the eternal idol

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

Part 136: Black Sabbath, July 22 1995 (REVIEW!)

Sadly, my concert review for this show no longer exists.  Ye olde floppy discs don’t exist anymore, and the site that once hosted the review (sabbathlive.com) no longest exists.  Therefore I’m forced to re-write this as a Record Store Tale.

RECORD STORE TALES PART 136:  Black Sabbath July 22 1995

July 22, 1995.  Tom, myself, and a few of the boys decided to go see Black Sabbath.  They were playing Lulu’s Roadhouse, the world’s longest bar, with Motorhead opening.  It felt like a step down for both bands, but the place was packed.

We arrived just before Lemmy hit the stage.  They ripped into a scorching set to promote their latest album, the high-octane Sacrifice.   I remember Lemmy introducing the title track:  “Don’t try to dance to this one or you’ll break both your fucking legs!”  At the end of their set, Motorhead promised to return (and they did a year later).

I remember Tom and I being blown away by Motorhead.  I didn’t own any — this show officially was what made me a fan.  I kicked myself for not really paying attention to them earlier, but better late than never eh?

Motorhead remain today one of the best bands I’ve seen.

But I was there to see Black Sabbath.  We moved closer to the front of the stage to be in position.  We chose a spot perfectly between where the two Tony’s would be, right up front.

The crowd was getting a little drunk and restless.  A fight started…well, I hesitate to really call it a fight,  it was over before it started.  We all turned around to see this big huge dude headbutt this little tiny Kurt Cobain looking guy.  Knocked him out cold.  Then the big guy realized everybody was watching and hastily made an exit.

Then, Black Sabbath:  Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, Cozy Powell, Neil Murray, and Geoff Nicholls.  What we didn’t know was that Cozy only had seven more gigs after this one.  Then he would be replaced by another Sabbath vet, Bobby Rondinelli.  And of course little did I know that I’d never see Cozy live again in any band:  He was killed in a car accident 3 years later.

They hit the stage to the classic Martin-era opener, “Children of the Grave”.  Sabbath’s set was sprinkled with tunes from the Ozzy era (“War Pigs”, “Iron Man”, “Paranoid”, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, “Black Sabbath”) and the Dio era (“Heaven and Hell”, “Mob Rules”) and many of his own tracks.  They played three from the lacklustre new record, but at least three of the better songs:  an awesomely dramatic “Kiss Of Death”, the explosive “Can’t Get Close Enough”, and the filler song “Get A Grip”.

It was just before “Get A Grip” that the stagediving began.  Tom vacated the stage area right away.  “Get a grip is right!” he said to me.  “I’m out of here.”  Two songs later I followed him.  This drunk girl started grinding me from behind, so I took the first chance to slip away and catch up with Tom.

The one song I really came to see was “The Shining”, one of the best Martin-era tunes, and his first single with the band.  Sabbath delivered.  They also played two from Headless Cross including “When Death Calls”.  Neil Murray played the chiming bass intro to this song that I’d never heard before.  It was the only unfamiliar song.  I resolved to get Headless Cross as soon as possible.  (It took two months for Orange Monkey Music in Waterloo to get it from Europe.)

Vague memories:

Tony Martin was a so-so frontman.  Much of the time, he would spread his arms Christ-like and shake his thinning hair.  He talked a lot and I remember he had small, beady but friendly looking eyes.  He did the best he could.  He sang his ass off, although he had lost a fair chunk of his range.

I remember Iommi ditched his SG for an unfamiliar red guitar during the overdriven “Can’t Get Close Enough”.

I could barely see Cozy, which is my biggest regret.

I was pleased that Sabbath played a well-rounded set with new stuff.

Little did I know that the end was near.  Not only was Cozy soon to be out, but promoters cancelled much of the end of the tour.  Sabbath headed over to Japan, threw “Changes” into the set (OMG!) but were done by the end of the year.  For the first time in a long time, Sabbath were put on ice while Tony (Iommi) worked on a solo album with Glenn Hughes.

Meanwhile, the lawyers were conspiring to create a new/old Sabbath lineup.  By 1997, Ozzy was back, and the band now featuring founding members Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and new drummer Mike Bordin of Faith No More.

I’m glad  to have seen Sabbath with Martin.  He did five albums, and I like three of them.  I think he did the best he could under difficult circumstances.  He’s a talented guy, so it’s great to have seen this lineup especially since Cozy would be gone so soon!