) the rare track, and b) an enjoyable running order. So yeah after Born Again you’re heading into this territory. It’s not impossible to find used, but it was ONLY released in Canada on import!

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  5. Interesting compilation. I remember when this came out, and I had absolutely no interest in these years of the Sabbath catalog, so I had completely forgotten about it. After revisiting their entire catalog a couple of years ago I have some respect for the Martin-era, but how “Nightwing” could have been overlooked is beyond my comprehension. I’m far from an expert on this subject, but I have to imagine that most fans agree that it’s at least among the 4-5 best songs from those years.

    As for 80 minute CDs, yep they do exist…but not all players can handle them. In fact, my copy of “Live At Last” (or is it “Live Evil”?) is about 80:03, and the end of the disc…which I think should just be crowd noise fading out…is all clipped digital distortion. Some CD replicating plants won’t guarantee the playability of discs that exceed 74 minutes. The record company bears all responsibility in those cases.

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    1. Hah! Interesting, I did not know that. I’ve never had a problem playing an 80 minute CD on any of my equipment. I guess I’ve been lucky with my players? Weirdly my best players are my oldest ones.

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    1. Me too Mike. Liked it from the first time I heard it. I used to play it in the store all the time. Kids used to come to me and ask, “Do you have any Black Sabbath?” And I’d say, “Yep — you’re listening to it.”

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    2. Well, that’s because Seventh Star never was supposed to be Sabbath album. Seventh Star is really Tony Iommi’s first solo album, but the record company would hear of that because they never though anyone would buy a solo album from Iommi – hence the Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi moniker.
      But yeah, I agree, it’s a very good album. You could never tell that Glenn Hughes was killing himself with ctack and cocaine at the time, the guy’s singing is world class – and then some.

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      1. No you certainly couldn’t. I have a compilation album of his, the Voice of Rock, and it certain has a lot of amazing songs from the “cocaine years” as well as some from his excellent comeback album From Now On.

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  6. Looks like a really cool compilation if you don’t own any of those albums (which, of course, you should). I’m a bit curious of who put the track list together. I mean, Cross Of Thorns and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle are two of the most popular songs off Cross Purposes and none of them are featured here. Really weird. As for Forbidden, none of the members has anything nice to say about it so that album could have been left out, no one would have complained.
    As for Tony Martin, he IS a really nice bloke. He stayed at my brother’s house for a good three days when he was in Sweden for some live work this summer, but decided to go back after his gigs and stay for another three because they became such good friends. I tell you, it felt really strange at first, having a bbq at my brother’s backyard with Tony Martin, but it took about half an hour and you hardly thought about it. The guy is so down to earth and normal, didn’t talk about himself or Sabbath if not asked at all. So there you go.

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    1. Hand that Rocks the Cradles was even a single, and it’s not on here! Very strange, that. Thanks for mentioning that song.

      I’m glad Tony is a nice bloke. I like when I heard that about people I admire. His solo album Scream is damn good and I’d love to get Back Where I Belong if I could ever find it for under $50…

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  7. Tony Martin is probably the most derided of all Sabbath vocalists.”

    Someone told me this story: At a concert, Tony Martin stage-dived into the crowd. When he tried to get back on stage, security wouldn’t let him, not believing he could really be the singer!

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    1. Now that is funny. When I saw him on the Forbidden tour, he made sure to stay away from the people who were diving off the stage. Probably didn’t want to get dragged with him and then not be allowed back on stage by security!!

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