BLACK SABBATH: CROSS PURPOSES (1994)
1) I Witness; 2) Cross Of Thorns; 3) Psychophobia; 4) Virtual Death; 5) Immaculate Deception; 6) Dying For Love; 7) Back To Eden; 8) The Hand That Rocks The Cradle; 9) Cardinal Sin; 10) Evil Eye.
Well, at least it's an improvement over TZR. As Dio and Appice left once again to pursue their own destinies and Tony Martin with Geoff Nicholls are brought back to the family, you'd think the band would automatically sink back to the level of 1989-90. Fortunately, the experience of Dehumanizer was still fresh in the band's mind, and, very importantly, they still had Geezer with them — as long as at least half of the original line-up is in place, the Sabbath spirit is still there somewhere, and it takes more than a second-rate vocalist and a generic keyboard sound to suffocate that spirit.
Perhaps some of the songs might have been leftovers from the Dehumanizer sessions, or, at the very least, Iommi just happened to like that doom-growl and tried to provide Martin with more of the same. In any case, there are some decent riffs here — ʽImmaculate Deceptionʼ, ʽPsychophobiaʼ, ʽBack To Edenʼ and, most importantly, the downtuned album closer ʽEvil Eyeʼ are all quite on the level of the 1992 album. Again, the riffs usually sound like inferior variations on early classics, and each of these songs has a bunch of better prototypes (ʽEvil Eyeʼ, I think, is a subconscious attempt to echo ʽSabbath Bloody Sabbathʼ), but they are competently composed riff-rockers with their own melodies — and thank you very much, Mr. Iommi, for letting Mr. Butler step in with that little bass interlude in the middle of ʽEvil Eyeʼ, just to remind us one more time of how it used to be in the good old days.
Even better than ʽEvil Eyeʼ is the opening tune: ʽI Witnessʼ is not simply fast, it is riffaliciously fast, and I can only imagine how much better it may have sounded with Dio still at the wheel, adding deep growl to where Martin can only offer shallow, shrill screaming. Special mention must be made of drummer Bobby Rondinelli, who, coincidentally, was also originally from Rainbow, but whose lighter, less mastodontic style of drumming actually suits Sabbath better than Cozy Powell's thud (remember that Sabbath never thrived on really heavy drumming — Bill Ward's parts always relied on expressiveness rather than brute force).
Alas, about half of the album still consists of boring atmospheric mysticism à la Headless Cross: in fact, usage of the word "cross" for these guys should probably be banned forever, because ʽCross Of Thornsʼ is one of the album's worst tracks, only surpassed in that category by the sentimental ballad ʽDying For Loveʼ (you wish), and the next in an endless series of ʽKashmirʼ / ʽStargazerʼ tributes called ʽCardinal Sinʼ. And I still remain undecided on the album's oddest track: ʽVirtual Deathʼ shows that somebody in the Sabbath camp was clearly keeping an eye open on the latest developments in the grunge camp — with its sludgy tempo, hyper-distorted guitars, and hushed multi-tracked vocals, it sounds as if it belonged on an Alice In Chains album rather than an Iommi-led one. Probably a bad Alice In Chains album, though, like one of those post-Staley reunion crapfests. Curious curiosity, but neither Iommi's riff nor Martin's vocals are able to convey a genuine impression of «virtual death» for the protagonist.
I seem to remember that Geezer was particularly unhappy with the final results, and quit the band once again right after the ensuing tour freed him of any further obligations. The disillusionment is easy to understand, but secretly I think that he just did not get along well with the lead singer. Indeed, time has changed little about Tony Martin, whose style is still lacking any sort of interesting personality — he tries, he really does, but he is simply unable to come up with a special angle at which to deliver these lyrics. Remember, some of the songs here have real potential, they just had to be served under a different sauce (I would certainly pay something to see Dio try out ʽEvil Eyeʼ and ʽI Witnessʼ). If you are a major sucker for Iommi riffs, Cross Purposes will make the grade — if you only want A+ quality riffs, though, or if you think that Sabbath should never be reduced to just the riffs, stay away. You've been warned by Geezer.