lawrence cottle

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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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 – Headless Cross (1989)

BLACK SABBATH – Headless Cross (1989)

This is one of the last Sabbath albums I got, because it was pretty scarce in the mid-90’s.  I paid about $25 for a US import, thanks to Orange Monkey Music in Kitchener, the only store that was able to get it.  (They were not, however, able to get me Seventh Star, then only available from Japan.)

While Headless Cross is lopsided to keyboard-heavy melodic numbers, I consider it a really underrated album.  I like it a lot better than the previous one, Tony Martin’s debut as Sabbath singer, The Eternal Idol.  I can’t say I adore it as much as Born Again, my favourite album of all time by anybody.  I can’t say I prefer it to Seventh Star, but it’s pretty close.

It’s a short one, a mere 7 tracks plus intro “The Gates of Hell”, but most of the songs are in the 5-6 minute range.  The intro then segues into one of the most powerful Sabbath songs of the entire catalog:  “Headless Cross” itself.  Cozy Powell kicks this one in the nuts.  If you love Cozy’s drumming, you will love “Headless Cross”.  It pulsates before it explodes in the chorus with Tony’s youthful scream.   In the 1980’s most bands needed a singer who could shatter glass and Tony M delivered.  If that’s not your thing, then just walk away, because you won’t like the rest of this review.

Another riffy number shows up next, “Devil & Daughter”, which also showcases Tony Iommi’s underrated soloing.  Martin scorches through the song with bravado and lung power to spare.   Its only flaw is that Geoff Nicholls’ keys are mixed way too high, as they are on almost every song on Headless Cross.

“When Death Calls” is a slow burner that I witnessed Sabbath perform live in 1995 on the Forbidden tour.  It has three distinct sections:  the mellow verses featuring Lawrence Cottle’s chiming fretless bass, the heavy choruses, and the scorching “Don’t look in those sunken eyes…” section.  This one section, as far as I’m concerned, makes the song.  Take it out and you don’t have enough to keep it interesting.  And best of all, who shows up to play the guitar solo?  Does he sound familiar to you?

I should hope so.  It’s Iommi’s mate Brian May!  A heavier Brian May than you were hearing at that period of the 1980’s, and his solo totally makes the song that much more special.  By the time Martin proclaims that there’s no tomorrow, “just an evil shadow” at the end, you’re probably exhausted from rocking so hard.

And that’s side one, a decidedly dark affair.  The mood brightens a little on side two.  The hard rock song “Kill In The Spirit World” boasts song damn strong verses before it melds with a spooky chorus.  Then Tony nails it with a hauntingly bluesy solo.  I’m sure this song was derided by skeptics at the time for its pop tendencies; meanwhile Dio got away with songs like “Mystery”.  I think there was definitely a double standard in how fans treated Sabbath in the late 80’s.  Their albums were a lot better than given credit.

Another hard rock song follows:  “Call of the Wild”.  It’s not as good as “Kill In The Spirit World”, but it  has a good pulse and it’s pretty decent.  Reportedly this song was to be called “Hero” until Ozzy released one with the same title a few months prior.  The lyrics are pretty lame:

In this last macabre hour, witches cry

And turn to dust before the moon

Many spirits are lost forever but one survives

To call the tune of Lucifer

There’s one pretty-much universal criticism of Headless Cross, and that’s the lyrics.  The above is a glaring example of Martin specifically trying to write “Satanic” lyrics, something he admitted to.   It feels contrived because it was, and in fact it loaned Sabbath less credibility than when Ronnie was singing about neon knights, and Ian was singing about getting trashed.

“Black Moon” is next, actually a re-recorded B-side from The Eternal Idol.  As such, it’s not that remarkable.  The riff is cool, as Tony wrings out something bluesy while Cozy pounds out a passable groove.

The album closes with the haunting, acoustic “Night Wing”.  This is where Cottle’s fretless bass really plays a role.  I love fretless and this song has some strong sections with great bass.  It’s odd to hear fretless bass on a Sabbath album, but I like different.  Tony’s guitar solo is a scorcher, as he seemingly loses control and then reels it back in.  And then as if to make a point, he composes a simple but appropriate acoustic solo.  And then another electric one.

You know, looking back, 1989, it was the era of the guitar hero.  And nothing wrong with that.  I love Van Halen, I love Satriani, Vai, Morse, all those guys.  But it truly is a shame that in the 80’s, the guitar kids ignored Tony Iommi.  A guitar hero — nay! legend! — was playing better than ever and the kids didn’t buy Headless Cross.

‘Tis a shame.

Lawrence Cottle was a studio cat, and arguably never an official member of Black Sabbath, but Joe Siegler’s got him listed and that’s good enough for me.  You could hardly see him in the music video for “Headless Cross” as he is always in the background, blurry.  But Sabbath fans were soon in for a treat that many did not appreciate:  the arrival of Neil Murray on bass.  Neil and Cozy had become a formidable rhythm section in Whitesnake, and now they were back together, the two guys who did Slide It In (the US version anyway).

The Black Sabbath lineup of Iommi/Martin/Powell/Murray/Nicholls bears the dubious distinction of being the third-longest lived behind the classic Ozzy and Dio (with Appice) lineups. They did three tours and two albums (Tyr and Forbidden).  The hiring of these musicians was hoped to bring the credibility back.   Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

As mentioned, this lineup recorded the next album, Tyr, before breaking up in the face of the first reunion with Ronnie James Dio, and it was this lineup that I saw in 1995, thus far the only time I’ve seen the band.

If Headless Cross were remixed today, to just tone down the keyboards a tad, I think it would help a lot.  But I do like this album.  Sabbath had written some great songs (all songs are credited to the band), and Tony Martin was at the absolute peak of his voice.

4/5 stars