Lemmy Feature/Tribute

Motorhead - Ace of Spades album cover

There can’t be many rock fans of a certain vintage, whose experience of rock music was not touched in some way by the life and work of Ian Fraser Kilmister, better known, of course, as Lemmy.

Love him or er … not, he was unique – a real one off. Not just iconic, but iconoclastic. He may have been notorious for his appetites, but he was also a smart guy, a man who always had an interesting take on life and a fresh perspective. He lived the way he wanted to live. He kept it real. If you’ve not done so already, check out his autobiography, ‘White Line Fever’. It’ll have you howling at times, and re-evaluating your attitude to life at others. It’s one of my favourite rock books.

Lemmy - White Line FeverHis music, like his approach to life, was uncompromising. I always found that Motörhead’s music had a certain charm. I loved the humour and quirkiness as well as the power. Lemmy had a wry wit (“I really like this jacket but the sleeves are much too long” from ‘Back At The Funny Farm’)  and was a master of tautological overstatement (‘Killed By Death’). His music was the music of fun, rage and hedonism, all on the same album and all at the same time. Everything louder than everything else! He influenced many and he will be missed.

It was both an honour and a pleasure to be asked to do a feature and tribute to Lemmy with Alan Thompson for his BBC Radio Wales show. Not that it should be a surprise to anyone that Radio Wales would want to pay tribute, especially given Lemmy’s childhood links with Anglesey, the National Assembly for Wales plenary debate he inspired (‘Heroin. Is Lemmy right?’) and the presence in his band for nigh on 30 years of Welsh guitar whizz Phil Campbell.

The piece was broadcast on Sunday 24 January 2016, a few short weeks after Lemmy’s sudden passing. It features music and chat – classic tracks from Hawkwind and Motörhead and a closing song that, I hope, surprised a few people, as it showcases a more sensitive side of Lemmy’s character.

You can hear the full piece here on Alan’s pages on the Radio Wales site, via the BBC iPlayer. The Lemmy piece kicks in at around the 1hr 26 mark with ‘Silver Machine’. Enjoy!

As for this short article, I can think of no better sign off than Dave Ling’s recent paraphrase (in his Classic Rock magazine send off) of Lemmy’s own on stage battle cry:

“He was Lemmy – he played rock ‘n’ roll!”

Motorhead - Snaggletooth - No Remorse album cover

Born to lose; Live to win

Rest in Peace, Lem!

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Richard Taylor – British Lion

Written by Paul Monkhouse

 

Richard Taylor of British Lion

There is a huge buzz around my home town as, for the second time in just over a year, Steve Harris brought his ‘other’ band British Lion to a small venue in East Anglia. I have seen Iron Maiden play many times in Norwich, firstly at the University (my very first rock gig in 1981) and then again under various pseudonyms at The Oval, a now sadly defunct rock pub on the outskirts of the city centre. Having been offered the chance to interview British Lion singer Richard Taylor and knowing what a powerhouse band they are, this was an opportunity not to be missed.

When I first stroll into The Waterfront venue with my thirteen year old son I find Richard relaxing on a sofa pre-sound check as he pours through the latest edition of Classic Rock magazine. Very charismatic, but seemingly utterly ego-free the quietly and thoughtfully spoken Richard proves to be a genuine pleasure to talk to and very easy, good company. With a friendship that stretches back many years, being the frontman in a band whose bass player is a genuine rock legend doesn’t seem to faze him at all but that shows that British Lion are truly a collaborative band and not just a vanity side project. When Steve strolls over later on you can sense a very real camaraderie between the two that speaks volumes.

Prior to the interview proper we discussed Live Aid, the pleasures of living in East Anglia, mutual friends who were in the superb The Catherine Wheel, which rock magazines are best, cycling, and our joint love of Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ album. As with the rest of the band, here was a man very happy in what he’s doing and enjoying touring immensely. With the sound of drums being sound checked in the background I hit the ‘record’ button…

What does rock music mean to you?
Music in general, any genre, from a youngster, it was my life, it was all I ever cared about. I had kind of an unusual upbringing and music just got me through anything that was troubling my life. So yeah, in a kind of way and not to get too deep, it saved my life as a youngster.

