BLACK SABBATH – Born Again Turns 30!

August 7, 2013, 7 years ago

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In honour of the 30th anniversary of BLACK SABBATH’s Born Again album (released August 7th, 1983), BraveWords has provided excerpts from each of MARTIN POPOFF’s two Black Sabbath books. Love it or hate it (many of us at BraveWords love it!), the album saw the one-off collaboration with DEEP PURPLE's Ian Gillan at the mic, joining mainstays Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass) and Bill Ward (drums). What emerged was one of the band's most ferocious offerings with the likes of 'Trashed', 'Disturbing The Priest', 'Zero The Hero' and 'Digital Bitch' leading the charge. But the album had it's mellower moments with the title track and infectious closer 'Keep It Warm', boasting that Iommi's iron man riffery could match Gillan's raucous harmonies. Born Again was a commercial success upon its 1983 release, reaching #4 in the UK charts as well as the top 40 in the US.

The first excerpt is from Black Sabbath FAQ (Backbeat Books), and is the review of the Born Again album, pulled from a chapter in which the entire catalogue is reviewed:

Yes, the cover’s a disaster and only a mother (or a denier of global warming) could love that production, but there is so much charm to Sabbath’s shacking up with Ian Gillan, and fans have been coming around to that fact for years, showing up at the door of Born Again and finding themselves invited in for a pint. The personality of the album wells up from Gillan’s unique storytelling style, his English as second language/crossword-loving twsit of phrase, and his grounded sense of humour, this idea that you really have got to laugh at all of this in the long run, even at Purple. Hence, 'Trashed' is about smacking up cars at The Manor on toxic fuel (this is before drinking and driving was thought to be such a big deal), the song checking the box on the form since Never Say Die indicating a rollicking rocker must introduce the record. And now to Sabotage, where the first side’s got only three songs plus some piddle in between (two named here, versus one on Sabotage). Personally, never thought Disturbing The Priest was too hot a track. Despite the amusing tale of its lyric, the final, fpr all intents and purposes, is a mean Satanic story, ill-fit for Ian, No Laughing In heaven notwithstanding. 'Zero The Hero' however is a massive sledge, maybe the band’s heaviest song by some measures, its riff a tank rolling over all in its path. Ian puts his best histrionic blues rap over top of it, lending the song a maturity that one could imagine turning to cheese with Tony Martin instead. Bill proves he’s still the master of the slow drip drum part and a massive headbang is achieved that makes the recently elapsed Dio-era sound like Toto by comparison. Side two of the album is Gillan’s, Ian less shoved into a box, a song like “Digital Bitch” being a kick-ass regular rocker one could see on a Purple album, or more aptly, a Gillan album. The title track… strange one, but again, there’s a sense of art and maturity here that was missing on Mob Rules and Heaven And Hell, a certain bravery to write well outside the lines, with 'Born Again' being in the bluesy doom category, but adding to that little six pack or so as well. 'Hot Line' is another beer-foisting 'Digital Bitch', round two if you like, with Ian eventually peeling naked and running around the parking lot with a lit roll of newspaper up his bum (ask him one day). And then closing this entirely, interestedly cohesive side is 'Keep It Warm', another doomy blues, this one more an upright song, more musical, melodic and metallic, but still a slog, the third amusingly slothful song on the album, and you know, just the right balance, unlike Dehumanizer or The Devil You Know. So yeah, add it up, and what you’ve got is a friendly Sabbath album, Ian’s input, like that of Glenn Hughes next time, refreshing the stable, lightening the mood, most definitely keeping the punters talking long into the night about what we want or don’t want as part of Sabbath’s baggage.

Rating - 8/10

The second excerpt comprises the opening paragraphs on the chapter concerning Born Again, found in Popoff’s Black Sabbath: Doom Let Loose – An Illustrated History:

A third era was about to begin in the life of Black Sabbath, but, it’s all a bit of a mess. I mean, it’s sort of the Ian Gillan era, but given that it only lasts for one album, maybe it’s really the comical musical chairs era, with two albums emerging with two vastly different lineups. Everything’s fragmented and shattered at this point, but that doesn’t mean great music didn’t get made.

