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Black Sabbath makes a surprisingly strong return with ‘13’

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Iron Men (From left) Iommi, Osbourne and Butler, together on record for the first time in 35 years.

Three stars

13, Black Sabbath

The four original members of Black Sabbath (Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward) have been promising a full album of new material ever since they first got back together in 1997, and have been in the studio on and off since 2001. So to say that 13 is a long time coming is an understatement, although the lengthy process resulted in the departure of one band member (Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave drummer Brad Wilk fills in for Ward), and none of the early studio work is represented.

Was it worth the wait? The band’s first album with Osbourne on vocals since 1978’s Never Say Die! doesn’t match up to the standards of its classic releases, but it does sound like a true Black Sabbath album, featuring epic, portentous, gloomy songs with titles like “God Is Dead?” and “Damaged Soul.” Osbourne has spent the last decade or so becoming a caricature of himself, but here his voice sounds both darkly menacing and musically solid, and whether the credit for that goes to Osbourne himself or to studio trickery, it doesn’t really matter.

Butler’s bass is thick and booming, and Iommi’s guitar riffs consciously (sometimes self-consciously) recall the band’s greatest hits. There’s a feeling of repetition over the course of the lengthy songs that gets tiresome by the end of the album, and nothing on 13 is as memorable as Sabbath’s best work (both with and without Osbourne). But the album has a surprising integrity and heaviness, which is more than the surrounding delays and media circus would have indicated was possible.

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