BLACK SABBATH: SEVENTH STAR (1986)
1) In For The Kill; 2) No Stranger To Love; 3) Turn To Stone; 4) Sphinx (The Guardian); 5) Seventh Star; 6) Danger Zone; 7) Heart Like A Wheel; 8) Angry Heart; 9) In Memory.
We should not really take as an excuse that bit of historical trivia which says that Seventh Star was not supposed to be a «Black Sabbath» album, and that the decision to present it as such was thrust upon Tony by his management, in a publicity move that was even more dishonest than with Born Again (at least Born Again featured three original members of Black Sabbath — Seventh Star features one) and introduced a new brand of linguistic euphemism into the world: «Band X featuring artist Y» = «Artist Y who used to be in band X».
We should not take it as an excuse, not because somebody had the gall to discredit and dishonor a sacred brand, but simply because «that which we call a turd by any other name would smell as sweet». Wait, did I say «turd»? I meant to say Seventh Star, an album that introduces formerly great musical guy Tony Iommi to the pleasures of generic mid-Eighties pop metal and, along with Alice Cooper's Constrictor, has to count as one of the year's hugest disappointments, and a good reminder to all of us how those years used to bring out all the worst in rock dinosaurs, as the softer ones embraced adult contemporary and the harder ones were swallowed up in hair metal.
Yes, after the eventual and inevitable implosion of the Gillan-fronted version of Black Sabbath, whereupon, for a few years, it was thought that the band had finally been done in for good, Tony did really want to make a solo album, and Don Arden did persuade him that sales would be higher if it were billed as a «Black Sabbath» release. In any case, Black Sabbath did already go through three different incarnations, where Tony and Geezer were the only constant links, and with the advent of Dio and Gillan as full-time lyricists Geezer's role in the band was steadily diminishing away, so it could be said that in 1986 Tony Iommi was Black Sabbath, de-facto. And is Seventh Star really so different? If albums like Paranoid, Heaven And Hell, and Born Again are all Black Sabbath — despite sporting such different musical ideologies — why not Seventh Star? It's a heavy metal album, after all, little doubt about that.
A horrible one, though. Iommi's riffs, already quite questionable for the past decade, are not getting any better, whereas the production and commercial orientation are getting much worse. The Dio and Gillan-era records still had some «shock value» to them: doom-laden and snarling with Ronnie, as Mephistopheles went on the prowl, «drunk-evil» with Ian, as Mephistopheles settled down in a pub with a black eye, whining about how life's tough and all. These songs, however, with a few minor exceptions, are completely user-friendly: singalong arena-rockers and power ballads that owe as much to Journey and Bob Seger as they do to classic Sabbath, if not more. Yes, I guess Tony wanted to try something new for a change, but I just have to wonder how the heck a guy whose art was formerly in such stark opposition to «user-friendliness» could allow himself to be duped into adopting this stylistics? Not that he was the only one, and it is also true that, with heavy metal gradually gaining mainstream acceptance, the values were being compromised regardless of one's intent, but still, ʽNo Stranger To Loveʼ? Gimme a break.
The other cause for running and hiding is the backing band. The drummer, Eric Singer, was from Lita Ford's band (later on, he would join KISS and become really famous). The bassist, Dave Spitz, looked like a spitz, was nicknamed ʽThe Beastʼ, and went on to join Great White. The keyboard player was Geoff Nicholls, who had originally played on the Dio-era albums and was brought back for his ability to master the synthesizer (so he is responsible for all the stuffy, plastic-soulful overdubs on the record). And the singer — oh God! — was Glenn Hughes.
Now since we are on the subject, let me make this remark: there seems to be a very important, very crucial difference between «power metal» singers like Dio (or Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, for instance) and Glenn Hughes (or David Coverdale, both of which were known to converge upon and destroy Deep Purple in the mid-1970s). From a certain point of view, they do more or less the same things — present the closest possible approximation to an «opera singer» in a heavy rock context; but since they are not actually «opera singers», the effect is corny and laughable unless they compensate by making their voice echo the brutality of the music. Dio and Dickinson do that all right, but Glenn Hughes just sounds like a pompous windbag, and now that the pomp is laid right over the lifeless Eighties production, the effect is unbearable.
A few of these songs could have been okay in a different world — ʽIn For The Killʼ, despite the unimaginative title that Budgie had already exploited in a much better way, has a hell-raising machine-gun hard riff; the 12-bar blues ʽHeart Like A Wheelʼ is surprisingly effective for a band that almost never does 12-bar blues (similar to the manneristic, over-expressive, and sometimes uunintentionally parodic style of Gary Moore, but with Tony's dark metal preferences redeeming the atmosphere a bit); and ʽTurn To Stoneʼ is at least fast, breaking up the mind-numbing depression of crap metal ballads like ʽNo Stranger To Loveʼ and the title track (oh, actually, the title track tries to be some sort of stately mystical anthem à la ʽKashmirʼ, but with that production and Geoff Nicholls' rather pathetic attempt at incorporating a mid-Eastern flavor, it doesn't have much in the way of competition).
But ultimately, there is no sense trying to rescue and remedy any of these tracks in your imagination, unless one day somebody actually does that in real life. So there are only two further remarks to accompany the unfortunate thumbs down: (a) apparently, there is a 2-CD deluxe edition of this bunch of crap (actually, the second disc is just a recording of a 1986 live show, with Ray Gillen replacing Hughes; but still, the word «deluxe» shouldn't be caught dead near the title of this album); (b) the oh-so-1986 video for ʽNo Stranger To Loveʼ is notorious for featuring a slightly younger Tasha Yar from Star Trek TNG — naturally, with the requisite big hair, so if you're a fan of Star Trek (or a fan of big hair), you should probably check it out. Actually, they all have big hair in the video. It's a good thing Tony's was always a bit curly by itself — he's the only guy in the band to mostly keep his own.