If any album in the history of Black Sabbath is getting a new set of horns up from metalheads here deep into the ‘00s, it’s Born Again. Perhaps this is because most subgenres of the form right now are so crushingly heavy and dark, just like this mad, opaque record of demonic vibrations.

The story told time and again of the unholy alliance between Sabbath and Ian Gillan is of a chance meeting in the pub between Tony and Ian. Both drank long and hard and got smashed and Ian was reminded the next day that over the course of the evening, he had agreed to join Deep Purple. In actuality a meeting had been set up with this subject in mind, in order for the guys to suss each other out as it were, over a few pints. Gillan had initially turned the Sabbath office’s overtures down, but then his own manager suggested meeting Geezer and Tony. They picked a good pub and apparently set up camp there for 12 hours.

Gillan’s ex-bandmates, most vocally bassist John McCoy, were none to pleased with the duplicity and haste with which Ian closed up shop on the Gillan band. On Gillan’s part, he blamed a three month break precipitated by vocal nodes, indicating that the band impatiently drifted apart and away into other projects while he was sidelined.

“Those stories are a little out of line,” says Ian of the press reports (Gillan calls the British press his biggest enemies). “They’re saying that I faked having vocal problems just so I could break my band up and join Sabbath. That’s not true. I was having serious vocal problems, and doctors told me that I should take a number of months away from singing. I didn’t expect my band to sit around waiting for me, so I gave them permission to look for other gigs. When the Sabbath opportunity came, I didn’t feel any particular concern for the band - most of them were already involved with other groups. I was looking out for myself. How could I turn down the chance to play with Sabbath? I’ve known Tony and Geezer for years, and I felt I could make an important contribution to their music. We all seem to be on the same wavelength. Sabbath is an all-British band again. That’s surely not a put down of America or Ronnie and Vinnie, but there is a certain sensibility that we share, having the same roots, that is irreplaceable. We’ve all been through the same experiences. We’ve tasted success and we know we want to taste it again.”

In any event, once the new alliance was formed, Deep Sabbath set out for The Manor, the legendary Richard Branson studio ensconced in a country setting.

In press at the time, pre-release and conducted at The Manor by Kerrang!, Tony was characteristically upbeat about the band’s prospects. We didn't really rehearse that much, which was good because it keeps the songs fresh. It wasn't worked out at all and it feels a lot better, much more raw. It's got the rawness of the early Sabbath. And we've produced ourselves, because we’re all experienced enough to go in and say what we want. It's working great! We fancied getting back to the basics again, doing it in England and not going for the extreme in studios which we always have done; that costs an absolute fortune. We wanted to record either here or at Rockfield, a place where we could all be around, live in. We've been able to use some stuff that we've had for a few years, really. We could've used it before, but it just wasn't suitable vocals-wise. Now Ian come along, though, and can sing on it, so it's great. There's a hell of a lot more energy now, it's more exciting, and I'm sure that will reflect on stage. Ian has given all of us a tremendous boost; we're like little kids again going, ‘Great, I like this, I like that.' It makes a huge difference when you can work that way as opposed to, 'Oh, I'm fed up with it.'”

Tony also indicated that he thought for a minute about hanging up the Sabbath name for the project, but then changed his mind. He was also chuffed that the band was all-English again and all in close proximity to each other (rehearsals took place in Birmingham). Even though Geezer maintained a residence in St. Louis, he had a home in England as well. “I think it makes a tremendous difference. No disrespect to American people because they're fine musicians, but I don't think it's the right combination for us. American musicians don't seem to have the roots that we do in Britain. Ian, on the other hand, has been around the same as we have. Purple and ourselves were going at it around the same time. We did it the hard way; a lot of bands that come up now - without sounding like an old man - have it easy. But I still believe that to work hard is the main thing, to lay the foundation. It's like building a house - if you start of the top, it won't work. This time we've done everything like in the early days. We've gone back to a cheap rehearsal room, the lot, because when you've got a good lifestyle, you can lose the anger that you had in the first place. We noticed it and said 'Straight back, that's it!'”

