17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Where All Witches Meet,
This review is from: Headless Cross (Audio CD)
After essentially confusing and alienating a large proportion of their fan base Black Sabbath since about 1983 (namely Tony Iommi) decided he needed his credibility back, that's not to say that `Born Again', `Seventh Star' and `Eternal Idol' didn't produce some great stuff or weren't musically credible but the whole `Who's in your band this week, Tony?' was starting to seriously damage the bands reputation especially in the press who were quite merciless in their ribbing of Sabbath (the cheek! You write for Kerrang!). Also the fact that on `Seventh Star' and `Eternal Idol' Iommi had used a lot of more lightweight material making those albums the worst since `Technical Ecstasy' and `Never Say Die'. It's safe to say it was time for a rejuvenation and a serious return to form...and predictably the two Tony's and Cozy delivered in the face of adversity and then some, in the same way that `Heaven and Hell' had done almost a decade ago.
So what we have here is a heavy metal classic, a consistent one too. This is easily the bands strongest set of songs since the all out amazing `Mob Rules'. Not a trace of the filler that plagued `Eternal Idol'. `Headless Cross' is the best known song of the Tony Martin era and not without reason, it's a killer. From that `I play my drums with hammers' intro, to that classic Iommi riff, to Tony Martin's awe inspiring vocals, it just sets the tone for the rest of the album; cheesy, epic, heavy and generally wailing on about Satan. `Devil and Daughter' named after a Dennis Wheatley novel (and a rather mediocre Hammer film) is another top notch song apparently inspired by the truly loathsome Sharon and Don Arden, it's the fastest song here and driven along by what characterizes this album; pounding drums, excellent melodic guitars and Tony Martin wailing about Satan! And it just gets better! `When Death Calls' is the rightful successor to the epic Dio era classics (`Sign of the Southern Cross', `Falling of the Edge of the World' etc) and it's the best of a very strong collection from that eerie bass intro that apparently caused so many difficulties for future Sabbath bassists. It has a great atmosphere even by Sabbath's standard's and lets face it they are the masters. We even get a lovely bit of galloping, another flawless vocal performance and even Brian May pops round for a solo (I never liked Queen bare a few songs but he's a great player). So even 19 years into their recording career Sabbath show they can still school everyone. The albums second side (I have this on tape you see, how very 80's!) while not as strong as the first is still exceptional with no hint of filler. `Kill in the Spirit World' has Tony Martin adding a touch of class to proceedings, it's a very cheesy song even on a very cheesy album but still the strong lyrics and soaring vocals really are a treat. `Call of the Wild' continues the mid album cheese fest and its pretty much in the same vain as `Kill in the Spirit World' but with a eastern feel in places and as with the whole album very catchy and atmospheric. `Black Moon' stands out here as its got a bluesy feel to it, not early Sabbath bluesy but more `feel the wind in your mullet as you drive away from the tall man from Phantasm' bluesy (maybe that's just me), we even get some nice touches of organ (or a keyboard pretending to be an organ) from the always underrated Geoff Nichols. Ending on a high note (although to be fair the whole album never let up) is `Night Wing' which is the only song not about Satan, but owls and bats instead. There are is some damn fine riffs and leads here Iommi certainly lets rip and Laurence Cottle provides some cheesy 80's lead bass, a nice touch. And then there you have it another metal classic successfully re-establishing Black Sabbath as a major force in heavy metal, well in artistic terms at least as Headless Cross sold well in mainland Europe, England and Japan but America didn't really `get it', You Fools!
Lyrically, this album is almost entirely preoccupied with the occult and all though perhaps an acquired taste I find it very much to my liking. Tony Martin does a splendid job here and although cheesy in places its got great atmosphere and the lyrics are generally well done. He really proves himself as a writer on this album, sadly he didn't get time to write on `Eternal Idol' but he more than makes up for it here. The title track is perhaps the strongest song here lyrically and it deals with Redditch (a small town where Tony Martin lives) and about the plague in the middle ages where the residents of Redditch went to the hill of the headless cross and prayed for survival and none of them did! Metal or what? So this album has a very high Satan quota, and it really works and lets face it where would heavy metal be without Old Nick?
Musically the whole band is flawless on this release, Iommi is on terrific form and pulls out his best set of riffs in years and then wails, trills and squeals through his always magnificent lead work. New boy Cozy Powell really shouldn't need an introduction, he was one of the all time great drummers and he shows just why here. Even though it's not the best drum sound Cozy ever had (Rainbow's `rising' and Whitesnake's `Slide it in' come to mind) its still pretty damn thunderous and instantly recognisable. Laurence Cottle is essentially a session bassist, but a good one and he plays imaginatively even though I don't find his clear tight bass sound in keeping with traditional Sabbath. I suppose I'd rather have Neil Murray on this album just for the sake of continuity. Tony Martin fully realises the potential he showed on `Eternal Idol' and is not only technically excellent but sings with feeling. Sound wise I suppose this is something of a step forward for Black Sabbath but with one foot in the Dio years as its closer to `Mob Rules' and `Heaven and Hell' than any other pre-1989 Sabbath release. You can't really compare this to any of the Ozzy material and if I've ever seen a bad review its by 12 year olds who think Black Sabbath is ripping off Kyuss going `This isn't Paranoid! Meh, meh ,meh...' So I'm not even going to draw comparisons all I will say is that this, the first six Ozzy era albums and the first two with Dio are all metal classics. Albeit, this isn't as good as those albums but that's hardly a criticism.
So just when everyone had given up on Sabbath after the whole mid 80's `let's go to Hollywood, hire hair metal singers, do coke, marry Lita Ford etc' fiasco Mr Iommi finally got his stuff together and delivered what we all wanted to here (no not Paranoid II, you stoner fan!) but a true metal classic of the highest order. Thanks Mr Martin for the Satan factor, thank you Mr Powell for lending your Hammer's and err its been nice to see you Laurence I hope the jazz fusion goes well. Oh yeah, and if your keeping track this is better than `No Rest For The Wicked' so that's Iommi 6, Osbourne 0. And just to help things that little bit more the cover art is great (perhaps my favourite along side the debut and `Sabbath Bloody Sabbath') and `Headless Cross' has a great promo video too. Highly recommended.