Was there a band or an artist who first made an impression on you?
Yeah, T.Rex, Marc Bolan

Any particular reason for that?
I would have been nine, ten years old and it was melody. That was the first thing, and from that there was so much in the 70s that came along, unbelievable songs and I just latched onto all of that. As a child seeing him on television, it was just “wow!” and I used to have a tennis racquet that I ‘used’ as a guitar as I’m sure a lot of us did. [Laughs]

Is there a particular song or album that still means a lot to you?
BBruce Springsteen Born to Run album coverorn to Run by Springsteen definitely. Again, that was another part of my life, that album, hearing that made me want to become a musician. That entire album, and the album after that as well, both mean so much to me. As he’s American a lot of my friends don’t get it, but even if you take the Americanism of the lyrics away, I find you can still relate to it. And also, although it sounds a complicated album with respect to production, the songs are three chords or four chords on guitar which I can play back to back, all of them, and that was also attractive to me. After listening to bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple that were so complicated, as an acoustic guitarist you can play great songs like ‘Born to Run’, ‘Thunder Road’ or ‘Jungleland’ on the acoustic, whereas playing ‘Smoke on the Water’ on an acoustic is not so easy.

We were talking earlier about various musicians, so what do you say to a (quote/unquote) ‘rock star’ when you meet them?
I haven’t met too many rock stars but I would most probably just say “I admire your work” if it was somebody… actually, I have met a few but I’m not too overwhelmed by that stardom thing.

What’s been your best experience meeting an artist as a music fan yourself?
I don’t know, you don’t really get to know the person if you get to meet them other than saying “Hi” and “I admire your music”. I met Brian May actually and just said to him “Hi Brian, nice to meet you”. I guess it must be the same for them, they must get bored to tears by people coming up and saying “You’ve changed my life …”

And what’s been the best response to you from fans?
Well, it’s kind of been overwhelming really, the last three tours that British Lion have done, two European tours and this British tour. When we released the debut album it was kind of controversial because a lot of people weren’t expecting it to be like that with Steve involved and that was quite hard to take. I think a lot of people didn’t ‘get’ it or quite understand what it was all about, and I think that’s still the case. But when you see it live, from the word go, especially after three tours now, it speaks for itself. It’s powerful and we mean what we’re doing and every night we give it everything we’ve got and the reaction everywhere we’ve played has been absolutely fantastic. Some places the audiences have been a little reluctant to go with it initially but by the end of the evening that has totally changed. That’s been brilliant for me and the rest of the guys as well.

So, what makes a gig special to you?
It’s two things really. Well, more than that! Firstly, I like to feel it. There’s a lot of lyrical content in these songs, especially some of the new material, and I don’t just want to stand there and go through the motions and clichés. I like to be spontaneous and just let that happen, and if that can happen then, of course, you get the audience with you as well, getting elements of the two. The last four or five dates we’ve played have been unbelievable, the crowds have been almost louder than the band and we’re still a new, young band so not too many people know of us yet. Obviously they’re coming to see Steve, we know that and are under no illusion, but like last night, when they leave they speak to you and compliment British Lion, which is what we’re trying to do.

Has there been a notable gig you’ve done that you’ll always hold high and cherish the memory of?

Richard Taylor and Steve Harris - British Lion

Richard, Steve and Paul’s son Sam looking forward to show time

There’s been a few to be honest. I always like to play quite locally if I can because I’ve got family and friends who have supported me for years and have known these songs. ‘Eyes of the Young’ particularly is twenty four, twenty five years old and when they come and see that it’s special to me, getting to sing it to them. There have been a few but I can’t really say one in particular. We have been quite overwhelmed wherever we go by the response to British Lion.

