Black Sabbath - Born Again (1983)

Credits:

  • Ian Gillan - Vocals
  • Tony Iommi - Guitar
  • Geezer Butler - Bass
  • Bill Ward - Drums
  • Geoff Nichols - Keyboards
  • Produced by Robin Black & Black Sabbath
  • Engineered by Robin Black & Steve Chase
  • Mastered for CD by Hans Brethouwer Recorded at The Manor Studio, Shipton on Cherwell, Oxfordshire, England

Background

OK, so it isn't Sabbath's classic Ozzy lineup. Some Sabbath purists never get beyond that. They look at the non-Ozzy versions of Sabbath and they say: "it isn't Sabbath." While I'd probably dispute that point of view, I can live with it. This album, on the other hand, I can't live without. It's not important whether you consider this Sabbath or not. Judge it on the music — NOT what the band is called. I love Sabbath with Ozzy, and I love Sabbath with Dio. Well, this album MAY be my favorite Sabbath album of all. The music stands on its own as an absolutely humungous piece of Dinosaur Metal!

So let's go back and set the scene. It's 1983. Metal is King. Despite Randy Rhoads' death, Ozzy's solo career is on the fast track. He's got Jake and he's in the middle of Bark at the Moon. Ronnie Dio and Sabbath, after two fucking BRILLIANT studio releases and a double live album, have parted company non-amicably. Ronnie and Vinnie Appiece split to start DIO, and and Sabbath is in the market for a new lead singer, preferably someone with coconut-sized balls who can handle the legacy vocally and emtionally. Enter wonder-voice, Ian Gillan. The ex-Deep Purple singer who's solo band, Gillan, is having only limited success in Europe. The MK II Purple reunion that produced Perfect Strangers is still a year off, and at the time, no one believed MK II would ever reform. So Ian is looking for a gig to reestablish himself and is game for this odd but intriguing marriage. Rock journalists quickly dubbed it Black Purple or Deep Sabbath. Whatever else it was, it was so good, it couldn't possibly last.

Nothing prepared me for Born Again's sonic assault. It actually was sensory overload at first. It's disturbing musically and lyrically. It took me a while to really get this album. I recognized all the parts, but it was unlike anything I've heard before or since. The songs are fabulous. On most albums, even great ones, there can be an off track or a dud track. This album doesn't have an off millisecond! Tony is riffing at top capacity. Geezer Butler's bass snarls up at you, both menacing and melodic. Bill Ward adds his typically inventive beats that drive the tracks. And then there's Ian Gillan.

Ozzy's vocals in Sabbath were always sort of a powerful, but nasal, whiney sneer. Ronnie Dio added THE classic metal voice—melodic, musical, powerful, dynamic from a whisper to a roar. And as I said, then there's Gillan. We all know him from Deep Purple. We all remember the Purple classics. The MARVELOUS pipes, the four octave range, the vocal gymnastics on Child in Time—those notes only he hits. But if you've only heard Gillan in Deep Purple, it's hard to convey how much more powerfully he sings on Born Again. He's FULL OUT on every song. The only term that comes close to describing it is unfuckingbeliavblyINHUMAN. I mean, Holy SHIT! I'm a huge Purple fan, but nothing in Purple prepared me for Ian Gillan's singing on this album. EVERY TRACK on Born Again has vocals that make Child in Time pale by comparrison. Gillan has never sung like he did on Born Again before or since, and in my opinion, Born Again has the most impressive Dinosaur Rock vocal performance ever captured. The only stuff that's even close is some of Glenn Hughes' live performances, but they are stylistically very different. This album has the most evil vibe of any album I've ever heard (Sabbath or other). It's very eerie, and Ian Gillan sounds like a demonic, shrieking banshee, injecting everything from vocal snarls and twisted, evil laughter to inhuman wails in impossible vocal registers. With Ozzy and Dio, the devil in Sabbath's music always seem to be chasing you. With Gillan, it sounds as if that devil has caught you and is delighting in your torment.

