It’s better than Technical Ecstasy and just as good as Never Say Die!, which begs the point, “Why?”
Indeed, why run the risk of ruining a perfectly fine legacy, particularly when those with a critical ear already know Black Sabbath only managed a pair of required records and a pair of really good ones that probably deserve space in your collection because of their nuanced differences.
Let’s face it, Sabbath was not a very consistent band and the power of their catalog is due to some pretty massive songs, not albums. So to wait over three decades to finally release a collection of new material with Ozzy is a pretty silly idea to begin with, especially when everyone only wants to hear your old stuff anyway.
What’s even stranger is how the band is using the Never Say Die! artwork, almost subliminally suggesting that the reunion tour is somehow just a logical extension of that final tour from ’78.
It almost defeats the purpose by suggesting that 13 is nothing more than a tour souvenir, made even more apparent since Ozzy’s wife/manager couldn’t do the right thing by settling with Bill Ward on what could have been an ideal situation to bring the legacy of Black Sabbath full circle.
The record does not suffer from Bill’s absence, at least musically. Studio drummer Brad Wilk goes nowhere near any rhythms that would have challenged Ward’s role as thronesmith. He provides a fairly pedestrian form of timekeeping, leaving guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler the role of packing everything down with cement.
Butler also handles 13’s songwriting duties, making Ozzy’s entire role here as nothing more than showing up. Butler takes a hint from Dio’s playbook and pens a collection that’s only half as scary as what he and Iommi conjure up with their instruments.
“End Of The Beginning” is pretty massive, with a Beatlesque bridge that’s to die for (get it?) while lead-off single contains just enough clichés to make it annoying enough to enjoy.
There’s also enough blatant thievery of older Sabbath tracks to make you think you’ve mistakenly put on one of those aforementioned classics, while one of 13’s apparent issues is with its length. With only 8 songs and a total time of 53 minutes, 13 is still two songs too many, a late entry in the running time girth that plagued the compact disc.
It’s also plagued with Rick Rubin’s notorious penchant for brickwalling. The music is so compressed that any of his original claim to bring Sabbath back to their blues rock roots is a sham, just like Rubin’s pointless notion to end 13 with thunder and rain.
Sound effects don’t make a classic Sabbath record, but then again, was anyone even thinking that 13 would qualify as a classic Sabbath record? Of course not. Given all the drama with Bill and Tony’s health scare, I would think that most people were expecting an embarrassing display of Born Again proportions.
13 is not an embarrassing record. It is a heavy metal offering from a pair of elder statesmen and a frontman who has spent more time tarnishing his legacy than adding to it. From that perspective, it’s a record that helps Ozzy more than anyone, as Geezer and Tony were working wonders with Ronnie James Dio during the last years of his life.
They carried a lot of the same intent over to their new/old vocalist and give it as good as a shot as they can at this point in their careers.
So in that regard, 13 is another flawed yet worthy addition to their Ozzy-era catalog, just like it was at the band’s last end of the beginning.