A Devil's Dozen

Black Sabbath - The Tony Martin Albums

6 days ago   By: Last Rites

 

There’s a common misconception among most fans of metal. The idea is that Black Sabbath ceased to make top quality metal either after the (second) departure of Ozzy Osbourne in 1979 or on albums without Dio. This belief is not only a misconception, but unfair and borderline demeaning to the other members of Black Sabbath, in particular Tony Iommi and to a lesser degree Geezer Butler. When it comes to frontmen, Sabbath has gone through no small number: Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan, Ron Keel, Jeff Fenholt, Dave Donato, Glenn Hughes and the one and only Tony Martin, aka “The Cat” (not to be confused with hockey legend Emile "The Cat" Francis). For this Devil’s Dozen we decided to focus on one of “the big three” vocalists for Sabbath (calling them "the big three" was decided literally just now). The one that get’s the least amount of attention in proportion to how much he deserves: Tony Martin.

When ranking all-time Sabbath albums, it’s not crazy to have multiple albums fronted by Tony Martin in the top 10. Consider that another two of those albums would includ Ronnie James Dio -- 1980's Heaven and Hell and 1981's Mob Rules -- and you’re looking at roughy half of Sabbath’s best work fronted by people other than Ozzy. Similarly, the bottom of the list frequently features at least two albums fronted by Ozzy: Technical Ecstasy (1976) and Never Say Die! (1978). [Editor's note: and 13 hasn't aged well in its few years of existence either.]

Below are 13 selections from four out of the five albums that Martin fronted: The Eternal Idol (1987), Headless Cross (1989), Tyr (1990) and Cross Purposes (1994). Missing from the list is Martin’s final album with Sabbath, the almost universally derided Forbidden (1995). The Martin era brought great traditional/doom metal output at a time in metal when other genres were beginning to march to the forefront. Nevertheless, Martin-fronted Sabbath produced no small volume of great material, and at least one bonafide classic in Headless Cross. Martin’s voice is distinct, his range broad and his delivery enticing, sometimes coming across as a bluesier, smokier Dio. His personality, usually highlighted by sunglasses and a very technical hairstyle, bleeds through the speakers infecting listeners and fans alike with his passion for his craft.

It should be noted that Tony Iommi wanted to retire the Black Sabbath name at multiple times during the 80s, but record label pressure is a mighty influential force. That said, Black Sabbath fans automatically discrediting anything that Tony Goddamn Iommi did, regardless of band name, is a mystery. Add in a vocalist as great as Tony Martin, and the ongoing disrespect / obscurity of these albums is silly. The name Black Sabbath was on excellent albums long after the departure of their bat-eating frontman. Tony Martin deserves his due in the pantheon of great metal frontmen, and goshdarnit, we aim to give it to him.

...As does Tony Iommi, evidently, who last year said he'd like to record new Sabbath songs with Martin to include on album reissues. Listen below to find out why this isn't such a crazy idea.

[MANNY - O - WAR]

hARD LIFE TO LOVE

[The Eternal Idol, 1987]

Much of the Martin-Sabbath era is rightfully compared to the Dio era. After all, Martin shares a ton with Ronnie in the vocal department, and Iommi and company obviously took advantage of that when writing songs. But occasionally they went extra thick on the blues and swagger, and nowhere more than on “Hard Life to Love.” Beginning with a real swinging-balls of a riff that is only swung harder by Eric Singer’s “I wish I was Tommy Lee” drumming, the track is as close as Sabbath ever got to being Whitesnake. And that’s a good thing, or at least it is here. This vibe is accentuated by an extra smoky delivery from Martin that finds him squarely between Dio and Coverdale, and by an Iommi solo that eschews much of The Godfather’s typical expressiveness in favor of ten-ton rocking. More than a hot-burning rocker, this one reveals the range of the era by aping bands with less range than Sabbath. Cool trick.

[ZACH DUVALL]

 • • • • •

Jerusalem

[Tyr, 1990]

Back about three years ago, I had an opportunity to DJ at a bar in Oakland, CA on a relatively quiet Wednesday night. The roughly 20-30 steady drinkers got metal's full gamut, but only two songs over the course of 2.5 hours inspired anyone to actually approach to ask what was getting played: Savatage’s “Scream Murder” and Sabbath’s “Jerusalem,” the latter of which was tromped out because of its (perhaps surprising) power to get deadbeats' toes tapping and inspirited enough to tip the living hell out of their bartender. The teetering gent who asked about "Jerusalem" nearly had a stroke upon discovering there was even an album called Tyr from one of his “favorite bands,” which was quickly followed by one of those stock “I’m mostly into their really early stuff” confessions. He really seemed to love “Jerusalem,” though, thanks to its jubilance bordering on a power metal song’s energy, and likely because those “ah-ah-ahhh, ah-ah-ahhhhhs” belted out by Tony Martin are very contagious. That same teeterer was eventually tossed on his ear at the end of the night due to an inability to hold his liquor, which reveals the true moral to this story: Never, ever trust people who only trust the first six Black Sabbath albums.

