CD Reviews

Black Sabbath - 'Born Again' (Deluxe Edition) Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     September 09, 2011    
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By far the best mix for this album, but far from what many hoped for.

Someone once compared Ian Gillan joining Black Sabbath to Paul McCartney joining the Rolling Stones for sheer shock value in the metal community! Surely this had to be some mistake? But it wasn't, and the resulting 'Born Again' sent critics and fans into a frenzy of debate in 1983. Here in 2011 with this fine deluxe special edition we can reassess the merits of this controversial release and where it stands in the Sabbath legacy.

Having three quarters of the original Sabbath line up back in place with the return of Bill Ward certainly helped with the feeling of authenticity within the ranks, and Ian Gillan certainly had his rock n roll credentials fronting Deep Purple and his own namesake band Gillan. Certainly visually the band looked like four hairy monsters ready to do battle with the forces of darkness, and album opener 'Trashed' sonically was a wall of distorted evil riffs. The question was could Ian Gillan do evil?

Without a doubt this was one of Ian's best vocal performances on record, the man spits the lyrics out, throwing so many of his trademark screeches into the equation, and boy does it work! Leaving behind the more gothic overtones of the Dio era, this was more true to the original sound of Sabbath, but given the polish of a more 80's approach.

Despite the laughable title of 'Stonehenge' that will always draw Spinal Tap comparisons, this prelude to 'Disturbing The Priest' sets us up for a sonic hellfest with Ian Gillan offering his most haunting vocal ever. This is Black Sabbath at their rifftastic best, a true masterpiece of molten metal that should be given the acclaim it deserves. The second of the two instrumentals, 'The Dark', sounds like the grumbling underbelly of Satan before the gigantic riff of 'Zero The Hero' takes form. It has often been stated that Guns and Roses stole this riff for 'Paradise City' - you decide! The songs slow paced riff, up front bass work and Ian's tough guy vocal work remarkably well despite lyrics like "Impossibility Impissobolity Brother!" 'Digital Bitch', the band's stab at commercial success, is a brave attempt at a more modern approach lyrically, but it's at these times you miss Geezer Butler's more esoteric approach to writing.

Title track 'Born Again' is the band giving Ian the chance to stretch his vocals in this sombre ballad, and it's a strange miss-mash of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath ideas that makes for interesting listening. By the time we reach 'Keep it Warm' it seems the band are losing their focus musically despite the song having its merits, and you imagine there is only so much you can do with Ian regarding the darker styles Sabbath are known for, still, in all, I consider this release to be one of the band's best and certainly one of the most interesting.

Not only do we have some great packaging and an informative booklet for this release but an unreleased song in the 'Fallen' which clearly has no place on 'Born Again', but in itself is an interesting modern approach to the Sabbath writing style and may have been the direction the band could have taken had this line-up continued. An extended version of 'Stonehenge' is also included before we get the BBC rockshow airing of Black Sabbath's headling slot at the Reading Festival 1983.

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This was my introduction to Sabbath live as I was there, and with the minor quibble of the Dio era material being dropped, the band were on mighty form that night. This was Ian's home ground and the man was welcomed into the Sabbath camp as 'Hot Line' blasts into the Reading audience. I remember a lot of folded arms when the show began with an "impress me" look on many faces, but that soon changed! Bill Ward had could not offer his services live so Tony Iommi's friend Bev Bevan, of ELO fame, took the drum stool in fine fashion to add his own percussion style to this line up. The big question was could Ian do the older material justice? Something even Ronnie Dio struggled with at times!

'War Pigs', 'Black Sabbath' and 'Iron Man' in all honesty sounded more true to their original roots than the Dio era versions, and it was clear that Ian's voice had enough of Ozzy's menace, but with a superior range to impress all non believers. Of the three 'Iron Man' is the one most suited to Ian vocal style and he truly made the song his own. 'Born Again' is well represented with 'Disturbing the Priest' and 'Digital Bitch'

The introduction of 'Smoke on the Water' as an encore invited the Deep Sabbath tag, but it's clear from the audience singing every word that no one was bothered. With 'Paranoid' bringing the set to a close it looked like all was well in the band, and they would move onto greater things with Ian Gillan, but little did we know!!! For the record the band also played 'Children Of The Grave' 'Supernaut' and 'Rock n Roll Doctor' on this night and it's a pity these songs were not included as these would have made the set a lot more varied.

The big question many have asked is has the mix been for 'Born Again' been improved? This was a big criticism at the time of its release. Well it's by far the best mix and Ian vocals and Tony's guitar have more clarity, but I am afraid it is far from what many hoped for, maybe they will save that for the next reissue?

Ray Paul

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David Savill said:

May 15, 2012
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