dave spitz

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Eternal Idol (deluxe edition)

I’m addicted to buying these deluxe editions.  I think this is the last of my Black Sabbath deluxes. Check out more of my Sabbath deluxe reviews by clicking here!

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BLACK SABBATH – The Eternal Idol (2010 deluxe edition)

The years of chaos were seemingly coming to an end as Black Sabbath stabilized into a solid core of Tony Iommi, Geoff Nicholls, and new lead singer Tony Martin. The drum and bass positions would continue to swirl for another year, right up until the Headless Cross tour. Getting to this point was not without struggle, and this new Deluxe Edition illustrates this beautifully.

I’m going to sidestep the issue of “Does The Eternal Idol really deserve the Deluxe Edition treatment?” and just be glad it’s out. There are, after all, two B-sides here that were ridiculously expensive to acquire on 12″ vinyl. Those songs, “Some Kind of Woman” and the original version of “Black Moon” (which would later be re-recorded on Headless Cross) finally complete the Eternal Idol picture. And they’re not bad songs either, particularly “Black Moon”. “Strange Kind of Woman” I haven’t wrapped my head around yet. It’s this uptempo boogie rocker, and aside from “Blue Suede Shoes” I don’t think I’ve ever heard Black Sabbath boogie before. But it’s not bad, Tony’s playing is awesome, but maybe…ill advised is the term I’m looking for?

The bonus disc is the entire album’s original recording with former vocalist Ray Gillen (their seventh singer) before he was replaced by Martin (their eigth). This had been mostly available on a very common bootleg called The Ray Gillen Years, but missing a couple tracks. Now, the entire album as recorded by Gillen can be heard, and in much better sound quality.  Gillen was a very different type of singer, bluesier, very Coverdale-esque.  He later reappeared with his Sabbath-mate Eric Singer in Jake E. Lee’s Badlands.

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I can still remember keeping up with the Sabbath story via their music videos on MuchMusic. I was surprised when I saw that the “new” singer, the bearded Glenn Hughes, had been replaced by the much cooler looking Tony Martin. Skeptical, I watched the video for the first and only single “The Shining”. Lo and behold, the song was awesome! The riff (which goes back to an old unreleased Sabbath song from 1984 called “No Way Out”, featuring a lineup of Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward and David “Donut” Donato) was powerful and epic.  As good as any riffs Sabbath had done with Ronnie James Dio. The new chorus shimmers with intensity. This new singer rocked! Unfortunately, Martin would spend his entire career with a “mini-Dio” or “Dio-clone” tag. The similarities are that Martin has a similar range and equal amount of power, but not the grit, and a different character. Fortunately for him, Martin would stick around for 5 albums, but never shook the “replacement singer” tag.

Aside from “The Shining”, I find The Eternal Album to lack lustre. “Glory Ride” is the only other song that was single-worthy, a great romp that reminds me heavily of “Strange Wings” by Savatage (a song that featured Ray Gillen on backing vocals, coincidentally!) The rest of the songs…well, they ain’t bad, I guess. They’re just unremarkable, which is not good for a band that has seldom been anything but.  “Born To Lose” is fast and furious, as is “Lost Forever”. “Scarlet Pimpernel” is one of those atmospheric Sab instrumentals that they were known for in the early days, and its inclusion was very wise. However, the songs so tend to meld into one another, with only “The Shining” and “Glory Ride” making my personal Sabbath road tapes.

I mentioned the creation of this album was chaotic. Aside from the replacement of the lead singer position mid-album, there were also two drummers: Eric Singer departed to be replaced by ex-Sabbath drummer Bev Bevan! But by the tour, Bevan would be replaced by ex-The Clash drummer (Dr.) Terry Chimes. Dave (brother of Dan) Spitz partially recorded the bass to be replaced by ex-Rainbow and Ozzy bassist Bob Daisley. Daisley was gone before the video for “The Shining” was filmed, to be replaced by a mystery man who nobody bothered to catch the name of. You can see him in the video. The story goes, they needed a bassist for the video and pulled this guy off the street. For the tour, Jo Burt filled the bassist slot. Neither Chimes nor Burt would stick around to the next album, Headless Cross.

Did you get all that?

The Eternal Idol was a crucial step towards solidifying Black Sabbath once again, after the chaos of the previous years, but it would be the next album, Headless Cross, that was a resounding return. A much more solid album, Headless featured the new nucleus of the two Tonys and the legendary Cozy Powell on drums. Session bassist Lawrence Cottle (a great fretless player) was replaced for the while by Cozy’s longtime rhythm partner, Neil Murray. That lineup of Powell, Murray, Iommi and Martin (always with Geoff Nicholls on keys) would prove to be one of the most stable in the band’s history and the one that I saw when I first saw Sabbath live in 1995 on the Forbidden tour.

Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent. My point was to show that this album was really not the “comeback” that it could have been, but merely a step towards rebuilding Black Sabbath. You have to admire Tony Iommi for not giving up. The Eternal Idol is not for those fans who just like Ozzy, or just like Dio. Eternal Idol is for the metal maven who wants to know every chapter in the band’s history. Otherwise, I can’t recommend it, except for the two songs “The Shining” and “Glory Ride”. Purchase accordingly.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Seventh Star (deluxe edition)

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BLACK SABBATH featuring TONY IOMMI – Seventh Star (2011 deluxe edition)

The only Black Sabbath album with Glenn Hughes on vocals. The only one released under the somewhat silly name “Black Sabbath Featuring Tony Iommi”. The first one to feature no original members except Tony himself, with Geezer and Bill departing after the disasterous hiring of a new singer named Dave “Donut” Donato, a male model. That bore no fruit, and Iommi instead toiled away on what he intended to be his first solo album….

Finally, Seventh Star has been given the Deluxe Edition treatment. I’ve been waiting for some kind of official release of the music video remix of “No Stranger To Love” for 25 years. Finally it is available on this Deluxe Edition, along with a pretty good live show featuring the late Ray Gillen on vocals. I already have a Ray show on bootleg (a very common one called The Ray Gillen Years) but this is a completely different show, with a different setlist.

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Seventh Star as an album probably never should have been released under the Black Sabbath name. It’s truly a solo album that Warner Bros didn’t want to release as a Tony Iommi album. So here it is, an official Sabbath album. If that didn’t occur, would Sabbath as an entity even have continued in the 1980’s? I doubt it. Sabbath here consisted of:

Tony Iommi – guitars
Glenn Hughes – lead vocals
Dave “The Beast” Spitz – bass  (*brother of Dan)
Eric Singer – drums
Geoff Nicholls – keyboards

Only Iommi and Nicholls remain from previous Sabbath lineups. You know Glenn Hughes of course from his soulful wail in Deep Purple, and Eric Singer from his later work in Kiss. Here, the five musicians coalesce into a more commercial version of Black Sabbath. The hard hitting riffs are still there, the frenetic solos, the mystical lyrics, the pounding drums. Yet these songs are more melodic. Glenn infuses them with a soulful touch never heard before on a Sabbath album. Whether that is to your taste, only you can decide. Personally I love almost every song on this album. I find the standouts to be “In For The Kill”, “Seventh Star”, “Angry Heart”, and “No Stranger To Love”. Only “Heart Like A Wheel” bores me, a slow blues that doesn’t really go anywhere.

As mentioned, the video version of “No Stranger” is included, which I have never found anywhere else. For years I had it on VHS and I thought there were female backing vocals. This remaster reveals that it’s actually Glenn — I could never hear them clearly enough before to discern this.

The remastering on this CD is quite excellent. The drums have a fullness that wasn’t there before. The guitar absolutely sizzles. The liner notes are nothing new, just recycled from a previous edition of the CD, as are the included photos.

The bonus live show with Ray Gillen on vocals exists due to Glenn’s vocal and drug problems.  Ray Gillen was hired when it was clear that Hughes was in no shape to tour.  This CD reveals that Ray was really trying to be Ronnie James Dio. Personally I find Ray’s renditions of the Sabbath classics to be very overwrought, especially on “Black Sabbath”. Only two songs from Seventh Star are played. (You can get Ray’s version of “Heart Like A Wheel” on the Ray Gillen Years bootleg, as well as “Sweet Leaf”.)

While Ray’s tenure in Black Sabbath was brief, it was still important historically.  Ray did one tour and recorded an album.  There are some singers in Sabbath’s history that are not documented at all.  (One TV broadcast exists with Dave Walker singing “Junior’s Eyes”, and there’s a demo of Dave Donato singing an early version of “The Shining” called “No Way Out”.)   This live show, while not stellar, is an important piece of the Sabbath puzzle. It is the first (but not final!) official release of any Ray Gillen material with Sabbath.  The sound quality is slightly better than bootleg which is fine by me.

This remaster is not for Sabbath snobs. You know the kind. “Sabbath suck without Ozzy!” or “Dio is the best!” Sabbath’s history is far longer and richer than that, and there’s room for all kinds. Just one question:   Is Headless Cross going to get the deluxe treatment too?…may as well wish for the moon!

4/5 stars

Yup…that’s Star Trek TNG’s Denise Crosby in the “No Stranger To Love” video!

NOTE: If you like this album, Hughes and Iommi hooked up twice more: On the Iommi solo albums The DEP Sessions, and Fused.