BLACK SABBATH: TYR (1990)
1) Anno Mundi; 2) The Law Maker; 3) Jerusalem; 4) The Sabbath Stones; 5) The Battle Of Tyr; 6) Feels Good To Me; 7) Heaven In Black.
According to Iommi, the 1989-1990 period of the band was heavily influenced by Tony Martin in the following way: (a) for his first batch of lyrics, he thought that Black Sabbath was all about the Devil and stuff, so he accordingly colored the lyrics and atmosphere of Headless Cross; (b) for his second batch of lyrics, they told him he was wrong about the first one, so he thought that Black Sabbath was all about the Vikings and stuff. So, accordingly, he colored the lyrics and atmosphere of Tyr. Or, actually, TZR, because if you read the runes of the title properly, that is what you are going to get, so I assume this is just an abbreviation for Totally Zany Record.
Curiously, Tyr came out in the same year as (a little later than) Bathory's Hammerheart, often called, if not the first, then at least the «quintessential» «Viking metal» album — which, I guess, justifies a comparison between the two, and listening to them back-to-back will clearly show which of the two bands had a clue about how to best combine metallic riffage and production with Scandinavian flavor, and which one had no clues whatsoever. In fact, I couldn't even blame Tony too hard. Here he was, just trying to rig up some new ideas for the next album, and there is this guy bringing him stuff on Valhalla and Odin and all that Wagnerian «paganism vs. Christianity» baggage. A simple, hard-working guy from Birmingham could go crazy, you know.
No wonder that Tyr rarely, if ever, comes alive or makes «emotional sense». Pompous, portentous, and overblown, it wastes Iommi's talents completely, its main heroes, as before, being Tony Martin and Cozy Powell, and its motto being «more power! more power!». Iommi's riffs aren't that bad (when you fish them out, leave them out to dry, and then do the calculations, Tyr might even come out as an improvement over Headless Cross), but they are indecisive, and most of the time, buried deeply under everything else — drums, keyboards, front vocals, back vocals.
There are three types of songs here. First, so as not to bore the listener completely, there are a couple fast rockers for a change (ʽThe Law Makerʼ, ʽHeaven In Blackʼ), which have nothing to do with Viking metal but are reminiscent of vintage Iron Maiden — except that Iommi has no qualifications to duplicate the skills of Maiden's guitar duo, and Martin, as I already said, is no Bruce Dickinson when it comes to adding snarl to operatic flavor. Even so, these are probably the best of the bunch, if only because it's fun to hear Cozy Powell trying to drive his drumset into the ground at twice or thrice his usual speed.
Second, there are «stately», slowly proceeding, ceremonial chants, sometimes with a ʽKashmirʼ-type flavor — ʽAnno Mundiʼ and ʽJerusalemʼ. These require spiritual submission from the listener, but there is just no way I could respond to Martin's ecstatic "can you see me? are you near me? can you hear me crying out for life?" with a proper "I see thee, I am near thee, I hear thee", because in reality I can only hear him crying out for a living. All of this is stiff, clichéd, and, when you get to the bottom of it, very repetitive and musically simplistic. Where classic Iron Maiden would have a multi-part, compositionally challenging epic, this variant of Sabbath just proceeds along Iommi's usual lines (riff, chorus, riff, chorus), sometimes dropping in a predictable «soft» acoustic section. Boring.
Third, the «epics» themselves (ʽThe Sabbath Stonesʼ, ʽThe Battle Of Tyrʼ), running longer than everything else, and aspiring to higher status, are impossibly boring. ʽThe Sabbath Stonesʼ is their equivalent of ʽEternal Idolʼ and ʽHeadless Crossʼ, a slab of spooky mysticism that will spook no one, and for most of the duration of ʽBattleʼ, you will actually be waiting for some sort of a battle to begin, only to ask, at the end, «oh, so that was the battle? I thought it was only the village idiot running through the streets, shouting ʽValhalla! Valhalla!ʼ until somebody finally puts him out of his misery». To add insult to injury, they throw in a power ballad, Seventh Star-style — ʽFeels Good To Meʼ, which Iommi himself later apologized a little about, saying that they were in need of a hit single. Guess how hard that one hit.
All in all, TZR is a bona fide candidate for «worst album ever to be associated with the name of Black Sabbath», closely approaching Seventh Star in that respect. No respectful fan of Odin's court will want to fall for this tripe — last I heard, the Valkyries were on the line and reported that they never ride out for anyone who tries to make his connection through Tony Martin, who can't even spell three runes right before embarrassing himself. Thumbs down.