Black Sabbath – Born Again
Written by Mark Nagy
Exit Dio and Vinny Appice, and enter Bill Ward (Thank heavens) and…Ian Gillan? Ok, so maybe retro-metal has become a love affair with the idea of Black Sabbath-meets-Deep Purple. In hindsight, they stand as two of the absolute pillars of the history of metal. But does bringing Ian Gillan into the studio with Black Sabbath really work? Well, certainly not as much as I’d have liked. This is one of the many Black Sabbath lineups to have only recorded one album, and it’s one of the many post-1975 albums that is quite unpopular. It’s plagued by an artistic mismatch, an aging singer, and, awful, awful production.
I’ll take a moment here and say that the release I’m reviewing is the unmixed demos that were made available in 2011 as an official release. This version features brutally heavy guitars and a more straightforward sound from Ian Gillan’s vocals. It also makes the fact that the band was staying with its “evil” roots far more noticeable. Even with a singer who doesn’t properly come off as menacing, it’s still the thing that the rest of the band is the best at. The riffs are similar to The Mob Rules, but context makes all the difference for the quality of these songs. Tracks like “Zero The Hero” and “Digital Bitch” show the band maturing into the newer style, and injecting some real passion into its songs. This was hampered on the original release by a cover that was offensive without being edgy, and just terrible production all around. Thanks to the wonders of modern bootlegging, we can now discover just how great this album could have been (and actually is, in its current form).
Still, there’s more artistic merit on Born Again, and this is probably the last truly great studio record from Ian Gillan before age really starts to wreck his voice. While Dio’s talents were never fully utilized, Tony Iommi is more than happy to write in an assault of Gillan’s legendary shrieks. The result is occasionally awkward, and certainly not Black Sabbath’s typical fare, but a valuable precursor to the full artistic redemption that would take place in 1986, when the seeds of “The Eternal Idol” would be sown.
Born Again has a weird sort of appeal. Admittedly, most of that is lost unless you’re hooking up with the unmixed demos. It has decidedly small ambitions to cater to two very, very talented metal icons. Tony Iommi’s riffs with Ian Gillan’s shrieks. This album is by no means the groundbreaking work the band was doing in its early career, but a solid foundation with occasional flashes of something much, much more. 10 years prior, these two would have created a legendary album, but for 1983, the result is still pretty good.
3.5 // 5