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Black Sabbath

Born Again - Deluxe Expanded Edition

Review by Larry Toering

Born Again gets the deluxe treatment, and a proper effort was made to improve it as a product. They added a bonus disc of the long awaited variety of live performances from the successful world tour they recall with much fondness. Many fans on both ends didn’t exactly approve before and after the fact when it happened, but still a considerable amount saw it completely the other way around. I do fall into the latter, but also understand most of the reasons for disliking it. However, it might not be one of the best Sabbath albums ever, but Ian Gillan on the other hand pulled off one of his finest hours on record as well. It speaks for itself now, as it did then, bias or not, so it worked either way in the greater scheme of things. The remastering is bright enough to notice this time, and the most faithful attempt since the 1996 remaster. Within can be found some of the most brutal tracks Gillan would ever sing, and an equally fine performance from the band, which featured a returned Bill Ward, respectively replaced by Bev Bevan of ELO on the tour.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Trashed

This is classic Sabbath meets Gillan latter day solo at the time. It’s a perfect 50/50 slab of metal from both blended approaches, which proved it was a workable combo. Rather than conform, Gillan brought out a spark in Iommi that was more adaptive on Sabbath’s part than his, on this blinder of an opener which instantly established a welcomed menacing prowess to fans of both camps. Gillan came from a similar and just as prolific background. The story is legend concerning the lyrics, as Gillan took Butler’s rental car for a spin after a not so dry afternoon concerning the drink, and wound up rolling it, coming inches from tragedy. It’s all accounted for with a raunchy maniacal slant. Out of nowhere Iommi is pulling leads at speeds he hadn’t since Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and that did not go unnoticed. It was a freshness unlike the type that Dio inspired, most likely because he simply had more in common with the guys, and brought back that familiar but perhaps missed British feel. What a killer balance they achieved in just one track, let alone the rest on offer. It kind of sums things up and you are either rooting for the line-up or you’re not and there is no use looking for a dimmer switch. One is either turned on or turned off, and that is still felt today. Sheer bombast is established, and here it sounds crisper than ever, for whatever that is worth to the consumer.

Stonehenge

Think "Spinal Tap" and you’re in the right mindset, as this very short instrumental of doom serves like an intro for the following track. It contains some blacksmith clanging noises and leads into a pulsating heartbeat. It was nice at the time because it reminded the fans of older days when tracks like “Fluff” enhanced Black Sabbath’s albums.

Disturbing the Priest

This starts off after the heartbeat with Gillan wasting no time with the creepiness factor, as he belts out a deranged laughing high pitched scream, something like that of a monster. Although this was to be an expected approach for him, it was still rather surprising to hear him utilizing the shrieks with such abandon, rather than being concerned with how it came off to listeners when it had never been applied to the Sabbath sound before, as neither Ozzy nor Dio were soprano screamers. Then it was also hard for Gillan fans not to also notice how he used lyrics and phrases from some of his lesser known work. This track contained a fair enough amount of that for his fans to notice, and I don’t recall any disappointments there, as they are luckily an understanding breed that way. The sheer madness here is off the charts, and the vocal antics are both scary and a thing of odd but magnificent beauty, as he sings about the church complaints concerning a night where they were lighting off fireworks and having fun. It features a dark vibe that won’t quit, and some Bible belting lyrics with some top vocal passages Gillan hadn’t attempted this mode in many years, not having the opportunity to get away with showcasing his trademark style because he wasn’t being heard in as global of capacity.