Has there been a gig you’ve attended as an audience member that really blew you away at the time and you still hold in high regard?
Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising tour at Wembley Arena. That album was written after 9/11 and I’d seen him quite a few times before but this time it wasn’t that type of show where he talks to the audience telling them stories and having fun, it was a really serious show, keeping his head down, hard rocking, and he really meant it. You got the shivers all over watching that and for what he was standing for that night. That one in particular, but I have seen lots, I’ve seen many bands. I saw Dylan but that wasn’t when he was touring an album, he just decided he wanted to go to play a few clubs and we saw him at Brixton Academy. He had the most amazing band and played every classic song you could ever imagine and that was quite overwhelming to be honest.

So, sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll: a jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
[Laughing …] Big question! So, you want me to answer that? Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, I’m not into any of that … never have been. You’ve only got to look at me; I’m not that type of person.

I know we were talking about your love of cycling earlier on and I know that Steve really takes his health seriously too …
Oh yeah, he’s a great football player and he’s very conscientious about health. I do a lot of cycling and live on the coast and do a lot of running. I do a lot of walking, which is where I get a lot of my ideas from quite often, and those Suffolk skies and along by Walberswick and Southwold … in the summer some of those sunsets are quite outrageous.

So, rock music: music for all or is it quite tribal?
I think it’s a shame. I think rock music should be for everybody but I think unfortunately some people pigeonhole music in categories and if you say it has to be rock or metal it has to be a certain type of rock and I think that’s really sad. But, I think that’s maybe a younger approach and as you grow and get older … Like, I play in a rock band with Steve Harris from Iron Maiden, a band who I love and they’re incredible and I like lots of bands like that who are metal bands, but I love other stuff as well. I love classical music, I love folk music and I think it’s a shame that music does get pigeonholed. I also think that in the UK, maybe more so than any other country, we’re so fashion orientated. If you like one genre of music it has to be fashionable as well. Take Oasis, that was the fashion in the 90s and you wouldn’t let anything else in. It’s the same with certain types or rock and metal and that affects what people listen to. But again, I think it’s an age thing and if you really love music, even if you won’t admit to it … I’ve seen some Maiden fans really loving the quieter side of our music,and that’s great! Certainly the Maiden fans that I’ve met JUST love music and they like all types and that’s brilliant.

I think you’re absolutely right, not only with British Lion but with Maiden too the key thing is the song writing. Not only is there fantastic performances but you’ve got to have the songs haven’t you?
British Lion album coverDefinitely, and I think that’s what British Lion stands for more than anything. When the album was first released I got a lot of comments saying that I can’t sing – “the singer’s rubbish” – but it’s not just the fact that I was singing for British Lion, but I was also a key part of the song writing and to be honest that element is more important to me than being a vocalist. It’s most probably taken some of those comments for me to realise that by the time we record again it will be the first time I stand up and say “hold on, I have to focus a bit more on how I sing,” because some of those vocals had no more than one or two takes. With British Lion, it’s fundamentally about song writing and it’s how Steve and I first got together: we both love great songs and we write really well together, kind of differently to how he’s written before and how he’s written with collaborators before and that’s a really attractive thing. It’s taken it somewhere differently.

How do you think your music is labelled?
I think at the moment it’s just labelled classic rock but by the time we get to our second album I don’t know if it can be titled as that. With the first album you have tracks like ‘The Eyes of the Young’ and ‘The Chosen Ones’ and yeah, that is classic rock, but those songs were written twenty-five years ago. David Hawkins is a big part of the song writing and he’s much younger than me. He listens to bands like Muse and Linkin Park and he’s an absolute whizz in the studio. With Dave and Steve and myself, we all come from different angles. I hate titles…why does something have to be called something specific? I guess it just makes life easier.

I can absolutely see what you mean and as the three of you are coming in with your own influences you give the band very much its own identity rather than a cookie cutter impression of something already in existence. It makes it fresh and interesting, not only for you guys but also for the people who listen to the tracks and come along to the gigs. There IS that variety.
Yes, the people who didn’t get it the first time will hopefully get it by the time we do the second album. Certainly live people are beginning to understand it. You take other bands who have melodic singers and they put on a show but if you see what we do live we’re pretty on the edge and we really get out there and work our arses off. We’re not a safe band, we’re pretty spontaneous and people will get a shock. The album is what it is but live it goes to another level. I’m pleased about that and I think people who’ve seen us have grasped and latched onto that.

