Headless Cross

Black Sabbath

I.R.S., 1989


REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker


Alright, let’s get the easiest part of this review out of the way first: the album says Black Sabbath on the cover!

Sadly, it’s all downhill from here.

There are many terms one could use to describe Headless Cross.




An exercise in self-parody.

From the opening notes of “The Gates Of Hell,” an ominous little intro piece, one can’t help but raise an eyebrow. “Will the opening track buck this theatrical, evil-sounding approach, in favor of old-school de-tuned riffage? Or will it –”

Before there’s ample time to finish the question, listeners are greeted with one of the most garish, offensive drum sounds to come out of the 1980’s. Almost instantly, it dates the album by twenty years. As the mid-tempo title track paces along, one can’t help but scratch their head. Where’s the heaviness that we’ve come to expect from Tony Iommi? Why do the keyboards get such a prominent role? The guitar solo is nice, but why is Iommi’s tone so thin and fuzzy?

Vocalist Tony Martin, to his credit, gives a stellar performance in the song, and Headless Cross is arguably his best Sabbath album as far as his vocals are concerned. The guy has an excellent set of pipes on him, arguably the best of the Sabbath vocalists. But what a worrisome opener...! my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

True, there are a few sparkles of brilliance scattered across the album. “When Death Calls,” is a genuinely eerie tune that stretches seven minutes in length, shifting from soft, “Planet Caravan”-style verses, to menacing choruses – not to mention a guest solo from Brian May.

“Nightwing,” too, has some redeeming spots. A bit of acoustic work from Iommi for a change, soaring vocals, a powerful chorus…       

But you can’t polish a turd. Save for these two numbers, Headless Cross is downright embarrassing to listen to.

The bulk of the album consists of sub-par, fist-pumping rock songs, saturated with laughable devil lyrics. The absolute worst offender in this department has to be “Call Of The Wild,” which leaves no cliché untouched, throwing in the whole package of “Princes and kings, demons with wings,” “Lucifer,” “Eternal light...” whatever fits the theme! You’ll laugh or cry as Martin wails, “Heeeeero! You’ve got the fear of the devil burning your soul!” Meanwhile, Iommi offers a tepid little riff while drummer Cozy Powell bops steadily along at 120 beats per minute. “No f*ckin’ around here!” as Frank Zappa once put it. “No 119, no 123! Gimmie the ol’ 120 beats per minute and crank up the goddamn handclaps!”

Okay, so there are no handclaps on this album. But the music is such generic 80’s tripe, they may as well have added them!                                                                                                       

Of the remaining tunes, only “Kill In The Spirit World” is worthy of a mention due to the mere fact that it sounds so out of character. The overwhelming keys and poppy vocal melody that carry the verses are simply jaw-dropping – and not in a good way. Were it not for Iommi’s distinctive soloing, you wouldn’t know this is Black Sabbath.

By the time the album comes to a close, it’s just dazzling. What kind of Sabbath album is it when the rhythm section is on autopilot and Tony Iommi is in a riff-writing coma, with half his leads buried under keyboard lines? Headless Cross, despite Tony Martin’s solid vocals and about ten minutes worth of listenable material, is nothing less than Frisbee material. With devil horns, of course.

Rating: F

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


This review is bull. Great album.
While the production is very retro, this album features some of Iommi's best riffs, it's worth it just for that. I agree that the lyrics are very cliche, they remind me of what a Kidz Bop Halloween album of original material would sound.
It really is a love-it-or-hate-it album among the fanbase, I find. I fell into the Hate It camp, though I do enjoy the other albums with Tony Martin.

The one thing I do appreciate about Headless Cross is that it finally gave the band a bit of stability in the writing department, with Martin, Powell and Neil Murray each appearing on a few more (superior, IMO) records.

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