Black Sabbath is well, it. They are the genesis of it all. History is divided as B.C. and A.D., to differentiate what came before and what came after. The history of music can be divided similarly. There is music before Sabbath, and there is everything after.
Casting all reverential metaphors aside, it pains me deeply to say that 13 Sabbath's first album with Ozzy in 35 years is just not very good. There's an overall disconnect that has the listener playing catch up throughout the entirety of the album.
This could partially be attributed to the production of Rick Rubin. A man credited just as much for the success or rebirth of many artists as he he is many artists' failures. When it works, he is one of the best and when it doesn't, the final result can be infuriating. Unfortunately, 13 demonstrates much more of the latter. The one positive that could be said of the production is bassist Geezer Butler being quite prevalent in the mix. Longtime fans have shouted his genius from the parapets for years, but this album, for all it's flaws will prove a suitable proclamation for the mans' talents.
Iommi does his best under the circumstances, but a large part of the inconsistency with the album is his guitar sound. This is what the man is known for. His sound is the primordial sludge from which all heavy music was spawned and here it lacks the power required to take interest.
Much has been said of Bill Ward's absence from this album and subsequent tour. Some say a contract dispute, some say his age had finally caught up with his playing. Filling in on drums is Rage Against The Machine's Brad Wilk, who does a good job under such scrutinized circumstances. Playing in the pocket is what he does well - hell, some might say he's one of the best. Problem is, venturing out of that comfort zone is the style that Bill Ward created and what suited Sabbath well. So admirable though Wilk's attempt may be, one can't help but wish the band had tried harder to get Ward back, or at least someone familiar with the dynamic, like Vinnie Appice.
A quick qualifier - despite the earlier sermon on the mount, I am not a Sabbath purist. While the music written with Ozzy is what built the band's legacy, I maintained then as I maintain now, that Ronnie James Dio was not only a better vocalist, but his voice was better suited to Iommi's gothic riffage (bring on the hate mail).
With that said, Ozzy is still a good studio vocalist and knows his limitations better here than on his last few solo albums, but offers nothing beyond what we've heard before numerous times in his career.
There's the odd flash of the real Sabbath here. Of the eight tracks making up 13 only "Age Of Reason" comes close to recreating that sound. Some other tracks even seemingly rework older riffs. I defy you to listen to the lead track, "End Of The Beginning" and not think of "Black Sabbath" or hearing the opening of "Loner" and not think of "N.I.B.". As maligned as Ozzy-era albums, Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die were, there was still the odd gem shining through the mud like "Back Street Kids" or Shock Wave". Here, there's not a single memorable track.
Look, you can't fault any band for wanting to get back together after so many years to try and recapture what made them great. It doesn't mean they're trying to cash in. Remember, reunion tours have the potential to make money. Reunion albums generally, do not. None of them needed this album to pay off a mortgage, and in today's musical-economic climate, it wouldn't have happened anyway. It would seem that 13 really was done for creative reasons, but when the creative well has run dry, it's kind of a moot point.