Is there a particular piece of music you’ve been involved in, thus far, that you’d like to be remembered for?
Certainly some of the new stuff is pretty special, but on the first album ‘This is My God’, that’s a pretty special song: the lyrical content, the riff. Again, that’s an old song but we’re playing a new song in the set that’s only come out this year called ‘Bible Black’ and that’s quite a special song that means a lot to me.

I recently read a live review of this tour and they picked out that song for a particular mention, which is confirmation of just that …
That’s great! [Smiling widely and nodding]

What would you say to the people who say the rock era is dead?
I think you just need to go and watch bands. Those people don’t know what they’re talking about. Just go and watch Iron Maiden next year and you can certainly see it’s not dead. They’ll sell out arenas all around the world and that’s just one band. It’s not dead, it’s more alive than ever!

What’s next for you?
We’re going to go back and listen to a lot of the live recordings from the last three tours and may at some point put something live out. We’ll also go back and carry on with material for the second album – we’ve  actually got plenty, enough for three or four albums. We never stop writing. I personally write all the time … And back to running on the beach!

Later that evening British Lion proved once more what a superb band they are, taking the packed Norwich venue by storm. With a massive Iron Maiden world tour looming, quite how long it’ll be before the next album is released is unclear. But judging by the magnificent new material played tonight, it’ll be well worth the wait.

CHEERS, GUYS!

Related posts: Relics 3: Finding My Marbles and Drawn by Quest for ’Arry

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Denim Snakes: Stronger!

Denim Snakes

So be honest, what do you think about when someone mentions the place Barry? The run down pleasure park? The BBC comedy Gavin and Stacey? Trips as a child to Barry Island beach? Max Boyce’s ‘Ode to Barry Island’? I used to think about all these things, but now I think of Barry band the Denim Snakes.

If you’re lucky enough to have heard their eponymous debut album (reviewed here for Über Röck by Ross Welford), you’ll know where I’m coming from – classic rock meets pop punk perfection across ten tracks that blend aggression, humour, emotion and melody as effortlessly as you like.

Hot on the heels (well, almost) of said album, the band are back with a new single ‘Stronger’. Described as “an anthem for anyone who’s been dumped, downtrodden, hurt or bullied”, it’s set to be released on iTunes and Spotify on 7th August via their own NO TV Records. It’s accompanied by an excellent video, which, for pre-release fun, you can view and listen to here:

‘Stronger’ is already making an impression on the Welsh media with former Radio One DJ Bethan Elfyn featuring the band on her BBC Radio Wales ‘Introducing Artist of the Week’ slot.

Some are predicting that 2015 will be “the year of the Snake”, and for the classic rock fans among you, let’s be clear – that snake is Denim, not White!

So check out the single, and look out for the forthcoming ‘Words and Music Q&A’.

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Deep ?urp!e

Deep Purple - Now What?! chart action

Unlike, say, Black Sabbath (who have faced different sorts of challenges), since their 1980’s reformation Deep Purple have kept going as a creative force, keeping their core line-up pretty much intact, or, at least, allowing it to evolve in a way that has ensured stability and continuity.

I made my peace a long time ago with the Steve Morse and, more recently, Morse/Airey line-ups. Indeed, for me, the Purpendicular album (1996) was an extraordinary creative rebirth which has had me on tenterhooks in anticipation of each new release since.

Deep Purple - Now What?! album coverWhile there’s not been a bad album with Steve Morse in the band, 2013’s Now What?! is probably the strongest since the aforementioned Purpendicular. It is undoubtedly their most experimental and progressive album for quite some time – certainly since Purpendicular and probably since Fireball (1971). It has a looser, fresher feel, as producer Bob Ezrin encouraged the band to jam, have fun and just play. Sometimes in the past, the band seems to have felt constrained by what they take to be popular notions of what ‘Deep Purple’ stand for and what they should sound like. In contrast, most fans I know (admittedly a very small subset) would agree that what made Deep Purple great was their desire to be exciting, to follow their instincts, to experiment, and to push at musical boundaries. For those of us who feel like that, Now What?! is a very, very pleasing album.

