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REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Forbidden (1995)

BLACK SABBATH – Forbidden (1995, bonus track)

Once upon a time Black Sabbath were the most vital metal band around, but not in 1995.  The 80’s and early 90’s were much rougher, with a rotating lineup of singers, drummers, and bass players. Only original member Tony Iommi and longtime keyboardist Geoff Nicholls weathered the storm consistently.

Bill Ward and Geezer Butler were both playing in Black Sabbath again in late 1994, but by 1995 both had bailed (for the umpteenth time) again.  That left Iommi with Nicholls and singer Tony Martin not knowing what was going to happen next.  There were rumours in the press that Ice T (yes, Ice T) would be soon joining Sabbath.

That didn’t happen (thank God!) and the lineup here is nothing but pure heavy metal pedigree.  It is also a reunion of the 1989-1991 Tyr band.  Neil Murray and Cozy Powell were back on bass and drums.  This would be Murray’s second and Powell’s third Sabbath album.  Murray and Powell, of course, also did time together in Whitesnake, forming a rock solid rhythm section that only great chemistry can produce.

So what happened? What went wrong? Why does Forbidden suck so bad?

The reasons are threefold. One, the album was rushed out amid much confusion within the band. Rumours of Ozzy’s return abounded and Martin didn’t know if he was in or out. Morale sucked.  Second, the record company insisted on a more “current” sound. Thus, the album was produced by Body Count’s Ernie C, and I guess that is the connection to Ice T, who guest raps on the opening track.   Third, I think the album was recorded in roughly a week and doesn’t really sound finished.  Rather, it sounds like a demo sonically and song-wise, with all the filler songs that don’t normally make it to a released album.

Powell, normally a thunderous drummer, is reduced here to a dry hollow whollop thanks to Ernie C’s crummy production.  It’s too bad because Cozy is playing some serious awesome drums that you can’t hear properly.  The entire album suffers, the vocals sound raw and rushed, and the songs smack of second rate tunage.  Granted, everybody knows that Iommi has bags and bags of tapes full of riffs, and some of these riffs are great. However, a riff cannot make a song, and without decent vocal hooks, this Sabbath album is as flat as they come.

It is truly a shame that Tony Martin had to go out with this as his final Sabbath album, after years of loyalty and being dumped twice! I saw them on this tour, and they were great. Shame they were supporting a terrible album.

Highlights:

“Can’t Get Close Enough” is close indeed to being a great song, but not quite. It has a great mellow intro and then this incredible distorted riff kicks in, but the vocal track is slightly underwhelming.

“Kiss of Death” is the closing epic, and best song on the album. Cozy’s drum rolls are like the thunder of Valhalla by the time you get to the choruses and outro. The song reaks of anger and betrayal. “Nothing you can do will hurt me, I am indestructible,” sings Martin over a slow, powerful riff.  Wonder if he knew the writing was on the wall as far as his tenure in the band went.

And that’s it. “Rusty Angels” and “Forbidden” have great riffs but are otherwise not noteworthy. “I Won’t Cry For You” had potential as a ballad, but is inferior in every way to similar songs like “Feels Good To Me”, for example. This album is so dead, so lifeless, not even the grim reaper on the cover can be bothered to stand up.

I know some critisized the cover of this album as being too cartoony, but once you open it up and get the full picture, it is much better. The reaper is sitting next to a tomb, and out from the tomb are the ghosts of all five Sabbath members, Ice T, Ernie C, and lots of ghouls and goblins, done in MAD Magazine type charicatures. It’s a rare fun cover from a band that usually takes its doomy image far too seriously.

Shame that the album isn’t as fun. In the 15 years (and counting) since I bought it, I can usually count on it as a sleeping aid. It’s just that boring.

1/5 stars

OF NOTE: Japanese version had a bonus track, a short 2 minute song called “Loser Gets It All”. It is, sadly, the best track on the album. The good news is that you can get it on a compilation album called The Sabbath Stones if you can’t find the Japanese version.

Side one
1. “The Illusion of Power”
2. “Get a Grip”
3. “Can’t Get Close Enough”
4. “Shaking Off the Chains”
5. “I Won’t Cry for You”

Side two
6. “Guilty as Hell”
7. “Sick and Tired”
8. “Rusty Angels”
9. “Forbidden”
10. “Kiss of Death”

Japanese bonus track
11. “Loser Gets It All”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSHOq_bhMwI&w=560&h=315]