Black Sabbath, Born Again (1983)
Among the several maligned periods of Black Sabbath‘s almost-50-year history, from the late-Ozzy era to the Tony Martin years to the various reunions, “Psycho Man” and all that, I don’t think any single album has found redemption over the years more than 1983’s Born Again. It’s simply a record that won out over time. Condemned in its day for its mix, its sloppiness of sound and off-balance, coked-up, thrown together feel, it’s now appreciated for many of the same reasons. Until the 2011 charity one-off project WhoCares?, whose single was reviewed here, it would be the only collaboration between founding Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and frontman-of-frontmen Ian Gillan, of course known for his work in Deep Purple. The stories by now are legion, and don’t need my retelling. Gillan has discussed at length over the years how the whole thing was put together by management, how he barely took part in writing these songs — almost apologizing for an album that was poorly received — and that’s fair enough. Born Again is likewise something different from anything he’d done before as well, and for Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Bill Ward and keyboardist Geoff Nichols, it was a stark contrast to the grandiose reach of the band’s (first) era fronted by Ronnie James Dio, which produced two brilliant, landmark albums in 1980’s Heaven and Hell (discussed here) and 1981’s Mob Rules (discussed here), before coming to a close in time for Dio to issue his solo debut, the also-landmark Holy Diver, a few months before Born Again, in Spring 1983.
I’m not interested in defending Born Again against detractors — it still has many. Rather, in considering it as the pivot point for Black Sabbath in the ’80s, which is a time when it’s easy to think of them as wandering in the desert, working with Gillan, Glenn Hughes, Ray Gillen, etc., en route to the decade Iommi would team with Tony Martin, the nine-track/41-minute offering might be the first Sabbath record that knew it was heavy metal and that being heavy metal was coming to mean something different from even a few years earlier. Born Again strips away the acoustic flourish of “Heaven and Hell,” the expansive progressivism of “The Sign of the Southern Cross,” in favor of raw tracks like “Zero the Hero,” the dissonant and jagged “Disturbing the Priest,” and barnburners like opener “Trashed” — a car song, which shines as a vehicle (pun totally intended) for Gillan post-Purple — and the almost unfortunately catchy “Digital Bitch,” to which, admittedly, history and context have not been as kind. The title-track meanders as a proto-ballad, and with the rocker “Hot Line” and the semi-sleaze of “Keep it Warm” closing out, Born Again is not without filler, but that’s precisely the point. It’s not a perfect record, and if one considers even the most basic measure of creative intent behind that stripping down, it not only sets up what Sabbath would do for the rest of the ’80s and well into the ’90s, but it makes for a standout from their catalog even in comparison to their earth-shattering, genre-defining early albums, which coalesced blues rock, weighted tones and darker themes into what eventually became the heavy metal from which Born Again could be seen as drawing influence.
As Sabbath move inexorably toward retirement, I’m keeping my fingers crossed Iommi and Gillan renew their studio collaboration. It’s a long-shot, granted, but even if they didn’t tour together — Gillan still hits the road with Deep Purple on the semi-regular — a studio album perhaps under the working moniker Born Again would certainly be welcome.
Love it or hate it, I hope you’ll take on Black Sabbath‘s Born Again with an open mind and enjoy the process of paying it another visit. Thanks for reading.
If closing out the week with Sabbath felt too easy or cliché, I’ll ask you to note that in the four-plus years I’ve done “Friday Full-Length,” it’s only been Sabbath in two prior instances, both linked above. That’s tied with Kyuss, Monster Magnet, Dozer, Goatsnake and Masters of Reality, among others. Not outlandish in that context to push for a third, what with them being Sabbath and all. There. I told myself I wasn’t going to justify it and I did anyway.
Short week at work with Monday off. Apparently when you have a real job they give you Columbus Day. First time that’s ever happened to me. Somewhat problematic from a colonial standpoint — all that rape and pillage — but a day off is a day off, and given where the rest of the week went work-wise from Tuesday on, I’ll especially take it. A mess of emails, meetings, emails about meetings, reading copy over and over and taking on more and more assignments. I’m also looking at starting another part-time gig on the side to hopefully give me some saving/playing money. And yes, I know how troubling it is to put “saving” and “playing” so close to each other in this context. Oh, Canon 5D Mark IV. You will be mine.
But anyway, it was stressful and I’m glad it’s just about over. Just about. Next week I’m doing myself a couple favors. I’ll be reviewing stuff from Truckfighters, Worshipper, and Asteroid, as well as hosting album streams from Dorre/Bethmoora and Zaum. Not exactly taking it easy, but none of it is going to be a slog to write about by any means. Also look for news on Samsara Blues Experiment, Freedom Hawk and others, and videos for Sergio Ch. and members of Across Tundras. If I can, I’m also going to squeeze in an extra stream of a couple tracks from lost-but-way-ahead-of-their-time NY riffers Begotten that have come into my possession. I’ve been fortunate enough to be granted permission to host them, so don’t want to let that opportunity slip by. Look for that Wednesday or Thursday.
I think I mentioned something last week or the week before about wanting to shave off my beard. That didn’t happen, but I did get my hair cut last week and asked the dude who does that to take the facial hair in considerably as well. No regrets, as far as that goes. The Patient Mrs. noted that it completely changed the shape of my face. I’m fine with that.
So that’s your Beardwatch 2016 update. I’m sure you were glued to the edge of your seat waiting for news.
The Patient Mrs. has a friend in this weekend from abroad, so I expect there will be some running around probably in Boston on Saturday. My ankle’s resurgent soreness notwithstanding, sounds fine. I also at this point don’t care if my fucking foot falls off though, so maybe that’s not the best attitude. It’s cool. Not like it’s been two years or anything. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but between that and the barrage of fascist bullshit this election cycle, from which even Star Trek and the MLB playoffs have ceased to provide respite, it’s rough going.
Oh, and I started Luke Cage. First episode was a bunch of racial tropes — really? a Biggie portrait? — and not much compelling character development. Haven’t gone back to it yet. Jessica Jones and the second season of Daredevil were kind of disappointing as well, so I may or may not get there anytime soon. If you’ve seen it, I’d welcome any opinions on whether it’s worth the effort or if I should just say screw it and keep going with my Deep Space Nine/Voyager deep-dive.
Alright. Can’t imagine anyone’s still reading, but if you are (and I suppose if you stopped), I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please make sure to check out the forum and the radio stream.