Black Sabbath Born Again
Black Sabbath's second act resurgence under the commanding presence of new vocalist Ronnie James Dio was a stunning success. The Dio-led albums Heaven And Hell (1980) and Mob Rules (1981) were pivotal in restoring the group's stature in the hard rock world. This rejuvenation was cut short though due to massive power struggles and cocaine induced paranoia.
With Dio gone, taking drummer Vinnie Appice with him, Black Sabbath were forced to regroup once again. A series of vocalists were auditioned such as Nicky Moore of Samson, John Sloman and the then-unknown Michael Bolton. A meeting with David Coverdale went well but ultimately did not go much further than that. Eventually the lead vocalist position was given to ex-Deep Purple front man Ian Gillan. Some questioned the decision of the partnership but the band insisted that it was a logical and natural fit.
After recording at The Manor in Oxfordshire, England the band revealed the fruit of the new line-up. The Born Again album was released on Aug 7 1983 in the U.K. and on Oct 4 of that year in North America.
Beginning with it's garish cover, Born Again challenged fans to accept it. In fact the record sleeve was designed quickly and purposefully over the top by Steve Joule. Since he was also employed by Sharon Osbourne to design Ozzy lp covers, Joule did not want the Sabbath job to be seen as a conflict of interest. He intentionally created a horrific and visually distasteful design so as to not get the job. Unfortunately for Joule, guitarist Tony Iommi loved the idea and insisted he complete the sleeve. The final image of a demonic infant rendered in blood-red with gleaming emerald eyes and long yellow claws lacked the sophistication of previous successful album jackets such as Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Heaven And Hell.
Inspiration and final result.
The album itself was met by fans and critics at the time with similar confusion as garnered by the cover.
Sure, the band was playing well. Iommi unleashed a battery of heavy riffs and explosive lead guitar work and newly sober returning original drummer Bill Ward (who was ousted from the group in Aug 1980) was attacking his kit with renewed vigor. Although still seeming to be an odd fit to Sabbath purists, Gillan was bringing the leather lunged fire power Deep Purple fans had loved for years. Gillan's lyrics tended to lean towards tales of drinking and women opposed to previous darker subject matter explored by bassist/lyricist Geezer Butler or Ronnie James Dio but vocally he was in total control.
The material, if not as ambitious as Heaven And Hell was still satisfyingly heavy. Opening track "Trashed" sped along convincingly while the monolithic "Zero The Hero" lurches forward with increasingly venomous riffing from Iommi culminating with easily the album's heaviest number. The title track rises like a majestic epic with a truly sinister undertone. They weren't short on material either, an outtake from the album the furiously propulsive "The Fallen" would have fit fine anywhere in the track listing.
The glaring problem with Born Again was the fact that the album sported the worst sound quality heard on a major label release by an established group. Guitars blended into a thick sludge, the drums were lifeless and Gillan's vocals sounded muffled and buried in the unwelcoming and impenetrable mix. It's counter productive to take a player like Butler and make his bass guitar unintelligible.
Ironically, early demos for the album circulate in much better quality than the actual finished record. The demo versions of "Hotline" and "Keep It Warm" have Gillan's vocals clear and loud, not dull as on the final album. The instrumental "Stonehenge" demo runs almost five minutes as opposed to the just under two minutes on the album. "Zero The Hero" in demo form dispenses with the instrumental intro "The Dark" but still runs slightly over nine minutes instead of the seven and a half on the official release.
Despite this aural travesty, Born Again entered the U.K. charts at #4 , no doubt helped by Gillan's British reputation. It only reached #39 in the U.S. where Deep Purple had a much lower profile. And so, Black Sabbath MK III hit the road.
The 1983 Born Again tour (featuring Electric Light Orchestra's Bev Bevan on drums after Bill Ward fell off the wagon during the completion of the album) began in Norway on Aug 18 and reached over seventy five cities before wrapping up on March 4 1984 in Springfield, MA. During the second show of the tour in Stockholm on Aug 19, the band performed great versions of the title track "Born Again" and "Keep It Warm", both which would unfortunately be dropped from the set shortly after. The Aug 21 Helsinki show also included "Born Again" in the setlist, partially filmed by an audience member.