So, what of the songs? The quiet and beautifully sung opening to  ‘A Simple Song’ doesn’t so much lull you into a false sense of security as set the tone for the unpredictable nature of what follows. I hear hints of ‘Black and White’ (from the House of Blue Light album) in the melody – possibly and playfully deliberate given Gillan’s use of the phrase in the lyrics.

The next two tracks pick up the baton and drive us deeply into the album. ‘Weirdistan’ has an understated eastern-flavoured riff and features a wonderful spacey keyboard solo from Don Airey. (“Oh yes, it’s beautiful”!) ‘Out of Hand’ has an atmospheric opening, with Airey’s prodding keys yielding to a trademark big riff, more eastern stylings and a stand out Morse solo.

First single ‘Hell to Pay’ initially appears to be standard fare until we’re treated to some sublime guitar/keyboard soloing and interplay that has always been a feature of Deep Purple (whether we’re talking Blackmore and Lord, Lord and Morse, or Morse and Airey) and that no one, but no one,  has ever done better. Of course, it’s all wonderfully underpinned by Glover and Paice. This is some band!

‘Bodyline’ has a funky opening and rolls along nicely. But surely I’m not the only listener disappointed that lyrically it turns out to be a vehicle for an oversexed Ian Gillan to indulge his whims again. I was hoping for a song about cricket and past Ashes intrigue!

Deep Purple - Above and Beyond coverAs good as it’s been up to this point, the heart of the album is the run of three tracks spanning the ever so proggy ‘Above and Beyond’, the cool and sometimes laid back ‘Blood from a Stone’, and ‘Uncommon Man’. The latter features a wonderful extended guitar-led prelude with orchestral arrangements (a fanfare?) before Paice’s drums usher the band effortlessly into the verse. Again, there aren’t many bands who could, who would, write something like this. (The Enid, perhaps?)

‘Après Vous’ is a more standard rocker, which picks up the pace before settling into a nice bass groove and featuring yet more cool Morse/Airey interplay. “C’mon man. Fill your boots,” sings Gillan, with thoughts of “another life, another world.” His ‘Woman from Tokyo’, and other women from other places, clearly still make him sing.

‘All the Time in the World’ is a gentle and touching ballad – the kind this incarnation of Purple do so well (think ‘Clearly Quite Absurd’ from the Rapture of the Deep album). Morse’s solo is sublime. He can shred with the best of them, but when he wants to go for the heart he just reaches right in there and grabs you. Gillan recycles and adapts a lyric from Purpendicular‘s ‘Soon Forgotten’: “Sometimes, on a good day, I sit and think. Sometimes I just sit.”

The closing track on the standard version, ‘Vincent Price’, is loads of fun, featuring a church organ, a crash of thunder, an operatic intro, a mock-horror riff, multi-tracked vocal effects and a lyrical run-through of every horror film cliché Gillan can summon. “It feels so good to be afraid,” he sings, “Vincent Price is back again.” The video is a lot of fun too – haunted castles, wax-work dummies, roaming monsters and a pole-dancing nun! Really! Don’t take it too seriously but check it out:

Vincent Price promo shot

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BEWYRRaxFhU

As you can see from the picture at the top of this piece, the album charted all over Europe, reaching number 1 in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Norway, and entering the top 10 or top 20 in numerous other countries. (I don’t wish to pitch Black Sabbath and Deep Purple against each other, but there was a feeling in some quarters that while Sabbath worked hard to rediscover their mojo – turning in a decent album, 13,  which incredibly achieved number 1 chart success in the UK and the USA – Purple were, with Ezrin’s help, able to give free expression to theirs, raising the creative bar a notch or two in the process.)

