Normally I would never make an entire post revolving around a single song. But “God is Dead?” isn’t just any song, it’s our first taste of 13, the first Black Sabbath full length to feature original members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler together in thirty-five years. Given that there would be no heavy metal (or at least no heavy metal as we know it today) without these guys, it’s uh, kind of a big deal.
13 was already somewhat controversial before even a single note was heard, due to original Sab drummer Bill Ward getting ousted over contractual disputes and being replaced by Rage Against the Machine skinsman Brad Wilk (Vinnie Appice, Mike Bordin or Dave Grohl were my personal guesses as to who might step in) and as expected, the reactions to the track have run the full gamut; I’ve seen people saying they love it, it fucking rocks, it fucking sucks, it’s boring, it’s average, it’s better than expected, you name it. There can be no objectivity when it comes to a sacred cow like Black Sabbath; everyone hears whatever they want to hear, depending on an innumerable number of factors (who you think the best Sabbath singer is, what you think of Rick Rubin’s production skills, how much Bill Ward’s presence matters to you, whether or not you think Sharon should be dragged through the streets and beaten, whether you’re a cat person or a dog person, who your favorite president is, less filling or tastes great, Coke or Pepsi, Godzilla or Mothra, etc, etc, etc).
I think the song is pretty decent; decent enough to make me want to hear the rest of the album, while at the same time hoping there are better songs to be found on it. Iommi’s in fine form, though I feel a song this long could certainly benefit from a guitar solo. The riffs are good, recalling Sabbath’s early work and possessing at least some of that gloomy, doomy feeling. Geezer’s bass playing, as expected, still kicks tons of ass, especially during the track’s last few minutes, and just the fact that you can actually hear what he’s doing gives me hope that the production will sound a bit better to my ears when I get to hear the album on CD or at the very least a decent bit rate. To these ears it lacks grit, and I’m not totally crazy about how Ozzy’s vocals sit in the mix at certain points. Mr. Osbourne sounds a bit stiff in places, which makes me wonder how processed his voice is on this thing, although he seems to get some of the old fire back towards the song’s conclusion. As for Brad Wilk’s drumming, his performance is pretty standard; I’m guessing he was under strict orders to keep time and stay out of the way.
I like the way the song builds, but I’m not sure it needs all nine minutes to get the job done. It’s at its best when it picks up steam around the six minute mark, and I’m glad to see Iommi is still doing the whole “Oh, you thought that riff was awesome, well how about THIS riff?!” thing that he does so well. I have to be honest, I thought the riffage on the Heaven & Hell album that came out back in ’09 was lacking, and the songwriting certainly didn’t live up to the awesomeness of the three new/bonus tracks that appeared on the The Dio Years compilation, let alone anything on Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules or even Dehumanizer. “God is Dead?” might not be the best thing he’s written, but at least Iommi sounds like he’s fully in Black Sabbath mode and committed to at least trying to capture the spirit of the classic material, even if this particular song doesn’t quite measure up. Then again, what the hell could?
As it stands now, my curiosity is officially piqued; I’m hoping the blokes from Birmingham will let at least one more track trickle out before the official release date rolls around on June 11th. Until then, let the speculation and wildly varying opinions flow.