September 23rd, 2010
Black Sabbath’s mid-80s albums, Seventh Star and The Eternal Idol, are being re-released with a slew of bonus tracks. (Though apparently not in America.)
This is good news for Sabbath completists and fans of those two albums. For me personally, Seventh Star is not a particularly good album, although I admit that I haven’t listened to it in 22 years or so. The Eternal Idol, however, is an album that I really like. While it falls short of classic status in the Sabbath pantheon, it is quite underrated.
The Ozzy era was great as was the Dio era. Born Again with Ian Gillan was a great album too. But Seventh Star, meant to be a Tony Iommi solo album, just didn’t do anything for me and it was the beginning of a long stretch with Black Sabbath became a revolving door with Tony Iommi being the sole constant. And so I was pleasantly surprised to hear The Eternal Idol. It had the doomy drama of the Sabbath of old yet it had a very contemporary feel. Tony Martin had been brought in on vocals to replace Ray Gillen who had finished his parts for the album. Martin’s voice and singing style harkened back to Dio at times while at others it was pure mid-80s slick cock rock. I remain ambivalent about his voice to this day. There are times when I listen to it and think that it’s perfect. And then there are those times when I just cringe because it sounds like it belongs on a slick pop metal record.
I think The Eternal Idol works because Martin keeps the worst of his cock rock excesses under control and Iommi contributes some great riffs. Any Black Sabbath album rises or falls on the riffs. To be sure, there are a host of other factors involved in making the songs good or bad but the foundation is, with the odd exception, going to be Iommi’s playing. If his riffs aren’t inspired then nothing else can save those songs. And on The Eternal Idol he had his game together.
Unfortunately, this album would also prove to one of the last Sabbath albums of any note. Aside from the Dio reunion and the resulting Dehumanizer, everything after The Eternal Idol was mediocre. (I’m not including Heaven and Hell material here as I’ve not heard it.) 1989’s Headless Cross was good but not as strong as its predecessor. 1990’s Tyr was the absolute low point for me. It boggles the mind how that album ever got made. Both Cross Purposes and Forbidden have a good tune or two on them but are, for the most part, average efforts. When I listen to that material I hear a good song in there waiting for a better arrangement. It’s not like Iommi surrounded himself with a bunch of people with no talent. Geezer Butler returned for an album and Cozy Powell was around as well. I think the band was reacting to the changing times (Ice-T guested on a track) and they just couldn’t do it. It’s almost as if they tried to make a 90s-sounding album instead of making music they had a passion for. But I guess it’s all moot now.
As for the releases at hand, Seventh Star get live material recorded on 2 June 1986 with Gillen on vocals. (Glenn Hughes sang on the album.) The Eternal Idol gets “Some Kind of Woman” and “Black Moon” which were single b-sides at the time. (“Black Moon” was re-recorded for Headless Cross.) And the real kicker is the version of the album with Ray Gillen’s on vocals, which has been widely bootlegged. Aside from the vocalist, it’s pretty much the same as the version with which we’re familiar. The only difference I see is that it lacks “Scarlet Pimpernel”, a solo acoustic piece by Iommi.
For a good overview of this time in the band’s history – as well as the rest of it – go here. You’ll see just what a revolving door the band’s line-up was. Until I read it, I had no idea that somebody named Ron Keel was a member for a about a month.
Lastly, I want to mention “The Shining”. It is probably the signature song of Tony Martin era Black Sabbath. It appears in most setlists of shows with him and I believe that he’s has done it solo as well. Iommi came up with the riff in the period just after Ian Gillan had left the band. It went through many incarnations before the one heard on The Eternal Idol. The rerelease offers two but a third is floating around and features Dave Donato on vocals which dates back to the second half of 1984. As far as I know, it’s Bill Ward on drums and Geezer on bass. The music is the same but the lyrics are very different.
For a more in-depth look at Donato’s time in the band, go here.