The 80’s marked the start of inconsistent line-ups, sounds and production values for Black Sabbath. It’s as if Tony Iommi kept adapting more to his singer’s styles rather than the other way around and just couldn’t stick to one sound on a consistent basis. By 1987, Tony Martin was introduced to the Black Sabbath crew; resulting in yet another side of the band that was previously unheard of.
To start things off with, the production is ideal for what Black Sabbath (or rather, Tony Iommi) was aiming for; allowing every instrument to shine with purpose. The drums sound enormous, while Bob Daisley’s bass pops up for an occasional extra fat edge and Tony Iommi’s guitar tone makes The Eternal Idol an accessible listen. This album also welcomes Tony Martin on vocals and despite singing Ray Gillen’s vocal lines, his delivery sounds rather elegant and emotional. Strangely enough, I’ve heard people compare his delivery to those of Dio, but I just don’t get that. Dio was quite a versatile singer who could switch between a cleaner approach and dirty distortion. The latter certainly isn’t a part of Martin’s repertoire… so the next time you hear someone claim that they’re identical singers, just tell them to clean their ears.
Of course, it’s all about the songs that make or break an album (who would have thought otherwise?) and in this case, we’re fortunately dealing with more goodies than garbage. “The Shining” introduces things nicely, even if it’s a puzzling introduction. Clearly lacking in scope to be considered an epic, yet full of twists and turns, it’s quite a journey of a song. You’ve got an ethereal introduction that promises something colossal, but once Tony Iommi quickly makes up with a simple pounding main riff, it’s clear that the track was meant to be an ear worm. Yet, my favorite moment has to be the tune’s bridge; where Tony Martin shows what his pipes are made of (my guess would be gold, but I’m not a vocal expert) and harmonizes through the smooth licks that Tony Iommi laid down for him. Although based on the novel with the same name, you have to admit that sonically speaking, this track doesn’t really recapture a horror flick by any means, but I guess that naming it “The Rainbow” would have been a bit silly, wouldn’t you say?
From here, The Eternal Idol shows its different sides and thus, also varies in consistency. At its most serious, you end up with semi-epics by the name of “Ancient Warrior” and “Nightmare”. The former isn’t very Sabbath-esque per se, but the foreign landscapes that the track exposes are quite something to behold. You’ve guessed it; it’s the most evocative song here; thanks to the mythical lyrical passages and melodic, yet well-crafted riffs that take the listener to the realms of old. “Nightmare” is another good one and actually sees Tony Iommi reaching back to his trademark groove of the Dio era, only to speed up with dramatic effects once Tony Martin starts to repeat the song title during the tune’s tensed climax. Unfortunately, there are times when The Eternal Idol reveals its age. Come on now: “Hard Live to Love” and “Glory Ride” and are strong reminders that this came out in the 80’s and while I don’t mind metal to sound somewhat dated, these tracks sound extremely superficial. “Hard Live to Love” has Tony Martin singing some of the silliest lyrics that I could think of (and I don’t mean that in a fun way), while Tony Iommi plays some sleazy riffs that are a far cry from his best post-Ozzy work. “Glory Ride” isn’t quite as awful, as it relies on a crunchy main riff that has some meat to it, but it doesn’t take long before Tony Iommi starts to gallop through the verses on auto-pilot.
Saving the weirdest cuts of the album for the last, The Eternal Idol ends with two contrasting songs and honestly, the results are fairly mixed. “Lost Forever” is an unexpected blast of captivating speed metal and again, it doesn’t bring back classic Black Sabbath… but that’s no issue to me. Tony Martin wails with conviction as always, while Tony Iommi plays some mean riffs before the track reaches that heavy-as-hell break in between. The title track does something completely different; as it sees Tony Iommi looking back to the 70’s for inspiration… but it was clear that during this period, he was better off playing something different. Not only does the track sound way too self-conscious with a main motif that recall the band’s iconic “Black Sabbath”, but with someone like Tony Martin on vocals (who, as great of a singer as he is, sounds far too civilized to scare you), you end up with something too forced for its own good.
While some consider The Eternal Idol to be a lost classic and others are convinced that it hasn’t aged well, my opinion of it falls somewhere in the middle. It’s undeniably a flawed record that features some serious questionable tunes, yet it’s worth spinning from time to time… so take that as you will.
Score: 70/100 – Sabbath eighties Sabbath
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