Black Sabbath – Never Say Die

By this point in Black Sabbath’s career, the album title seems to be a pretty spot-on indication of the band themselves realizing they were losing it. The band’s past work “Technical Ecstasy” wasn’t necessarily a bad album, but in the context of following six classics of heavy metal, it could only disappoint. Of course, based on what I had heard from others, I was not expecting much different from “Never Say Die!”, the last album Black Sabbath would do before being revived by the vocal talents of the late Ronnie James. Although it’s relieving to know that Sabbath would yet release some great material with Dio, “Never Say Die!” is a whimper, arguably even less successful than “Technical Ecstasy”. Once again, Black Sabbath may not be total goners here, but they might as well be; the band’s eighth studio album is one that should be overlooked.

Stylistically, Black Sabbath developed and tweaked their sound quite a bit within a few years, exploring heavy metal, progressive rock, and everything in between. Although it was no surprise to hear Sabbath doing something new in “Technical Ecstasy”, their new, more straightforward hard rock style was void of both the heaviness and sophistication that defined each earlier album. “Never Say Die!” continues this lackluster rock sound, although the music is arguably even worse off. It’s no secret that Black Sabbath had been going through some problems over the years leading up to this, and it’s evident that the constant arguing and drug excess had gone too far. Although Sabbath still manage to cobble together a functional collection of songs, the performance feels muffled, and the songwriting seemingly done out of obligation rather than inspiration.

“Johnny Blade” is a perfect example of how far Sabbath had fallen. Although it still shares Iommi’s thick riffing style and Ozzy’s nasal vocals in common with an album like “Paranoid”, nothing really stands out as being impressive, or even that much enjoyable. Whether the blame may be pointed towards the muffled production or the paint-by-numbers approach to his rock riffs, Tony Iommi feels like a declawed lion here, his usual genius with the guitar clouded by ambivalence and ‘x’ number of different drugs they were taking at the time. Even Ozzy’s vocals- which had blown me away only years earlier with his delivery on “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and “Sabotage”- are strained and lifeless.

“Never Say Die!” is not without its merits, of course. In particular, the song “Air Dance” is a refreshing break from the boring hard rock formula, taking in some unique jazz structures in a piece which could have fit into the band’s ‘prog’ era easily. “Break Out” is also an interesting song, taking the jazz approach further with a big band arrangement and brilliant saxophone solo. These moments feel very out-of-place in the context of an album that sounds as if the band had given up on trying to progress their music any further. “Heaven & Hell” would hear the band playing with a revived vigour. “Never Say Die!” is fortunately not the end for Sabbath, but it’s a dismal way to end the classic line-up for one of the greatest bands in rock history.


1. Never Say Die (3:49)
2. Johnny Blade (6:28)
3. Junior’s Eyes (6:43)
4. Hard Road (6:06)
5. Shock Wave (5:16)
6. Air Dance (5:18)
7. Over to You (5:24)
8 .Break Out (2:35)
9. Swinging the Chain (4:05)


- Tony Iommi / Lead Guitar
- Geezer Butler / Bass
- Ozzy Osbourne / Vocals
- Bill Ward / Drums, Vocals on Swinging the Chain
- Don Airey / Keyboards
- John Elstar / Harmonica
- Will Malone / Brass arrangements

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