When pioneering heavy metal band Black Sabbath reunited with original frontman Ozzy Osbourne in 1997 after a 20-year split, a new album was expected. The band toured for nine years, but the disc never came and Black Sabbath disbanded again in 2006.
So when guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward announced in late 2011 that they again would reunite with Osbourne and tour to mark Black Sabbath’s 45th anniversary, there was healthy skepticism about whether there would be a new record this time around.
That disc, “13,” arrived in June. The band’s first disc in 18 years and first with Osbourne in 35 years won critical acclaim and became the band’s first No. 1 in the United States.
Now on its first tour since 2005, Black Sabbath is playing songs from “13,” as well as its classic hits such as “Paranoid” and “Iron Man.” The band just finished the North American leg, which didn’t make it to the Twin Cities, then is off to South America and Europe.
So what made the difference when it came to recording new material?
In a phone call, Osbourne said Black Sabbath recorded material during that earlier reunion, but a “clash of egos” prevented the band from finishing it.
“I was doing this television thing with ‘The Osbournes’ back then, and I had my own career,” Osbourne said, referring to the hit reality show about his family, which ran on MTV from 2002 to 2005. “It just didn’t feel right. We tried to force an album. In fact we did, we recorded a demo, with a bunch of stuff, which is nothing like the way we used to do. We were forcing it out of ourselves.”
He said the new album “just kind of came out — we just clicked.”
Back to the beginning
He said part of that success can be attributed to producer Rick Rubin, with whom Black Sabbath worked on the aborted earlier attempt.
This time, Osbourne said, Rubin challenged the band not to do what was expected of it, but to listen to its 1970 debut — not think about its sophomore disc, “Paranoid,” which contained the title track and “Iron Man,” and propelled the band to superstardom.
“Rick said, ‘I don’t want you to think of a classic heavy metal album,’ ” Osbourne said. “I’m like, ‘Well, what the [expletive] do you want me to do, what are you looking for?’ He said, ‘Forget all the other albums. I want you to concentrate and zone into the vibe that you had on the first album.’
“And then I suddenly remembered that we originally started out as a jazz blues band, and that was a part of the first album. And so I got what he was saying. He wanted that freedom that we had on the first album, which was just a natural vibe.”
Osbourne said he’s never been entirely comfortable with the “heavy metal” label, anyway.
“The ’70s heavy metal, the ’80s heavy metal, the ’90s and the new millennium metal [are] nothing like each other, but yet we’re all under this one bag, and I never really got my head around it,” he said. “We never said, ‘Oh, we’re the godfathers of heavy metal,’ because we’ve always felt that it doesn’t say anything.”
Asked how he would categorize the new disc’s sound, he said, “I just think it’s a Black Sabbath album. It was heavy rock, which was more of a musical thing to me.”
Osbourne, 64, whose voice sounds good on the disc, said he “specifically chose a range that was comfortable to sing on stage as well as on the record, because in the past I’ve gone in the stratosphere doing trickery in the studio, and I could never pull it off live.”
He added, “I’ve stopped smoking cigarettes. I’ve stopped smoking dope. I’ve stopped taking drugs. I’ve stopped drinking alcohol. Before I go on the road now, I try and warm my voice up, and before a show, I warm my voice up.”
He said, “I’ve got one instrument, and that’s my voice that’s given by God, and I’ve got to start taking care of it, because it ain’t going to last very long, because I was abusing it.”
What about his April revelation on Facebook that he had used drugs and alcohol in the past year and a half and “was in a very dark place” before becoming sober again since early March? On his post, he apologized to his wife, Sharon, and friends and family members for his “insane” behavior.
He sidestepped an answer. “I’m in the Osbournes,” he said with a laugh. “I’m always apologizing for something.”
The Black Sabbath reunion hasn’t been without drama. Shortly after the four band members announced that they were getting back together, Iommi was diagnosed with lymphoma in early 2012. Osbourne said it was he who persuaded Iommi to get checked for a lump.
Then in February 2012, drummer Ward announced that he would not participate until he was offered a “signable contract.” The band eventually replaced him, but Osbourne said, “We would love to have Bill back in the fold.” He said he hasn’t spoken with Ward since the dispute.
As to how long Black Sabbath will continue, Osbourne said he’s open but noncommittal. “You know what? It’s taken us 35 years to get to this point. Let’s see how we get on with this,” he said. “I’m sure — let me put it this way — I’m up for it if the guys are up for it and we got the goods.”
As for what has made Black Sabbath’s sound still so attractive after all these years, Osbourne laughed.
“You know what? I don’t know, and I don’t want to go, ‘Oh, it’s that,’ you know? I don’t know. It never ceases to amaze me and surprise me, this business.”