Black Sabbath – Born Again / Seventh Star

By all means, a collaboration between Black Sabbath and Ian Gillan should have ruled. Sabbath had spurred the heavy metal sound, and Gillan had dished out some of hard rock’s most enduring records with Deep Purple. Not only that, but Sabbath now had a precedent to become awesome with a new vocalist. Dio’s induction led to “Heaven And Hell”, the album that saved the band from crippling mediocrity. “Born Again” has no such luck, however. The songwriting standards are back to the way they were with “Technical Ecstasy”, and for whatever reason, Gillan’s vocals to not fit nearly as well as they should have. “Born Again” is a disappointing chapter in the band’s history.

Although not as articulate as Dio, Ian Gillan had an amazing voice throughout the 70′s. Particularly in his shrieking falsettos, there is no doubt that he was one of his era’s vocal greats when it came to hard rock. Listening to his performance on “Child In Time” from Deep Purple’s “In Rock” album makes it clear that his haunting voice would have worked well with Sabbath’s relatively dark sound. Although many argue that his bluesy style does not fit with the heavier sound that Black Sabbath goes for, it could have been incredible. Sadly this potential is far from realized; the whole thing sounds underbudgeted and generally uninspired. Gillan’s falsettos sound great for the most part, but the songwriting falls flat for the most part. Barring the moments where he sets his voice on fire, Gillan’s performance feels like he doesn’t care about the music, and who can blame him? The composition falls flat more often than not; there isn’t a melody of riff that sticks after the album’s over.

The biggest fault here is undoubtedly the production and mixing. Apparently, the rough cuts were accidentally published rather than the refined mix, and if that is true, it’s a pretty juvenile slip-up for a veteran band to make. The album sounds like a rough demo, or a work-in-progress. As a result, the more upbeat ‘rock’ tracks are completely unenjoyable to listen to, with only Gillan’s shrieks clambering above the mess. However, something very unexpected happens as a by-product of this. Also thanks in part to Gillan’s eerie falsettos, this is the darkest Sabbath have sounded since the debut. The slower tunes and ambient interludes are actually pretty good, and the lo-fi sludge gives it a diabolical atmosphere that I might compare to some black metal. “Disturbing The Priest” and “Zero The Hero” rekindle this evil sound. Further proof that not everything is black or white, especially when it comes to music.

“Born Again”s creepy vibe is not near enough to save it from being considered one of Sabbath’s weakest efforts, sadly. Taking into account the fact that most of the album still defaults on conventional hard rock songwriting, it becomes nearly unlistenable when paired with a production that sounds like it was engineered by a studio intern. It might be worth checking out for Ian Gillan friends, but this is a chapter in Black Sabbath’s history that is best left forgotten.

Although guitarist Tony Iommi has always been the heart of Black Sabbath, an album with three quarters of the band missing doesn’t quite qualify as a Sabbath album. Of course, the band had not suddenly split up. Rather, “Seventh Star” was supposed to be a solo album from Tony, not the latest disappointment from the masters that once brought us some of metal’s best records. Even looking past this obvious oversight, “Seventh Star” is an undercooked piece of melodic hard rock. With weak production, generic riffs, and only a handful of decent songs, Black Sabbath have another bland album to their name.

This certainly isn’t the first time I have found Black Sabbath short of quality, but “Seventh Star” feels even moreso out-of-place than other weaker albums like “Never Say Die!” or the more recent “Born Again”. Of course, Iommi never intended for this to sound like his flagship band. Instead of their trademark doom or metal grit, this incarnation of ‘Sabbath’ emphasizes melody and bluesy soloing over anything. If I had to compare it to anything else in the band’s discography, I might point the finger at the more streamlined sounds of “Technical Ecstasy”, or perhaps even a de-clawed, anaesthetized “Mob Rules”. After Ian Gillan’s tenure with the band passed on as a failed experiment, we are introduced to Glenn Hughes, who- like Gillan- is better known for his work with Deep Purple. Compared to the vocalists who have contributed under the Sabbath banner before him, Hughes’ voice feels like a vanilla, run-of-the-mill hard rock vocalist. His higher register is admirable, but he lacks both the distinctive charisma of Ozzy, and the acrobatic precision of Gillan and Dio.

As far as songwriting goes, the title track is quite good, enjoying soulful guitar leads and a memorable chorus. Uninspired composition is more of the rule here however; very rarely does it ever go beyond the call of duty. By-the-numbers song structures, flat melodies and average riffs are what define “Seventh Star”. Even the rhythm section (performed here by bassist Dave Spitz and drummer Eric Singer) seem to do the acceptable minimum. Thankfully, Iommi has given himself some good room to work his guitar, and this is what saves “Seventh Star” from a final resting place as a coffee coaster in metalhead living rooms around the world. Of course, the ‘riffs’ themselves are bland and simple, but his lead work brings the feeling that the rest of the album seems to miss entirely. Unlike a regular Black Sabbath release, Iommi can ideally take all the time he wants to play leads, and though it still doesn’t happen nearly enough on “Seventh Star”, it makes me think that a pure Iommi guitar album would have been something great. As it stands, we have another chapter in Black Sabbath’s history that is best left alone.

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