Black Sabbath is that one band almost every heavy metal historian points back to as the originators of the heavy, scary and loud-as-stink sound we embrace as “metal.” It should come as no surprise, then, that the release of this collection of eight all-new songs would get the worldwide attention of headbangers everywhere. Even the fact that a spiritual magazine like HM would be alert enough to voice its own assessment is not too shocking.
The logic behind covering 13 is historical, in part – given that chief songwriter Geezer Butler considers himself a believer in God (see “After Forever” from the 1971 Masters of Reality album for evidence) – and borne from recent events (like the ironic moment at the end of the documentary God Bless Ozzy Osbourne where the so-called “Prince of Darkness” gets on his knees to seemingly show Ozzy blessing God; or the fact that guitarist Tony Iommi is battling a type of cancer and may be facing his own mortality, which would be a good reason to get a lot more introspective and spiritual than usual).
The tune “God is Dead?” is reason alone for a Christian to check out this album and look deep within. The lyrics are a fascinating revelation of an internal struggle with a question many wrestle with at some point: Is God real? Or is He dead? It starts off by referencing the “faith of my father, my brother, my Maker and Savior,” asking for help. Another valid and age-old question is raised in a subsequent verse: “Who do you trust when corruption and lust / Creed of all the unjust / Leaves you empty and unwhole?” It’s acknowledging the uncomfortable realization that there must be more to this life than eat, drink and be merry.
There is an unusual reference to the aftermath of death, it seems: “With God and Satan at my side / From darkness will come light.” Puzzling. The writer then shares his own discomfort and confusion in the chorus, revealing, “These riddles that live in my head / I don’t believe that God is dead.” Like “After Forever,” the reader is pushed back with another confrontational question: “Do you believe a word what the Good Book said / Or is it just a Holy fairytale and God is dead?” Excellent questions indeed. “Live Forever” and “Damaged Soul” (which confesses, “I’m losing the battle between Satan and God”) cover similar territory.
All eight tunes on 13 are rock solid with that heavy, signature Sabbath sound. If you ever listened to the band’s middle catalog (IV, Technical Ecstasy and Sabotage), sonically, this fits right in the middle. In other words: It’s great. It’s awesome, and it’s very tasty. However, I doubt any of these tunes will show up on a future retrospective greatest hits collection, if you know what I mean. It’s satisfying; it’s good, but it is still just shy of “classic” material. The leadoff track and single, “End of the Beginning,” might be the hit. It sounded great in their cameo appearance performing the track on “CSI” in May, but the overall hypnotic power of their mighty sound is just shy of true greatness when it’s lacking the riff that won’t go away.