An appearance at the Reading Rock Festival on Aug 27 was broadcast on FM radio and shows a band still finding their feet but increasing in strength. The crowd joyously joins Gillan in singing the classic "War Pigs" and "Zero The Hero" benefits from some extra guitar work not heard on the studio version.
An excellant radio broadcast from Paris on Sep 30 has Gillan acquainting himself well with older Ozzy-era pieces like "Children Of The Grave", "Paranoid" and especially "Rock And Roll Doctor" which seems custom made for his already established style.
On the first show of the Canadian leg of the tour in Quebec City on Oct 10 (other stops included Ottawa, Sudbury and London), the audience witnessed muscular, bass-driven versions of "Disturbing The Priest" and "Iron Man".
The Oct 21 concert at the Montreal Forum featured a strong take on "Heaven And Hell" while in Toronto (Oct 25) the main set ends with a very dark and dramatic "Black Sabbath" which Gillan completley inhabits with an unholy enthusiasm.
The Canadian part of the tour is also notable for the support act Quiet Riot who were promoting their new Metal Health album. Metal Health would go multi-platinum and even hit the number one spot on the charts making it a far more successful release than Born Again, although the band's fortunes faded quickly after this.
On Nov 4 the band played at The Centrum in Worcester which was broadcast live on FM radio. The pristine sound quality and hearing the band really jelling after being on the road for so long makes this the definitive document of the Born Again tour even if it is incomplete. Opener "Children Of The Grave" has excellant separation between Iommi's meaty guitar and Butler's rumbling bass playing. A near perfect version of "War Pigs" has authoritative lead vocals while "Iron Man" features thunderous drums followed by massive slabs of guitar riffs. Again, Gillan's version of the song "Black Sabbath" is menacing perfection.
In Dec the guys made an appearance on the TV show Rock Palace performing "Digital Bitch" and "Zero The Hero".
As the tour entered it's final dates in early 1984, the band added "Neon Knights" as the show opener. The version played in Long Beach on Jan 26 is passable but not spectacular. Gillan definitely seemed to have an easier time handling Ozzy era material than that from the Dio years.
Two music videos were produced to promote the album, "Zero The Hero" (featuring live footage shot in Montreal) and "Trashed", an odd choice for a single considering it was apparently never performed live.
Various live bootlegs from the Born Again era.
Shortly after the tour, Gillan was off for the Deep Purple MK II reunion which would result in the favourably received Perfect Strangers album and incredibly successful world tour. Sabbath continued with various band members and vocalists including Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio who both returned to the fold more than once.
Over the years Born Again was slowly receiving a re-evaluation from fans and even began to attract new admirers. Not surprisingly, thrash and black metal circles already familiar with oppressive production sounds, found much to admire in the crushingly murky aural landscape of Born Again.
In 2011 Sanctuary Records released a two CD deluxe edition of Born Again. The second disc featured the previously unreleased track "The Fallen", an extended version of the instrumental "Stonehenge" and best of all, nine songs from the band's appearance at the Reading Rock Festival on Aug 27 which had originally been broadcast on BBC radio (and appeared on the vinyl bootleg Paranoid In Reading).
A year later, Ian Gillan and Tony Iommi reunited for Who Cares a two CD collection of various album tracks and rarities, featuring a cover pic of the guys from the Born Again period. From that era we have "Zero The Hero" but there's also a vibrant new recording of "Trashed" performed by Gillan and Iommi with the Deep Purple rhythm section of Roger Glover and Ian Paice. This high energy version of "Trashed" come's from the 2006 Gillan's Inn album that Ian released where he revisited songs from his long career.
So what's next for Born Again?
Considering that to date, it still has never been released on CD in North America, I'd suggest a completely different two CD deluxe edition consisting of: the properly mixed, unreleased original album (Butler has said the tapes are in his possession) and the circulating demos given a slight polish to bring them up to a sound quality level for release. Some online sites report that these demos are actually the band's preferred mix of the album. This is 100% not true as the demos are clearly different takes than what ended up on the finished record.
If there's room for more bonus material, there is certainly no shortage of excellant radio broadcast live performances which could be included as well.
A release such as this would lead to Born Again's true rebirth.