Track By Track (vocal cues in parentheses)

Trashed (4:10) The album's opener is an up-pace, chugging rocker similar in feel to stuff like Neon Nights. It's based on an a fairly simple Iommi riff with a cool hook, further fueled by a fairly clever bass line. Gillan lets you know you're in for it from from the outset, beginning with some improvisational shrieking. The verse vocal is high, and fairly monotonic. The chorus releases the tension nicely and Ian drops down to a more musical range. (ooh Mr. Miracle, thank you for some pain) Then before the guitar solo, Gillan cuts loose again. At the end before the outro solo, Gillan rips again. (well bless my soul . . .) If you've never heard Born Again before you wonder how he doesn't shred his vocal chords. If you have, you know he's just getting warmed up!

Stonehenge (1:57) This track is a mood-setting instrumental introduction to the next track. Really eerie and evil sounding.

Disturbing the Priest (5:48) Possibly the strongest track on the album. The intro has an unusual tempo and is based on a guitar part that bounces more evil-sounding chords off of 5th fret harmonics. Gillan enters, sounding like that laughing, demonic, shrieking banshee I mentioned ealier. (Bitch, try get into the sky, hang on your gonna die . . .) Then the chorus comes in and Geezer's bass line steamrolls you like a panzer (Good life is contradiction, because of crucifixion) Gillan wails the second half (If you're ready and have the need, I'll take your soul and plant my seed). The song then settles into the verse; a hypnotic heartbeat-like plod underlined by tortured souls moaning and creaking in the background, creating more eerie tension. The chorus comes in with loud guitar parts that releases the tension and ups the ante (We're Disturbing the Priest, won't you please come to our feast) . The verses and chorus repeat, and the intro becomes the outro. Through it all, Gillan keeps getting more an more unbelievable, delivering some insane harmonies before his vocal finale tears you to pieces (Oh Oh Disturbing the Priest, yeeeeeaaa haa Disturbing the Preeeeeeeist yeeeeeaaa more demonic laughter) Fucking amazing! You've gotta hear it to believe it.

The Dark (0:31) another instrumental mood piece that leads into Zero the Hero.

Zero the Hero (7:45) A hypnotic plod tour-de-force! A text book example of how to create and release tension in a song. A heavy, repetitive, relentless riff that is the very essence of a Dinosaur driving a steam roller. Listen to them lay back on this song and let it drag rather than playing right on the beat. Even in the chorus where the release the tension (Zero the Hero), they don't rush. And if the riff's rhythm didn't create enough damn tension all by itself, there's a melodic Moog Taurus pedal part on top of the riff that chimes in with a dark, ascending pattern of notes that also builds tension. The drums throughout are killer, but listen to the drumbeat part that's under the Taurus pedal part. The pattern is so unique. On this track, Gillan belts out a pretty monotonic vocal, but there's a ton of power behind it.

Digital Bitch (3:35) Here's another more uptempo song. Gillan sings it fairly conventionally until he gets to the end of each verse and then he improvises some inhuman stuff. The bridge is quick, melodic, but vocally demanding (Maybe she could pass me if I saw beneath her veil . . .) More insane improvisational screaming ensues over the end and Tony's outro solo.

Born Again (6:30) This song is what you might call a power ballad but with absolutely no commercial potential — even back in the day. A slow, simple melodic progression. It's another Gillan masterpiece, and he delivers a performance along the lines of Purple's When a Blind Man Cries, but it's way more powerful. True singing here, more than screaming. Very melodic. Operatic. Tons of dynamics. The chorus is unreal — you think he can't sing any higher, and then he goes way the fuck up the scale.

Hot Line (4:50) Just a mid-paced, balls-out riffer with great hooks, and choruses. Gillan takes every available opportunity to push his voice beyond what we commonly think of as humanly possible. As usual or this album, the song gets wilder and better as it goes on (When will you show me a siiiiiign, when will you throw me a liiiiiiiiine? Oh! Put me on the Hot line. Take me to the river baby, drink my wine . . . )

Keep it Warm (5:34) Slower than Hot Line. Classic Tony-riff verse. Really melodic, especially on the nice big choruses. Listen to the brilliant bass lines under the choruses.

Summary

Well, there you have it. A big, fat, honking slab of Dinosaur Metal that's totally unique and killer from beginning to end. One of the heaviest albums you'll ever hear and it gets better each time you hear it. Give it a chance. If you don't like it at first, give it another chance. Especially if you have an appreciation for Sabbath and Purple.

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By Dinosaur David B. Copyright ©2001 All rights reserved.