While Black Sabbath helped pioneer heavy metal over 40 years ago by melding distortion with lyrical themes exploring war, religion, and the occult, just to name a few, the band's legacy was tarnished by a revolving-door lineup that resulted in several albums devoid of Sabbath's signature bite. 13 is the band's first studio album since 1978 to feature three founding members (frontman Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, and bassist Geezer Butler, with drummer Bill Ward declining due to a contractual dispute), attempting to recapture some of the audacious spirit of their heyday.
The opening tracks—“End of the Beginning” and “God Is Dead?”—exhibit classic Sabbath traits: slow-building arpeggios; heavy, sustained chords; and simple, morbid rhymes (“The blood runs free, the rain turns red/Give me the wine, you keep the bread”) in perfect sync with the bleak subject matter. At over eight minutes apiece, however, the songs tend to feel a bit bloated. And while tracks like “Loner” and “Zeitgeist” are leaner, they try too hard to emulate Sabbath's early sound, the former mimicking the toe-tapping rhythm of fan favorite “N.I.B.,” and the latter rehashing the plucked guitar and distorted vocals of slow-burner “Planet Caravan.”
Producer Rick Rubin keeps Osbourne's delivery taut throughout 13, digitally masking the toll that substance abuse and age have taken on his voice, though the singer's cringeworthy cackles and tired phrases of “Oh, yeah” and “All right now” remain unimpeded. Thankfully, the album is held together by Iommi's enduring consistency, rich deep guitar tone, and knack for churning out timeless metal riffs: The bluesy Southern groove of “Damaged Soul” instantly resonates, while the chugging wail of “Dear Father” reaffirms his monopoly on all things doomy. 13 is ultimately a solid, back-to-basics return that proves Black Sabbath is still the exemplary blueprint for heavy metal.