It must be very gratifying for the band, and, indeed, for long-term fans and supporters, that the album has been so well received. The music deserves it, but it’s also been better promoted than previous albums. It even got the band an interview appearance on Jools Holland’s BBC television show (Tuesday 14 May 2013). At their age as well. Who do they think they are?!

The success of the album was tinged with sadness, of course, given the passing of former keyboard player Jon Lord. While the whole album is dedicated to Jon, the track ‘Above and Beyond’, is a poignant and more direct tribute. It includes the following beautiful lyric …

Souls, having touched, are forever entwined

Now What?! is a fitting tribute both to the memory of Jon Lord and to the musical legacy that he and his Deep Purple bandmates have bequeathed to us. Highly recommended!

Deep Purple promo poster

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Black Sabbath 13

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Black Sabbath: 13

Black Sabbath 13

The announcement that Black Sabbath’s 13 was Classic Rock magazine’s ‘Album of the Year’ for 2013, its appearance at or near the top of many other end of year lists (including a very creditable fifth place in Über Röck’s albums of the year) , and news of multiple Grammy nominations, was greeted with great joy by many but a sense of incredulity by others. Of course it’s great that Sabbath (in whatever form) can top the album charts in 2013, but are the journalists, critics and punters letting their hearts rule their heads? The album’s been with us a while now, so perhaps it’s a good time to take stock and engage in a little sober reflection.

First, by way of context setting, some points to note:

  • Black Sabbath (by which, for purposes of this article, I mean Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Ozzy Osbourne) are not angry young working class men anymore. Not that I’m suggesting they’ve forgotten their roots – there remains something very grounded and earthy about all three of them – but they’re older now , experienced, successful and much better off. They don’t need to worry about factory (or burglary) jobs anymore, nor where the next pay cheque is coming from.
  • The members of Black Sabbath are no longer wide-eyed ‘innocents abroad’, stumbling (snow) blindly into the hitherto unknown joys, dubious or otherwise, of substances that do funny things to you. (Ozzy might have regressed a little, temporarily, but he’s more likely to have fallen off a Bentley than a wagon.)
  • It is no longer possible for a new Black Sabbath album, however good, to have the same kind of effect on me now as it did when I was a sensitive Catholic teenager almost 35 years ago. The same will hold true for many other fans. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, for the band and for the listeners.
  • There is no way the element of mystique and sense of danger that once characterised Black Sabbath can hold in the current age. Ozzy, for example is a household name now, with The Osbournes TV series finally putting paid to all that ‘Prince of Darkness’ malarkey. Bat and dove biting incidents have now very much been superseded in the public psyche (fairly or otherwise) by the image of the doddering joker, a comic book rocker at best.
  • And without wishing to restart old discussions or open old wounds, the absence of Bill Ward, replaced here by ‘young’ Brad Wilk (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave), is significant. While Wilk does a fine job, Bill’s absence has made a difference to the way some fans have responded to the album.

The  first thing to say about 13 itself is that it’s a serious attempt by the band, all these years on, to rediscover their mojo. This is no exercise in treading water. It’s over 35 years since Never Say Die! and a near miracle that a new album has been recorded and released at all. Taking everything into account, including the age and health of the musicians, I guess they all knew that it was probably a case of ‘now or never’. Even if everything goes swimmingly well – and so far, the Bill Ward situation aside, it has – their track record suggests that 13 could be Black Sabbath’s last album. In the circumstances the choice of Rick Rubin as producer appears to have been a smart move, with Rubin having built his reputation on helping artists to rediscover and express the essence of what they’re about.

Consequently, and unsurprisingly, 13 leans heavily on Sabbath’s past. There are plenty of trademark Iommi riffs that hark back to the early Sabbath period. We are not just talking the first five albums though. Many of the vocal melodies are reminiscent of the Never Say Die! era, and, I would suggest, the musicians have drawn on experience from across their careers to create an album that sits comfortably  alongside others in the Sabbath canon. Ozzy’s performance, for example, sometimes seems to reference his solo work as well as his previous work with Sabbath, and is often punctuated with a range of trademark ad libs:  “Alright”, “Ok”, “Alright Now”, “Oh Yeah”,  and so on.

