The Eternal Idol

Black Sabbath

Warner Brothers, 1987

http://www.blacksabbath.com

REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/31/2007

The Eternal Idol is one of the most overlooked albums in Black Sabbath’s vast catalog. It was released during what was possibly the most tumultuous period of the band’s career: American vocalist Ray Gillen had stepped up to the mic just a few dates into a 1986 tour (replacing Glenn Hughes) and recorded vocals for a new studio album shortly thereafter.

Gillen departed from the band before the album’s release, however, to form Badlands – which, ironically enough, featured Jake E. Lee of Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band on guitar. Conversely, joining Tony Iommi on bass was Bob Daisley, formerly of Ozzy’s band. Undeterred by the revolving door of personnel, Iommi recruited fellow Brit Tony Martin to take over vocal duties with the band. Martin re-recorded the vocals for the album, made a few minor lyrical changes along the way, and the disc we have as a result of this kerfuffle is The Eternal Idol.

With the chaotic lineup changes detailed above, the critical and commercial failure of Black Sabbath’s past two albums and additional shuffles in personnel for the short-lived 1987 tour, it’s no wonder that fans had grown disillusioned with the band by this point. Which is a shame, as my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Eternal Idol is one of the better latter day Sabbath albums.

The strength here is rooted in its back-to-the-basics approach. No more hokey Dungeons & Dragons lyrics a la Dio. No more flirtations with self-parody such as those found on Born Again. And no more personal, alien songwriting such as that found on Seventh Star. Heavy riffs, dark lyrics and Iommi’s trademark solos are all over this album. It’s a marked improvement over Iommi’s previous two efforts, and a more consistent work than some of the albums that Black Sabbath released afterwards.

Things kick off with “The Shining,” featuring a memorable riff and some soaring vocals from Tony Martin. This is certainly one of the most old-school numbers to be found herel. It has the heaviness and catchy melody of the early Sabbath albums, while the vocal delivery and production bring it up to date with the trends of the 80s.

"Ancient Warrior" is next, and this one is a bit out of left field for Iommi. There's a strange sort of Eastern motif to the guitar parts and the vocals are quite eerie. Iommi flirts with some new territory in the solo, and longtime bandmate Geoff Nichols really adds to the song with some atmospheric (albeit slightly dated) keyboard parts. “Hard Life To Love” is a bit of a step back, but things kick back into gear with a pair of solid numbers, “Glory Ride” and “Born To Lose.” Both songs are powered by grinding, sinister riffs, and the chorus to “Glory Ride” will give you chills. Martin does an admirable job here, considering that the songs had been written and recorded with another singer beforehand.

Things falter a bit as the album winds down, with a pair of rather pedestrian rock tunes littered with cheesy, hackneyed lyrics. It’s hard not to laugh as Martin yells, "I'm burning / with fire / It's time to leave or get out / I'm burning / with fire / the wheels of steel will grind you," on “Lost Forever.”

To the contrary, “Scarlet Pimpernel” is a pleasant acoustic interlude, in the tradition of “Embryo” from Master Of Reality. The title track, in contrast, is a slow-paced, haunting number. Martin proves that he can mimic the dark, theatrical vocal prowess of Dio and successfully blend it with the doomy riffing that defined the band in its early years.

The Eternal Idol should have been a comeback album of sorts for Black Sabbath, but sadly, it ended up being totally ignored. Fans would do well to rediscover it.

Rating: B+

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© 2007 Ben McVicker and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers, and is used for informational purposes only.