[MICHAEL WUENSCH]

 • • • • •

I WITNESS

[Cross Purposes, 1994]

Paired with the moodier "Cross Of Thorns" as the opening salvo of Cross Purposes, "I Witness" is the more straight-ahead of the two, the hard-rocking statement of Sabbath-ian intent, balancing the driving riffwork that characterized the Dio-era against a straight-out killer Iommi-swagger-laden chorus that could've come from any Sabbath of any era. Building on an insistent ascending intro, "I Witness" isn't subtle or sophisticated -- it's guitar-based hard rock, done by a band that knew few peers, even two decades (and four singers) in. Martin's throaty wail is in fine form, and Iommi gave him a sturdy base to soar atop, and therein lies the magic of their pairing.

[ANDREW EDMUNDS]

 • • • • •

black moon

[Headless Cross, 1989]

A never-ending debt of gratitude is owed to Headless Cross because of the way the record detoured Sabbath's harder-rock shift in favor of reestablishing a firm grip on good old dark ’n’ sinful heavy metal. Flaunting occult themes in such an open manner was fresh territory for the band, but it matched the album’s strong emphasis on a decidedly eerie, “cemetery fog” mood infused with abundant gradual passages. Nestled amidst all those deliciously sinful slow-rollers, however, is the thumping “Black Moon” – a classic Sabbath bouncer that commands the listener to take up arms the very moment Cozy Powell hammers that snare eight seconds in. From that point forward, Tony Martin takes full control with his undeniable capacity to sell a chorus infectious enough to inspire even the most baked Sabbath buff off the pavilion lawn and into the congregation to share howls of “heaven’s no friend of mine!” Oh, the Devil, indeed.

[MICHAEL WUENSCH]

 • • • • •

VALHALLA

[Tyr, 1990]

It is only in the Kingdom of Odin, aka the Kingdom of Gods, where “souls of the brave may rest in peace.” And, if Sabbath, with Tony Martin on wireless head mic, are resting anywhere, it’s there in the Kingdom of the Gods. Neil Murray’s aggressive, mid-heavy bass lines, bouncing around like Jaco Pastorius in need of a fix, sizzle beneath Tony’s self-harmonized vocal layers. Complimenting those, legendary shredder Iommi’s exceptional soloing skills shine on “Valhalla” like a warrior in battle. More straight-forward than emotional, “Valhalla” celebrates the Mob Rules era songwriting style paired with Martin’s unique, studio-technic delivery laced with melody and emotion as well as a good deal of reverb and cleanliness across the bridge. We can only hope that “history repeats itself upon the year of the seventh century.” It is there, in that ethereal headspace, that I wait for the reincarnation of this near perfect quartet.

[MANNY-O-WAR]

 • • • • •

Cross of Thorns

[Cross Purposes, 1994]

Cross Purposes isn’t exactly Black Sabbath’s strongest record, although it’s certainly not their worst. But it opens at full strength with the tandem of “I Witness” and “Crown Of Thorns.” That latter track is another of the epic, Dio-esque ballads that Sabbath had perfected by this point, alternating between a moody minor-key verse, with Nichols’ symphonic keys and Iommi’s arpeggiated chords, and a soaring chorus that can’t really be described as anything but melodic epic doom metal greatness. The formula wasn’t new, but the execution is flawless, and “Crown Of Thorns” is as good as Martin-fronted Black Sabbath could get.

[ANDREW EDMUNDS]

 • • • • •

The Shining

[The Eternal Idol, 1987]

I realize it’s counter to popular opinion, but Tony Martin’s first record with Sabbath, 1987’s The Eternal Idol, is the best of the bunch.  Certainly other albums contend for the crown, and The Headless Cross is a very close second, but Idol has a sort of x-factor magic that’s made it a long-time favorite of mine.  And it all starts with opening track “The Shining” gloriously shaking off the cobwebs of the lackluster Seventh Star with a bright, ridiculously crunchy Iommi riff.  It was an interesting choice to lead with this track, since its verses are bereft of Iommi’s handiwork, undoubtedly the bread and butter of Sabbath, especially at this point, and the fact that the song is monstrous enough to make this list is a testament to Martin’s tremendous pipes and intensity.  Geoff Nicholls’ (who passed away very recently) keys play a critical role on the album and they’re foundational yet unobtrusive on this undeniable gem. By the time that central riff rejoins at the chorus underneath Martin’s sky scraping chorus, “The Shining” has sunk its hooks and set a high bar for the rest of the album.  

[MATTHEW COOPER]

 • • • • •

WHEN DEATH CALLS

[Headless Cross, 1989]

The cornily Satanic, almost obviously doomy lyrics to “When Death Calls” could easily be used as an excuse to dismiss the song, but I choose to see this as a challenge. So go ahead, take these clichéd lyrics, pretend that they’re worse than most stuff from the Ronnie era (they aren’t), and just try to ignore Martin’s deft performance during the verse and the wonderfully 80s layering of vocals during the chorus (Martin relishes the somewhat freeform opportunity). Maybe you can resist it, but when all is tossed together, it’s a wonderful bit of soulful, dynamic, and likely unintentionally tongue-in-cheek heavy metal. And just in case you’re still resisting after these elements, the tune finishes up a killer section of increased tempo and (Brian May!) soloing just to absolutely explode back into the chorus. Surrender yourself to images of Satan wearing a blazer and rolling up his sleeves.