The lyric booklet is littered with M8s, Bridges, Outros, Swing Riffs, Fast Riffs and Pre-Choruses – proof positive that considerable thought has been given to the songwriting, with frequent twists and tempo changes keeping the listener guessing. One of the most pleasing features of the album is Tony Iommi’s performance. His furious soloing towards the end of ‘Damaged Soul’, ‘Age of Reason’ and ‘End of the Beginning’ suggest that he was on fire at the recording sessions and has put heart and soul into the project.

Across the album the lyrical themes (presumably Geezer has again contributed significantly here) are also ‘typical’ Sabbath fare – metaphysics, science fiction, personal estrangement, alienation, mortality and religious hypocrisy.  Curiously, ‘Satanic’ imagery didn’t feature as much in early Sabbath as is often supposed (if this matter interests you, check out my analysis in Words and Music). But it is re-introduced here (see ‘Damaged Soul’, ‘God is Dead?’) – presumably as part of the regression and self-rediscovery process Rick Rubin seems to have put them through.

So, what about the songs?

  • ‘End of the Beginning’ opens proceedings with an excellent and characteristically doomy riff. Many will point out the early structural similarities to ‘Black Sabbath’. Iommi’s solo is superb and arguably it’s his playing here that keeps this track’s head above the waters of self-imitation.
  • ‘God is Dead?’  I can’t make up my mind whether it’s brave or foolish to pin a lyric on an oft-quoted but little understood Nietzschean concept, and I’m not sure that the lyric contributes greatly to Nietzsche exegesis. All the same, it’s a decent track, given a real edge by Butler’s bass, and it’s not without its lyrical charm as Ozzy, with “God and Satan” at his side (my emphasis) ponders “holy fairytales” and the death of God. (Ozzy’s performance reminds me of his Bark at the Moon/Ultimate Sin period.)
  • ‘Loner’ hints at the monster riff to ‘N.I.B.’ before slipping into ‘Never Say Die! era melodies (think ‘Johnny Blade’). Ozzy chips in with a few ‘N.I.B’ ad libs and a passionate “Come on now!”
  • ‘Zeitgeist’ has a much gentler vibe. It shows the other side of early Sabbath and, in style, at least, is reminiscent of ‘Planet Caravan’ and ‘Solitude’. Great band performance. I love this track.
  • ‘Age of Reason’ is the second track that seems to draw from existentialist philosophy, this time utilising the title of a Jean Paul Sartre novel (though the phrase is less distinctive than “God is Dead”, so there could be other sources). It has a great riff, but also one of the album’s least memorable melodies. There is, however, a fantastic solo to fade, with warm almost ‘choral’ accompaniment (à la ‘Children of the Sea’).
  • ‘Live Forever’.  People have often said how much early Budgie sounds like Black Sabbath noting the production work of Rodger Bain for both bands. Here though, the wheel turns and Sabbath produce a riff which is very much like Budgie’s ‘In For The Kill’. I also hear points of contact with ‘Zero The Hero’ from the much maligned Gillan-fronted line-up. Ozzy’s melodies again put me in mind of his Never Say Die! contributions.
  • ‘Damaged Soul’ has a wonderful, swinging, bluesy riff.  This and ‘Zeitgeist’ have slowly emerged as my favourite tracks, and, indeed, they are perhaps the two tracks that sit most comfortably with the band’s early repertoire and sound most ‘authentic’. Geezer’s bass is suitably moody and the harmonica playing – credited to Ozzy – is a wonderful touch and a tip of the hat to ‘The Wizard’.  There’s a passionate, raw sounding solo from Iommi, and a great band effort to fade (as Satan waits “for the righteous to fall”).
  • ‘Dear Father’ is, lyrically speaking, the album’s most grim track. Musically it’s a rag bag of all sorts of Sabbath-isms that are somehow combined to produce a coherent and worthy album closer. I hear ‘Megalomania’ style melody at the start and a ‘War Pigs’ like riff around the 3 minute mark. I like the shift in pace thereafter … the uptempo romp into yet another doomy riff.  Thunder, rain and church bells see the band going out of this one as they had come in on the mighty title track of their debut an incredible 45 years ago! Have they completed the circle? Is this a kind of goodbye? Perhaps.

