Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, The Eternal Idol

Black Sabbath, The Eternal Idol (1987)

It’s taken me a really, really long time to come around to anything from the Tony Martin era of Black Sabbath. I’d say without hesitation it’s still a work in progress. In a way, it’s a matter of overcoming the narrative of the pre- and between-reunion years of Black Sabbath‘s ’80s and ’90s as a lost era for the heavy metal godfathers; a time spent wandering the wilderness for founding guitarist Tony Iommi that arguably began with 1983’s Born Again (discussed here) bringing in replacing Deep Purple‘s Ian Gillan to replace vocalist Ronnie James Dio, who himself took the reins following the band’s ultra-crucial first eight albums with Ozzy Osbourne. Aside from having an outright impossible standard to meet in following in the footsteps of three of rock and metal’s greatest frontmen ever, plus short-lived incarnations of the band as they worked with Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple) and Ray Gillen (Badlands), the Birmingham-born Martin was nowhere near the veteran presence of the likes of Iommi, who by 1987 was just coming off releasing the would’ve-been solo album Seventh Star with Hughes in 1986 and was long since the only remaining founding member of the band.

So what did Tony Iommi‘s Black Sabbath sound like on The Eternal Idol? Unsurprisingly, the band’s days of the innovative blend of heavy rock, dark psychedelia and blues that we’d come in the decades since to think of as doom were long gone. They’d settled into a mature, largely straightforward, hyper-produced commercial form of heavy metal, still very much driven by Iommi‘s guitar work, but without the loose swing and dynamic of their earliest days or the progressive majesty that emerged on the Dio-fronted albums, 1980’s Heaven and Hell and 1981’s Mob Rules. 30 years later, the snare from former KISS drummer Eric Singer sounds dated. Does that mean that The Eternal Idol and thus Martin‘s tenure were doomed from the start? If so, Martin still had a pretty good ride with the band. Admittedly, not every track on The Eternal Idol is a gem — “Nightmare” on side B feels like filler, despite being catchy, and though its last-minute uptick of energy is appreciated, the penultimate “Lost Forever” doesn’t accomplish much that “Hard Life to Love” and the following “Glory Ride” didn’t already bring to bear earlier on in dudely ’80s keyboard-drama — but even in opener “The Shining,” the subsequent “Ancient Warrior” one can hear shades the band working on a self-referential level, calling out pieces of the live version of “Heaven and Hell” (think “A big black shape…”) and “Children the Sea,” respectively. Which is to say nothing of the closing title-track’s semi-political bent — something Sabbath had proffered since “Hand of Doom” on 1970’s Paranoid — but rendered largely toothless on “The Eternal Idol” with a more generic, less pointed social critique. Ah, the Thatcher years.

So rather than necessarily pushing brazenly forward, as one might argue even the Gillan-fronted Born Again did in 1983 as arguably the harshest sounding record Sabbath ever put out, The Eternal Idol seems to be playing to form even as it presents a new incarnation of the band that would continue for the better part of the next decade, interrupted only by the temporary reunion with Dio for 1992’s triumphant Dehumanizer LP and corresponding tour. What, then is the appeal that finally won me over? Well, first of all, Martin is a killer vocalist. Having bassist Bob Daisley, who just a couple years before had played on the first couple Ozzy solo records, alongside Singer in the rhythm section didn’t exactly make for a powerhouse in the Butler/Ward tradition, but they could certainly hold down the straightforward roll of “Eternal Idol” or the motor-thrust of “Hard Life to Love,” and that allowed both Iommi and Martin to shine in their own performances, and while again, they’re not really breaking any ground, they did manage to give a more than solid showing of what Black Sabbath could be in the bizarre heavy metal climate that was the pre-grunge late ’80s. Big as their hair got — it got sort of big — Iommi was the spearhead of a prior generation, and The Eternal Idol was the beginning point of the band becoming stable and sustainable for the better part of the next decade. Like Black SabbathHeaven and Hell and Born Again before it, it set a tone that future outings would follow. Granted, they’re hardly considered the pinnacle of the band, but without The Eternal Idol, no question the shape of 1989’s Headless Cross1990’s Tyr (my personal favorite of this era), 1994’s Cross Purposes and 1995’s Forbidden — which was the final Black Sabbath studio recording until the band got back with Ozzy to record the “Psycho Man” single in 1998 and then the Dio-fronted bonus tracks included with the 2007 compilation The Dio Years that prefaced the splintering off of what became for all too short a time Heaven and Hell.