“Ronnie didn't leave, we got rid of him actually, but after that we didn't know quite what to do,” continues Tony. “Whether we should go do solo projects or what, because there was only Geezer and myself at that stage. All we really wanted was to have a bit of time off because we were in Los Angeles for so long and got bogged down. We thought of different vocalists, including a friend whose name I won't mention, and then Ian came about, though we had not thought of him for a minute. I don't know how it came together but it was arranged for us to meet in Woodstock. We hadn't seen Ian for a time, but we met in the pub there, The Bear. We just sat down and talked over different things, how we felt about the band and each other; it was really exciting. He joined officially at the end of February. He's totally committed to Sabbath. He loves being part of the band because he hasn't been involved in this sort of set-up since Purple. He's in as a partner, and he's the happiest he's ever been.”
“It's lovely that there are no arguments about what things to do. It's good, it's something that none of us really expected. You know, all of us have been in this business a long time, and we all tend to think in terms of our own egos, but not so with Ian. He's a very nice man. But as far as the writing aspect and direction, it wasn't quite right at first, because he's been at it on his own for 11 albums, as a superb player, with his own Gillan band. So, he was a lot more commercial than us. Doing this album, which was done fairly quickly, we didn't quite know what direction - and Ian didn't know what direction - we were in fully. But, it has worked. Live, he does enjoy doing the older songs. He doesn't particularly like doing the Dio tunes, because with his range, he can sing more like Ozzy than he can like Ronnie.”
“Ronnie was actually quite young and hadn’t experienced too many things,” said Tony, in one particularly amusing jab at Ronnie (Ronnie is of course older than Tony by about ten years). “Vinnie too, was quite new to this. That’s when you get the problems. We found out that Ronnie was doing his own solo album and we felt he was paying more attention to that. Ronnie and Vinnie left in the middle of the live album, so we completed and mixed the album on our own.” Include the first statement, and there are no less that four inaccuracies there.

“Ian was different; very different,” summed up Tony, years later. “When we first got together with Ian, we didn't really know what was going to happen, because Ian was so different, really. Coming from Deep Purple, you think, well, I wonder what he's going to sound like on this stuff? Because at first, when we started writing the songs, we never heard what Ian was going to do. He didn't sing, because he had a problem with his throat. He had to keep quiet for awhile, because he had this node on his throat. So (laughs), the first rehearsals, he didn't sing anything. He was there, but he didn't sing. So we thought, God, I wonder what he's going to sound like? You know, when he does sing. So really, the first times we heard him sing was when we were actually recording the album.”

Tony was typically effusive about Ian in his press duties at the time. “We went through a whole list of candidates for the vocal position, including people like Robert Plant and David Coverdale, before finding out that Ian was available and interested. That made our decision very easy. We all come from the same background and we’ve known even since he was singing with Deep Purple in the early ‘70s. It’s been a perfect match. His voice fits our music and Terry and I feel much more relaxed having a singer with Ian’s range working in the band. He has such an incredibly powerful voice – his shriek is legendary. He makes us play even louder than before. That’s one of the reasons that the new album is so good. It may be the loudest album we’ve ever done. It is a back to basics album for us. It took us only four weeks to record, which is about a quarter of the time we’ve been using on our recent albums. Working that quickly took us back to the same sound and the same musical atmosphere that we had on our first album. In fact, this record is very close in style to that LP.”

“He's all right; he's a bit off the wall,” notes Geezer, on Gillan. “He was fine as a person to get on with and stuff. His lifestyle is a bit strange. He insisted on living in a tent (laughs), when we were doing the album. It's just him; I dunno. Living in a tent, and he had his own boat there so he could go sailing every day. And he definitely likes his booze.”
“He was just being Ian,” laughs Geezer, when asked why Ian was living in a tent. “And we blew his tent up and we sunk his boat. I think that was about enough (laughs). He crashed Bill's car so we got revenge by sinking his boat.”

In fact, the story goes that one night Ian decided not to stay in the tent. Actually, there were apparently two tents, one for Ian and one for his golf clubs – guarding his golf clubs at night has been cited as one of the reasons he stayed in the tent. So this one night, the guys told Ian that a fox was tearing apart his tent. Ian goes out, trips some wires and the tent explodes. As well, the guys had rigged up an exploding soccer ball for Ian, and had also arranged some wires to trip off explosives as he drove up the drive to The Manor.

See for more on the above titles, along with ordering info on related books on DEEP PURPLE, DIO and RAINBOW.

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