Infamous Albums will be a new series of articles where Alternative Nation writers take a look at albums that are normally panned by the bands fan base, to see if they are as bad as their reputation. To celebrate their final tour this first installment will focus on metal pioneers Black Sabbath’s 1983 album Born Again.
Black Sabbath is a band that needs no intro. Formed in 1968, Sabbath is highly regarded as the “Godfathers of Metal”. Their distinct sound quickly got them fame with albums such as Paranoid and Master of Reality. However, towards the end of the decade the band would release a few flops and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne started losing interest in Sabbath. Finally, in 1979 Ozzy left the band. He would be replaced by former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. The next year they would release Heaven and Hell. This record would give the band a more updated sound helping them compete with big releases from Judas Priest, Saxon and Ozzy’s solo act. After releasing the next album, The Mob Rules, Dio would also leave the band, leaving Sabbath to find yet another vocalist.
They recruited Ian Gillan who, at the time, was out of Deep Purple. When this line up, was announced the hype was pretty big. A rock legend working with the founders of metal? How can this go wrong? Well, to a majority of Sabbath fans it did. Though the album sold well, it was panned by critics and fans alike and is still considered to be among the band’s worst. This is the only album to feature Ian Gillan and the last one to feature classic drummer Bill Ward.
The first thing one notices when checking out this album is the cover which features a red baby with yellow finger nails and teeth. This awkward cover sets the tone for the album… whether it was intended or not.
The first track,”Thrashed”, kicks off real well until Gillan’s scream comes in. Ian Gillan is a great vocalist and his screams were the best parts of Deep Purple tracks like “Child in Time” and ‘Highway Star”, but here it sounds forced and out of place. The lyrics are pretty cool and have an anti-drinking and driving message. The riffs are pretty catchy even if they are a little simple by Sabbath standards. The production on the track is really poor, as the bass cannot be heard at all and Bill Ward’s drumming sounds very processed as if it were done by a drum machine. These same production problems are present throughout most of the album. Flaws aside, “Thrashed” is still an alright track.
Next track, “Stonehenge”, is two minutes of nothing but random sounds. The third track, “Disturbing the Priest”, is an odd one. The melodies, riffs and production on this song are actually pretty well done, but the vocals are some of the worst on the whole album. Like on the first track, they don’t fit and Gillan’s random laughing parts just sound plain ridiculous,, making what could have been a great track only average.
“The Dark” is another track of random noises this one just 45 seconds long. This brings us to the album’s most well known track, “Zero The Hero”. Gillan’s vocals actually work here and the chorus is very catchy. The intro is dark with its creepy opening riff and ominous bells. The main driving riff is very atmospheric and sounds like nothing the band has done before. The lyrics are about being mediocre which is ironic since this is a solid track and the best on the album.
The next track “Digital Bitch” starts side two of the record as well as the album’s downward spiral. The song has an okay typical 80’s metal riff that is ruined by both the production and Gillan’s vocals (there seems to be a trend here). His attempts at Rob Halford-esque screams aren’t very good and the lyrics are pretty corny.
The title track is a power ballad, something Sabbath has never done before this point. Guitarist Tony Iommi, who is known for writing some of the best riffs known to man, just plays the same generic chords through the whole track. The lyrics feel like they were made up on the spot and the track just feels dull.
“Hot Line” is an attempt at a straight up rocker. The songwriting is very run of the mill and every issue this album has can be heard on this one song.
The final track “Keep It Warm” opens up with a good riff and Gillan sounds surprisingly good. For a second the track sounds a bit like Deep Purple. The track goes downhill fast though as Gillan’s vocals get worse and the production and songwriting problems start to show.
All and all Born Again is not a good album nor is it a terrible one. There is one solid track and two okay tracks keeping the album from being completely bad. Many good ideas can be found on this record though are ruined by the poor production, unfitting vocals and in the case of the last three tracks, lazy songwriting.
Ranking: Worth a look for fans.