I’m not saying it’s all gold, or that the decade Iommi spent working with Martin — split up in ’92 by the reunion with Dio, overshadowed subsequently by the reunion with Ozzy — is some magical lost trove of groundbreaking heavy rock and/or metal. But it’s got some choice Iommi riffing, and whatever else you can say about Martin‘s style being very post-Dio, he’s better at it than most, so what the hell is there to lose? Hardly the first point in their career Black Sabbath went through the motions to keep themselves on the road, and frankly, I’m not inclined to hold that against them, especially now that their career is — allegedly — over.

You certainly know the drill by now. Whatever your preconceptions about this stage of Sabbath‘s tenure, I hope you’ll give The Eternal Idol a fair shot, and of course, I hope you enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

So far this week I’ve had The Pecan home alone — that is, sans The Patient Mrs. — for parts of three days. On each of those days, he has taken food from me out of a bottle. Given our prior experience in this regard, this is a huge fucking triumph. Huge. Yesterday, she came home while he was still eating and he kept going — didn’t even stop because she was there. No way that would’ve gone down like that before. He’d have immediately been like, “Fuck this, give me the real deal,” and gone for the boob. I get it, but was still frustrating when it happened.

What led to turning that corner? I kind of just realized he doesn’t want to be held by me when he’s eating. I’ve alternated putting him flat on his back on the playmat and in his sit-upright chair in the kitchen while giving him the bottle, and that’s been okay. I’ve also been having oranges with breakfast, so I’ve been kind of rubbing my finger on the pulp there and giving him a taste of the juice off my finger, just to get him more used to different flavors and taking food from me in general. He still takes bites of scrambled egg from me as well and we have some sweet potato in the fridge that we’ve been waiting to try, but we haven’t really needed to because it’s gone so well with the bottle. I’m not willing to say we’re 100 percent out of that woods, but it felt really, really fucking good this week to be able to feed my kid after three months of complete and total failure at it.

I guess I should follow up on last week’s Friday post. Shit was pretty dire feeling and I conveyed that in the most honest, truest-to-my-mindset language I could. I spent a good portion of last week thinking of death as an easier out than the way I was living. That’s just how it was. I don’t apologize for that, and I don’t expect sympathy, or “tough love” or whatever else. I can only be the person I am at a given moment and I can only write from that perspective about being in that place.

If you’re concerned, I’m under the care of several professionals. I have a nutritionist I’ve started seeing twice a week for eating disorder counseling — she’s making me eat; it’s fucking torture but I’m doing it — as well as a regular therapist and my primary care physician, who just this week put me on klonopin in addition to the 30mg anti-depressant dose I take every day. It seems to put me to sleep, which may prove somewhat inconvenient in the long run, but after being up half the nights last week I’m at very least looking at as something of a win for the immediate.

That’s where I’m at. I’m in a really, really hard place, working through a lot of really, really hard shit that I think unless you’ve been where I am you probably neither understand nor particularly give a shit about. Even then, probably questionable on that second part. But I’m doing the work I’m supposed to be doing. I’m doing what I’m told. I ate roasted potatoes the other night. I’ve been eating bread. Fruit. Lots of fruit. It’s madness. I never knew I was into pineapple. Or grapefruit. Let alone mixing them together like I just did. Sheer madness. It has me out of my head.

So that’s that. For what it’s worth, I had to put on a second pot of coffee just to get through those paragraphs. Light roast, but still.

Next week is packed. Here’s what’s in the notes for next week. It’s stupid how full it is:

MON.: Beneath Oblivion track premiere; new Ararat video.
TUE.: Malady full-album stream/review; other stuff I don’t want to give away yet.
WED.: MaidaVale video premiere; Six Dumb Questions with Somnuri.
THU.: Lowburn EP stream/review.
Fri.: Cataclysmic Events track stream.

