Black Sabbath is a band everyone has heard of, even if you're not a metal fan.They're the first true Heavy Metal band (I don't care what you Zep fans say, Zep is a rock band, not that there's anything wrong with that), and every Metal guitar player owes Tony Iommi a dolar every time they plug in, as far as I'm concerned. They started and perfected the whole 'evil'/horror-movie vibe that Metal is known for...even if the lyrics of most of their songs were anti-evil( clue: the crosses they wear are all rightside-up), their song titles, and more importantly, their very sound was pure sonic Satan. Ozzy Osborne was the first vocalist for Black Sabbath, and many of the Sabbath classics (such as 'Iron Man, 'War Pigs', 'N.I.B.', etc.) were recorded during his tenure with the band. A lot of Sabbath fans (and radio, for the most part) look at the Ozzy period as the only one that mattered. However, there were many vocalists and line-ups of the band after Ozzy's departure and before the inevitable reunion tours. In my opinion, there's a lot of good stuff in the post-Ozzy period of Sabbath's recording history...in fact, some of my favorite stuff is from the Dio era (Ronnie James Dio, of Elf, Rainbow, and of course, Dio fame). But I'm not going to talk about those records today. Instead, I want to discuss a line-up you may never have heard of, that only lasted for one album and tour-the album was titled Born Again, released in 1983.
The band, musician-wise, was basically the same as the Ozzy/Dio era...Tony Iommi on guitar, Geezer Butler on bass, and Bill Ward on drums. The vocalist for Born Again was to be Ian Gillan, formerly of Deep Purple. I'd always liked Gillan's singing, but when I first heard he was to be Sabbath's new voice, I wasn't sure how that would work out. "Deep Sabbath' and 'Black Purple' remarks were being made in the press and amongst my friends. The family trees of these bands have intertwining branches...Dio was the singer of Rainbow, which was founded by Ritchie Blackmore, formerly of Deep Purple, Gillan was once the singer for Purple, now in Sabbath...you needed a scorecard to keep up with it all. Anyway, I was also initially skeptical when Dio took over vocal chores in Sabbath, and he kicked ass during his tour of duty, so I figured I'd give Gillan a chance. The end result-while Born Again is not your typical Sabbath album, it's still pretty good, in my opinion.
The first track, 'Trashed' is a fast tune about drinking while racing cars, or at least go-carts, if I remember an interview from back then correctly. It doesn't have that classic Sabbath sound, but it's good, nonetheless. Other tracks that fall into the same category are 'Digital Bitch', 'Hot Line', and 'Keep It Warm'. Of these, the best of the bunch are 'Trashed' and 'Digital Bitch'.
On some of the tracks, however, the trademark 'evil' Sabbath sound comes creeping out. The first one on the album is 'Disturbing the Priest'. With its horror-film guitars and Gillan's fearsome scream/howl, this one sounds dark and menacing. 'Zero the Hero' is another such track, probably my favorite cut. Although the lyrics are sort of an anti-slacker anthem, the music is pure Iommi dark goodness (or should I say badness), starting out quietly and getting ever louder, the guitar riff inexorably coming forth like some beast rising from its crypt. This riff that comes before the main rhythm and returns again later in the song is great...it could easily be in a horror film soundtrack. The title track also shares this 'evil' quality ...while slow and subdued for the most part, when the chorus comes up, the guitars merge with Gillan's howl in a perfect union of doom. Filling the gaps out are two short instrumentals, 'Stonehenge' and 'The Dark'.
The album cover art was eye-catching, to say the least. It depicts a baby devil in damn-near glow-in-the dark colors(it was the 80s, after all). When I first saw it, I said, "Hey, it's Rosemary's Baby!" The artwork offended some Christian groups , if I recall correctly, but that was pretty much par for the course for Sabbath anyway(and Christian groups, for that matter). As for myself, I don't find it scary or offensive...the little bastard is kinda cute in his own way, and honestly, kinda goofy looking. If they'd have had a gruesome fake devil baby made by some special effects guy and had photos taken, it may have been scary, but the dayglo artwork just doesn't summon up menace and doom...but I did once have a keychain with the cover image on it, now that I think of it.
On tour, Ward was replaced by former ELO drummer Bev Bevan (ELO-what the ...???). I didn't get to see them on tour, but I remember some syndicated show, called Live at the'something'...I don't remember the whole title. But it was a weekly show that featured live acts at some club in California, and there were many rock/metal bands in attendance. I recall seeing Dio, Y&T and...Black Sabbath! The songs they showed were 'Digital Bitch' and 'Zero the Hero'. Gillan's hair at the time was very long, even longer than mine, I think, and while performing his mane flew around like a dark cyclone, his face rarely visible during the show. There were big crosses that lit up and moved around in the stage set, too. Not present at this particular show, though , was the mock-up of Stonehenge that was their backdrop on stage for most of the tour. This was about the same time Spinal Tap, the mock rock band /mockumentary came out, which also featured a Stonehenge replica, although Tap's replica was about 15 inches long, prompting the line(and pardon me if this isn't excact),"Our Stonehenge was in danger of being crushed under the heels of a dwarf!!"
This period of the band has been kind of pushed aside, for whatever reason. Gillan himself has said that he's probably the worst singer Black Sabbath has ever had, but they made it all work somehow. I don't think that Gillan is the worst singer the band's had...technically, Ozzy is the least talented singer to have ever been in Sabbath...and before all you Ozzy fans start sending me hate mail, I am a fan of Ozzy and his stint in Sabbath, and I do like his voice...but from a purely skill/talent perspective, he doesn't match up with Gillan, Tony Martin, Glenn Hughes, or Dio. From a song perspective, the songs weren't the best that have ever come from the Sabbath camp, but they certainly weren't the worst, either. In my opinion, Born Again is a pretty good album, and deserves a listen, if you're a Metal fan at all...so says The Beast.