This week marks the 34th anniversary of the release of Black Sabbath’s 1983 album, Born Again. It’s one of the most divisive albums in the group’s catalog, although that’s not saying much, since every album they made without original singer Ozzy Osbourne has generated some degree of controversy.
Osbourne was fired in 1978 and replaced by the mighty Ronnie James Dio. This incarnation of the band made Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules, eternal classics that no home should be without. But after just three years together, Dio went solo, and the band’s management drafted former Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan. Born Again was the only thing this iteration of the band ever made.
When I was made aware of its existence, I plotzed. Black Sabbath was my favorite band and Ian Gillan was one of my favorite singers, and a pairing of the two could only produce results equivalent to one’s chocolate getting in someone else’s peanut butter. But when I got home and played the thing, I wanted to die. It just sounded wrong, and not in an intentional way. Maybe someone had spilled coffee on the master tape.
I revisited the album many times after that, hoping against hope that this time would be the time when it all clicked for me, but it never was. Then, when I was a fully grown-ass man of 32, it just suddenly worked.
I can’t say what happened or how it happened. I just started involuntarily gritting my teeth, nodding my head in time with the music and throwing the horns. It’s been one of my desert island discs ever since.
There are no bad songs on this album. Okay, there are two tracks that are just a minute each of ominous keyboard noises, but the remaining seven tracks are fucking beasts. This applies especially to “Disturbing the Priest,” “Zero the Hero” and “Keep It Warm,” all of which are taken at slow-to-midtempo clips, the better to feel every ounce of their metric tonnage. Guitarist Tony Iommi pulls riff after brilliant riff out of his ass, proving yet again that he has no equal when it comes to this stuff.
Be advised that no one has ever been able to clean up the sound on this album, so today it still sounds like shit, if newly-remastered shit. Having said that, there are Sabbath fans who swear by this album and consider it the heaviest thing they ever recorded, so my hope is that it takes you less time than the decades it took me for Born Again to flip your switch.