Ultimately, 13 is a solid and bona fide Black Sabbath album that is worthy of the Sabbath name. Is it as good as their early albums? You’d be hard pushed to find many older fans who’d say yes, but then I refer you back to some of my initial context-setting comments. It would be extremely difficult for Sabbath to produce an album now that had the same creative and psychological impact as their 1970s oeuvre. But it is a thoroughly enjoyable album with some great moments. Personally, I don’t begrudge them this album or its commercial success. And if it is to be their last, then it’s a fitting end.

So, given that it is a decent album which, astonishingly, went to Number 1 in both the UK and the USA album charts and picked up the ‘Best Metal Performance’ Grammy (for ‘God is Dead?’), why did I say at the top of this piece that some music fans have greeted its success with incredulity?

Jamie Richards is a fellow Über Röck scribe and manager of a very promising young band, the Dead Shed Jokers. He has an interesting take on the matter: “To me it was the greatest marketing campaign of the year,” says Jamie. “I love Sabbath, I just think people need to move on. I guess I see it as part of this enormous nostalgia wave that’s engulfing the genre. Nostalgia is being marketed to us and, by and large, I think we’re lapping it up. ‘Classic Rock’ was once a term for old rock bands, but the birth of Classic Rock magazine seems to have almost encouraged a whole generation of new bands to sound like old bands and become ‘classic rock’ by choice.”

In Jamie’s opinion: “classic rock fans, by and large, seem to only want old bands doing their thing, or, if it’s a new band, they want them to sound like one of the old bands.” Rock radio and magazines are both fuelling and pandering to this very limited and conservative take on what rock music is and what it has to offer. This makes life even harder for young bands who are influenced by the past but who are striving to be creative and original and are not so easy to pigeonhole.

“The Sonisphere announcement,” says Jamie,  [which has The Prodigy, Iron Maiden and Metallica headlining – Ed] “underlines to me that Britain hasn’t produced a rock band in 30 years who are capable of headlining a festival, Stereophonics and Biffy Clyro aside, and if we continue to go over the top about the likes of Black Sabbath, then it won’t change. I believe it’s foolhardy of us to think that Sabbath can really make a great album these days, simply because their creative peak has been and gone during the 1970s. Like I said earlier, it was the marketing campaign that was brilliant, truly great – there was massive coverage in all the major magazines, and it even came down to the album being released on the Monday immediately before Father’s Day in Britain. Dads got Sabbath instead of socks! That, to me at least, is why it was well received, because it hit a market that is bathed in nostalgia, and it reached people who rarely buy a record these days.”

On a more positive note, he adds: “I do feel that this is a step in the right direction though, away from the tribute band infestation!”

Jamie, does I think, have an excellent point or two, especially in relation to some media attitudes to young bands and new music. I’ve no doubt he is right too about the focus and reach of the marketing campaign, and similar comments could be made about the success of AC/DC’s Black Ice album a few short years back. However, I really would like to think that the success of 13 is built on the quality of the music and the enduring legacy of early Sabbath rather than just nostalgia.

Ultimately, I can’t see having a Sabbath album sitting at number one in the charts as anything other than a very positive thing.  It has raised the profile of Black Sabbath, classic rock and heavy metal beyond all expectation. Perhaps it will encourage the dads who “rarely buy a record these days” to dig out and dust off their original albums and start listening to music again, and perhaps it will encourage younger fans to check out the great albums and great bands of the late 1960s and 1970s.  At the very least, it shows that when presented in the right way, there is still a market for heavy rock and that this sort of music still matters to people. Perhaps …

Mohammed Osama 13

Artwork courtesy of Mohammed Osama

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