Ever since the proper vocalists became a part of Black Sabbath, the band’s sound had more or less become accessible (that’s not to say that there haven’t been exceptions; think of the ugly, yet appealing Born Again, or the doom-laden behemoth Dehumanizer), but repetition has rarely been part of the band’s repertoire. The Tony Martin years, too, had proven to be more of a versatile timeline of the band that some people give them credit for. Unfortunately, versatility doesn’t always result into quality and Headless Cross is a good example of such. Whereas The Eternal Idol sounds fairly down to earth and Tyr has evocative epics in store, Headless Cross reminds me of something that could only have been written in the 80’s and is best forgotten.
Based on the titles, you’d think that Headless Cross would be a darker and gloomier than The Eternal Idol. Come on now; titles like “Kill in the Spirit World” and “Black Moon” sound more promising titles than “Hard Live to Love” or “Born to Lose”, don’t they? Don’t be fooled; rarely does Headless Cross deliver and whereas its predecessor shares its lightweight moments as well, it at least sounds more nuanced. Here you get – spoiler alert; two highlights and the rest has its moments or sounds downright awful. Combined with some abysmal performances, I’m rather surprised how well Headless Cross has been received over the years. But seriously; “Kill in the Spirit World” is so bad that had Ozzy Osbourne heard it, he would have been glad to have been fired from the band. It’s a fluffy rock number with Tony Iommi’s feather light guitar work that makes “Paranoid” sound like “Into the Void”. It also features Geoff Nichols playing some of the most tasteless keyboard riffs that I could think of and even Tony Martin’s delivery ranges from laughable to pure crap on this one (what’s up with that nonsensical chorus, anyway?) Comparably, “Call of the Wild” sounds slightly better for a while; partially spooky and partially foreign sounding (cool lick there, Iommi… I only wish you had used it in a better song instead). The verses sound shady and promise a lot, but once you get to that karaoke chorus, the whole thing turns into a laughable mess.
What I find even more frustrating is how the actual highlights aren’t just outstanding on the album, but remain some of the best cuts from this era to begin with. The title track gets supported by some massive riffs and shows that Tony Iommi is still capable of delivering the goods once he’s determined to write something heavy. Tony Martin, too, sounds in top form here; his blistering high notes add a certain amount of tension to the story of the song. “When Death Calls” is something rather different, but it’s another favorite of mine. Like a macabre hymn of emotional power, it’s a dynamic power ballad that allows Tony Martin to demonstrate his vocal range. You’ve got these eerie verses that resemble death approaching, a loud the chorus and the tensed bridge where Tony Martin goes wild between Tony Iommi’s distinctive and melodic guitar chops.
Even though I’ve given Headless Cross several changes over the years, I’m just not convinced that there’s much else to praise. “Devil and Daughter” reminds me of “Glory Ride”, because it resembles another journey towards nowhere land. You’d think that Tony Iommi would make this boring trip just once, but the result is another galloping song that riff-wise has very little substance to it. “Nightwing” is another frustrating song and even though its chorus has a majestic quality to it, you’ll unfortunately have to deal with these sleepy verses where practically nothing happens. You get the deal… Headless Cross seems like a dark album on the surface, but do you really think that Satan would approve of something that sounds as silly as this? You bet he wouldn’t.
Score: 52 / 100 – Satan doesn’t approve
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