The Dark
The second instrumental’s title pretty much speaks for itself. This runs very short as well but it’s different enough from “Stonehenge.” So it doesn’t annoy like some intros to songs these days, with their insipid sameness, as this too really serves up as an intro.
Zero The Hero
There is definitely a take it or leave it result on this one, as some critics and fans alike either loved it or hated it. In fact, it can tend to decide for them whether or not they like the album. I remember being concerned about the pedestrian songwriting, feeling weakness from both sides. However, those who do favor it, find it to be of the sort of balance of the opening number. Nevertheless, it does have a charm, if a menacing one. I like the whole gory vibe and some of the lyrics, but this has to be for me the only number I don’t hold in high regard, so I lean more toward the leave it side. This is where they got by on the craft, but without completely losing the spirit, as Gillan sort of chants away about who was either a fictional or actual person they knew. It does benefit from being remastered, but it likely doesn’t change the overall consensus. Iommi shines here with some fine guitar work and digital effects, which actually creates the song’s selling factor.
Digital Bitch
This is much more like it, as Iommi slices through concrete with a fabulous riff of the power chord variety. Gillan is also in particularly sassy form, as sings with all his might about a tech tycoon’s daughter. The humor alone here is priceless, if a bit tongue in cheek. It added an element not often exercised in Black Sabbath, so it was welcome and respected. Iommi also pulls some blistering leads, even if they weren’t a huge stretch. He relied more on the glorious power chords to hold it together, and the rhythm section of Butler and Ward can’t be denied in this Gillan style romp. This is killer and it puts things back on track after the previous cut!
Born Again
Another attempt almost in the vein of "Zero The Hero," this is a sheer diamond in the rough.Screams of delight are heard here, similar to "Disturbing The Priest," but with less technique attached. Butler’s bass accompanies the riff with his classic fuzzy tone applied. It’s a brooding ballad, topped off with a fantastic guitar solo, as Iommi takes it out with a strong and heartfelt spot of mastery.
Hot Line
This is in the same vein as “Digital Bitch,” but perhaps more accessible. Once again, Gillan can do no wrong though, with yet more high pitched screams to the crashing end. It was also one of the live numbers that didn’t go down some nights, but did very well on other nights.
Keep It Warm
They once again follow Gillan’s path away from the norm here, and it’s a letter to the missus explaining his position and how he’ll be back the same man he always was, just more traveled. The whole thing is nailed home by Iommi’s searing heartfelt lead, which is something of magical perfection. This is such an appropriate closer. This went down as a favorite of the Gillan fans, even though it’s not of the same sonic variety as the rest of these great tracks. It added a joyous attitude without being too wimp laden for such a powerful album.
Disc 2
Hot Line
On the night of this live recording, this track wasn’t performed as well as could be evidenced. Everyone is in fine form, so no worries there. It’s just there are many better examples of what they could do with it. Not having the sound kinks quite worked out yet, it mostly suffers from that more than anything else in particular.
War Pigs
Gillan pulls off one of the best performances of his career thus far here, as he turns the classic into his own. If you think Dio or even Ozzy sang anywhere near this good, or put forth anywhere near as good of a vocal effort into this song, I advise you to hear this and think again, as I can’t fathom any comparisons. This is simply one of the greatest things I have ever heard, and I go back to the very month it occurred and aired. It still blows the doors off most bands in their wildest dreams, and I don’t rate anything much higher. It chills the spine every time I hear Gillan do what he did with it. If you never liked “War Pigs,” you will now, it’s that different from the original vocal arrangement, as he did more with it than anyone imagined he would. I find this to be the definitive version myself, and I’m confident anyone interested at this point in hearing it for the first time will opine the same.
Black Sabbath
This is an equally applied vocal effort to yet another one of Black Sabbath’s classics. Gillan pulled it off in style, and it’s just as good as his effort on the previous track, but there are honestly a lot of good versions by the other singers, before and after this tour. Talk about chills, he made it sound right again. To describe what he does with these two tracks would be his daring re-arrangements filling all the space proper with screams of sheer power and absolute madness, which successfully contrasted things with a grand result.
The Dark
Once again this is basically an intro to set up the following number.
Zero The Hero
Often referred to as the token dud on the album, not all was lost concerning it on stage, as it did come off a lot better in a live setting. It definitely ups the appreciation factor.
Digital Bitch
This is a passing version as most were. It came so easy it was hard to flub anyway.
Iron Man
There was a good charm to the way Gillan approached this classic, but oddly enough they took the pace down a step. He still managed to make it sound right somehow, which is a testament to his professionalism.
Smoke On The Water
To some this would prove a nice surprise, to others no surprise at all, and apparently to Ozzy it was just plain blasphemy, although he commented that the album was amazing. They pretty much stuck to the script and didn’t dare stray much to speak of. All in all they did it justice, which is really all that matters, especially when most attempts at it can come off very alien because it happened to a certain five men, so it’s their story to tell. It’s anthem quality contains a spirit that it seems will never die. 
Paranoid
This carried about the same weight as “Iron Man,” only not quite as good and went down in more sing along fashion which is evident by the crowd participation, which was described as scarier than the performance.
 
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