BLACK SABBATH: Cross Purposes (1994)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

–BLACK SABBATH: Cross Purposes (1994)

Black Sabbath.” The name is instantly recognizable, undeniably synonymous with heavy metal. Whether one is a bleeding-hearted fan of Black Sabbath and heavy metal, or the most ambivalent observer, Black Sabbath invokes distinct and absolute imagery. Their music is painfully loud, haunting, crushingly heavy, slow and plodding, as ominous as a complete Panzer division rolling through the Champs-Elysées. Sabbath is a creepy witchy-looking/Ozzy(?) character standing before the old stone cottage, staring straight at you through the pink-hued forest. Sabbath is Sabbath, and everyone knows what to expect when they spin that old record or CD. It’s that simple, folks.

Or is it? As early as the mid-1970s LPs Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage, Black Sabbath began expanding their bludgeoning-heavy soundscape into more diverse and experimental directions. By the decidedly lighter, more melodic and quasi-progressive final-two albums with Ozzy Osbourne singing, Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die (great records, by the way!), Sabbath had alienated much of their stingy-and-staunch, doon’n’gloom followers. The onset of the Ronnie James Dio era in 1980 served as a huge reawakening for the Sabbath faithful. Now Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler & co. had infused their trademark heavy, down-tuned blues-based riffs with some much faster tempos, more mature and complex songwriting, and Dio’s passionate, operatic delivery of his poetic and mystical lyrics. But despite the high musical quality and popularity of the RJD era of Sabbath, their heyday was brief, and with each ensuing album and lineup change Sabbath started sounding less and less like Sabbath. By the time super metal vocalist extraordinaire Tony Martin (no, not the lounge jazz singer) joined the band in the mid-1980s, Sabbath was essentially an Iommi solo project that musically only vaguely resembled the brutal, doomy Black Sabbath of yesteryear. Needless to say, longtime fans left in droves, and album sales plummeted. That’s not to imply, however, that the Martin era of Sabbath lacks musical merit just because it passed through history with little notice. On the contrary, albums such as Eternal Idol (1987), Headless Cross (1989) and Tyr (1990) offer the loyal listener plenty to like in terms of melody, song craftsmanship, emotional and thought-provoking lyrics, and Martin’s soaring, Dio-esque vocals. It’s just that these records didn’t sound much like Black Sabbath, though I assert that they are excellent and might well have been better served under a different moniker.

Cross Purposes, released in 1994, is a far different animal altogether, and it is my personal favorite from the criminally-underrated Martin era of Sabbath. I’ll go one step further and assert that Cross Purposes is one of my top-10 favorite albums of all time. Yes, it is THAT good, and here’s why. It has been said that Cross Purposes is the only Martin-era album to actually sound like Black Sabbath. While that may be an oversimplification, I agree with the basic sense of that sentiment. Fresh off a relatively successful yet short-lived reunion with RJD on 1992’s Dehumanizer, the band was still firing on all cylinders when Martin rejoined in time for Cross Purposes. Even better yet, Butler stayed aboard to play bass on the record, and so it should come as no surprise that this is the most “Sabbath-sounding” album of the Martin era. More importantly, the album incorporates and seamlessly fuses the best elements of each Sabbath era: the inimitable down tuned rhythm guitar crunch and dark, the mysterious aura of the Ozzy era, the up-tempo, emotional dynamism of the RJD lineup, and the soaring lead guitar and vocal melodies of the previous Martin-era albums. The important contributions of each band member can’t be overstated, but the presence of Butler’s engaging and punchy basslines add a tangible sense of “Sabbath” authenticity to these 10 songs. Vocally, Martin’s impassioned performance rivals Dio’s vibrato and tone but with less guttural grit and a higher range. Rounded out in the lineup by the solid Bobby Rondinelli on drums and Geoff Nicholls on keyboards, Cross Purposes is lifted to the metallic stratosphere by supremely masterful songwriting.

The album opens like a brilliant ray of sunshine from the metallic heavens with the driving “I Witness.” Beginning with a slowly escalading lead guitar melody, replete with Iommi’s trademark trills in the background, this up-tempo rocker opens the album in invigorating fashion. “I Witness” recalls the upbeat and commanding atmosphere of RJD-era album openers “Neon Knights” and “Turn up the Night,” though not nearly as speedy as either of those tracks. Martin’s engaging vocal melody in the pre-chorus, as he sings, “As you drive into the darkness, in front the future behind you history, caught alone in the dark night, do you think that’s the way it’s supposed to be?” only sets the tone for a tempo downshift and a devastating and deliberate riff in the chorus. Next up is the album’s centerpiece, the gorgeous, emotive masterpiece known as “Cross of Thorns.” The quasi-ballad opens with a mournful, arpeggiated clean guitar riff from Iommi before Martin plaintively warns, “Don’t come closer,” cos it ain’t safe here, just turn around now and walk away.” Don’t take those words literally because this scathing indictment on Christianity and faith in general is simply one of the most beautiful, crushing and dynamic songs ever written. As is usually the case, words don’t do it justice.

Next up comes “Psychophobia,” which features a swirling, crushing riff in the choruses while Martin laments, “It’s too late now, it’s time to kiss the rainbow goodbye.” Opening with a deliberate bass riff from Butler, “Virtual Death” is a plodding doom track that should please old-school Ozzy heads, while “Immaculate Deception” alternates between a crunchy, mid-paced early Sabbath-style riff and an ecstatic, fast-paced chorus. Other highlights include the soulful, bluesy ballad, “Dying for Love,” the bouncy main riff and infectious chorus of “Back to Eden,” the melancholy intro and catchy verse riff of “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” the methodical Sabbath-style deconstruction of corrupt priests in “Cardinal Sin,” and the “Into the Void”-esque vintage grind of “Evil Eye.”

That about covers Cross Purposes. Now, please do me a favor and dust off this unsung goodie and give it a good spin or two. Believe me, you won’t regret it.–Jonathan Kollnot

–Tracklisting: 1.) I Witness 2.) Cross of Thorns 3.) Psychophobia 4.) Virtual Death 5.) Immaculate Deception 6.) Dying for Love 7.) Back to Eden 8.) The Hand That Rocks the Cradle 9.) Cardinal Sin 10.) Evil Eye

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on March 14, 2012.

2 Responses to “BLACK SABBATH: Cross Purposes (1994)”

  1. Your own post, “BLACK SABBATH: Cross Purposes (1994) Kollnot Rock’n’Metal
    Reviews” was definitely worth writing a comment here!
    Simply desired to point out you truly did a wonderful work.
    Thanks a lot -Drusilla

    • Drusilla, thank you very much! I’m glad you enjoyed it, and Cross Purposes. Truly a fantastic album for the ages. Cheers!–Jon

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