[ZACH DUVALL]

 • • • • •

ETERNAL IDOL

[The Eternal Idol, 1987]

Homerun title tracks usually come in two flavors: catchy, riff driven earworms, and hulking slow burners. The former usually start or end live shows, while the latter more often sit in the center of the setllist as elephantine, exhausting soul shakers.  “Eternal Idol” is a proud card-carrying member of the second type.  It’s never the song I’m thinking about when I pull out The Eternal Idol, but by the time its closing measures fade, it’s often what drives me to push play to go back to the top of the ride once more. The simmering  of Iommi’s plaintive guitar dancing over the swirling keyboard atmosphere are as spacy and doom-laden as Martin-era Sabbath achieved. But Tony’s dynamic range is a serious difference maker here, and the vocal phrasing and melodies lend hook and an anthemic crescendo, with some help from downright thunderous drumming from Eric Singer. 

[MATTHEW COOPER]

 • • • • •

DEVIL AND dAUGHTER

[Headless Cross, 1989]

Somewhere out on the Colorado Plateau, there’s a biker dive standing on its lonesome that never made the leap out of the late 80s. Veterans of Ye Olde Biker Wars sit at the bar in the heat of the afternoon snortin’ whiskey and drinkin’ cocaine, and they don’t like it when you split the grotto’s darkness by walking through the front door with gripes about your GTI overheating about a mile back. You’re flat-out-fucked, normie, right up until that precise moment you hear the familiar doomy strut of “Devil and Daughter” kicking up dust atop that fossilized juke in the corner. All at once, you have an instant kinship that’s lifted to the rafters as you and your sudden colleagues pump fists to the song’s wicked swagger and all attempt to hit Tony Martin’s piercing command for “RIDING AGAAAAAIINNN!!” Sometimes knowing how to air guitar an eruptive, minute-long Iommi lead note-for-note ain’t just a blast, it can save your damn life.

[MICHAEL WUENSCH]

 • • • • •

ANNO mUNDI

[Tyr, 1990]

Thick riffs, driving beats, reverb-laden snare drums, bass lines that make your legs shake and, oh yeah, the reason we are here, the golden pipes of Tony Martin. “Anno Mundi” opens what would prove to be the final great Tony Martin-fronted Sabbath record and, whether he knew it or not, Tony kicks off with a vocal performance for the ages. Emblematic of his entire career, his undulating vocals encourage participation, lip-biting faces and plenty of that grit that curdles up from the bowels, into the diaphragm, pours into the lungs and rips forth from the throat through gritted teeth. “Anno Mundi” is a treatise in groove, harmony, vibrato, dichotomy of delivery and effortless blues bends that Martin seemingly carelessly tosses into his voice as if he were a turn-of-the-century six string wielded by one of the blues greats. If “Anno Mundi” represents the beginning of the ending journey, you’d be hard pressed to choose more beautiful ways to begin the slow descent into the tomb.

[MANNY-O-WAR]

 • • • • •

THE HEADLESS CROSS

[Headless Cross, 1989]

When you got a good thing, you don’t want to change it, and when you’ve written countless great riffs, it’s inevitable you’ll repeat one, so it’s probably not too much of a surprise that Black Sabbath managed to plagiarize themselves with this one. Taking a bouncy bass-line and a riff eerily similar to “Heaven & Hell,” the title track from 1989’s Headless Cross is no less great than that all-time classic, though it largely goes unheralded. It’s pure epic metallic perfection – Iommi’s riffing is killer; Martin’s performance is majestic; Geoff Nichols’ keys underpin the whole thing with just enough pomp.

[ANDREW EDMUNDS]

 • • • • •

tHE SABBATH STONES

[Tyr, 1990]

The Tony Martin-era of Black Sabbath gets ignored for any number of reasons, not the least of which is a public perception that there is a shortage of truly great material. But this is horribly, unmistakably false, and no track elevated the period quite like the centerpiece of Tyr, the confidently-named “The Sabbath Stones.” A multi-part, dynamic beast that calls to mind some of the best classics of both the Ozzy and Dio eras, the song thrives on two things: bombast and hooks. Opening with huge hits that stand in strong contrast to Martin’s initially restrained vocals, they find their match when he lets loose a raise-that-fist-to-the-audience moment that rivals the best of Ronnie Dio. When a snare hit indicates the beginning of the hugest chorus, the full power of the Martin era is revealed. The hook of the vocal, then the hold of the vocal. After a chorus like this, the increased speed and soloing towards the end is just icing on the cake. Don’t call it “Black Sabbath” if you don’t want to, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice by ignoring it. Masterful.

[ZACH DUVALL]

 

 • • • • •

[Rest in peace, Geoff Nicholls]



 


TAGGED Doom,Traditional