Goes without saying that all this is subject to change with no notice whatsoever. I’ve kind of decided to nix my 2018 most-anticipated list for the time being. Not enough hours in the day and I’ve got a lot going on otherwise, but if I can still make it happen even in some preliminary way — a list of names — I will try to do so. I’ve also started kicking around the notion of doing more t-shirts if there’s a way I don’t have to ship them out, because that was awful. We’ll see where I end up on that. I said “never again” on merchandise which would seem to make it inevitable, right?

If you’re interested or not, I’ll probably keep you posted.

Thanks again for reading, and please have a great and safe weekend. Don’t forget to hit up the forum and the radio stream.

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3 Responses to “Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, The Eternal Idol

  1. I like Cross Purposes Live album. It’s cool to hear Tony tackle all eras of Sabbath. Also thanks for the great reviews and the honest writing. Many people have similar struggles but don’t have the courage to voice it. And more people “Give A Shit” but don’t voice that either.

  2. SabbathJeff says:

    I’m going to say something here because I don’t facebook, instagram, or forum due to my old addctive habits. I get to work 50 hours a week, I get to go to 4 secular AA meetings a week, I ge to do service in my program, I get to go to gigs when I can/want; I just don’t have the time in my life for addiction of any kind anymore. The cigs are even gone, what’s left is music. That’s where The Obelisk comes in handy. When I began reading the hypertexts over the pictures you post, they were related to the music. They became dark. I understand you are a whole person, you integrate yourself into all of your ventures. Your writing is as honest as you are capable. In the honesty of my recovery, my enjoyment of this website as a music blog/news source shifted into my human desire to watch a car accident. I hovered over images & read hypertext longer than the headlines. I can’t separate the two because of my own past history with mental illness and subsequent addictions. If I wanted to read a blog about a person struggling to deal with life on life’s terms, allowing suicidal depression and addicton to run their reality, I would be reading a blog that I found through searching for such writing. I read The Obelisk because it is a music blog. For some time, I’ve read things and watched this descent you’ve experienced. It saddens me, as a human being, and someone who met you a few times and enjoys your musings on music, to hear these thoughts, and I know what they feel like, so I know you feel it’s honest to at the same time tell your readers that a) no one probably cares but b) to say there’s nothing we should worry about. Having believed, writ, preached and lived suicidally for 18 years, a few of those years with suicide being the only thought I was using my brain to think, I believe you when you say that death seems like a better option. I only know what my recovery journey looks and feels like, but I can attest to the fact that you’re not the first nor the last other human I’ve met that has or has had suicidal thoughts. The sharing of them is inherently healthy, but I see that only as a forefront. You’ve used The Obelisk to write chiefly about music and write about your dark thoughts as an afterthought; brief glimpses. That may strike ME as off, odd, wrong or ass backwards, but it isn’t my blog. For me, when life no longer seems worth living, the music, like everything else from without, no longer compensates for what the feeling within feels like. This is in hindsight of my illness; I know now that my feelings are not facts. I have a thought & let it go. I mindfully meditate to practice being present. I know that remembering the past or projecting into the future are not inherently unhealthy activities, but when they underpin & inform depression and anxiety, that’s for me when the unhealthy part comes alive. I held onto suffering, unknowingly, for 18 years of my own short, precious life; I didn’t know that self-medicating was making me hold onto the ugly thoughts/feelings when all I was trying to do was rid myself of them. It’s ironic. But through many years in group therapy, talking w/ “the others”, I’ve come to understand I’m not alone in this, I never was, and I never have to feel like I am if I choose daily to continue to allow myself to grow, progress, and move forward. Life doesn’t stop. I have no contol over anything but my actions and reactions, and sometimes those are even automatic. I think all I can say now is that I need to step back from this blog for a minute to give myself some space from why I read it. This isn’t healthy for me, it’s my sole responsibility to do me, but I have to put this blog into context in my life. I don’t add much here because I don’t forum, but I have read daily, weekly, for years. I need to take a break time wise from reading this blog to regroup & come back fresh when I’m ready to view this blog in the context of music news, not anything else. I may only last a week, but I love & respect your writing & support of the heavy underground, & I wish you health in mind body and soul JJ, at all times. I apologize if anything I said in this or last weeks post offended thee, that was NOT my intent, & I hope that that came across.

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