Sunday, November 21, 2010

Black Sabbath: Born Again (1983)

Motion for Reconsideration

Born Again has the reputation for being the worst album by Black Sabbath, in competition with only Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die. But does it deserve such a bad rap?

The album's character probably owes a lot to the personnel on board with Iommi. Keyboardist Geoff Nicholls was still around, and Bill Ward returned to the throne. More important, though, was the vocalist position.

The album was the follow-up to the successful Mob Rules (and Live Evil, which came after). Iommi has said the band fired Ronnie James Dio after those albums. I don't think most people have ever made a mistake quite so big. The replacement was Ian Gillan (ex-Deep Purple and Jesus).

The album starts out terribly. Opener "Trashed" sounds like a failed attempt to sound like Van Halen, a band which was extremely popular at the time. (Even a successful attempt would have been a failure.) The second track is "Stonehenge", an atmospheric track placed way too early in the album. But things start to look up with "Disturbing the Priest", which has an inventive riff. This proves Iommi still had chops.

The album continues to build with atmospheric intro "The Dark" and "Zero the Hero". "Zero" has a classic Sabbathian riff with lots of scary atmosphere, and an extended guitar solo. It seems to be an early stoner doom track.

But then things take a turn for the worse again. "Digital Bitch", reportedly about Sharon Arden (Osbourne), sounds like another Van Halen wannabe. The title track could have been great, with its mellow stoner metal sound, but the vocals don't fit. "Hot Line", featuring a good vocal hook, is one of the few moments when Gillan really shines, but the riff is forgettable. And closer "Keep It Warm" somehow manages to be both disjointed and repetitive, so it's a terrible mess.

I can't really end this without mentioning the famous album cover. Here's what Wikipedia says:
The album's cover was designed by Steve 'Krusher' Joule. Some consider the cover to be similar to the cover of Depeche Mode's single "New Life". Martin Popoff described the creature on the cover as a "garish red devil-baby". Bill Ward has said that he personally hated the album's cover and according to him, Ian Gillan told the press that he vomited when he first saw the cover. However, Tony Iommi approved the album cover. The cover has been considered one of the worst album covers ever. Ben Mitchell of Blender called the cover "awful". The British magazine, Kerrang!, ranked the cover in second place behind only, the Scorpions' Lovedrive, on their list of "10 Worst Album Sleeves In Metal/Hard Rock". The list was based on votes from the magazine's readers. NME included the sleeve on their list of the "29 sickest album covers ever".

The Verdict: It's really no wonder Gillan didn't last long in the band. Some elements of it have been highly influential, like the riff to "Disturbing the Priest" and the drugged-out doomy feel of the title track. Because of these, the album is somewhat of a cult favorite. But "Zero the Hero" is the only track on here that really works, so I have to give it 1 out of 5 stars.

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