Black Sabbath – The Tony Martin Years

When you talk about the founding fathers of Heavy Metal, one band stands above all…..Black Sabbath. Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass), Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), and Bill Ward (drums)…..the original lineup of Black Sabbath…..pioneers in helping create the basics of what we call Heavy Metal.

When you start to discuss the Black Sabbath career, fans become divided into two camps:

  1. The Ozzy purists who believe the only Sabbath is the original Sabbath and…..
  2. The Tony Iommi diehards who profess an allegiance to all eras of Sabbath, concentrating on the full catalog rather than just the Ozzy years.

Myself? I’m in category two, my allegiance is to the full career/catalog of the band. I equally enjoy the original lineup, the Ronnie James Dio years, the Ian Gillan experiment, the Glenn Hughes project, and the Tony Martin era. Granted, some albums and lineups I enjoy more than others but I am a fan of Black Sabbath the band.

Many fans divide when it comes to who is/was at the mic. Most accept the Dio albums because they are fine pieces of work. Many recognize the Gillan led BORN AGAIN (1983) because the album sold and the tour was successful. The downturn in support starts with singer change #4 to Glenn Hughes on SEVENTH STAR (1986), which was supposed to be a Tony Iommi solo album. A band can only go to the well so many times and, when Mr. Hughes developed vocal problems on the road, in stepped official singer #5, Ray Gillen (Badlands). After the Seventh Star tour, personnel changes plagued the band again resulting in Gillen leaving and the band regrouping with Tony Martin taking the mic in 1987.

—- For a far better detailed history of Black Sabbath, please refer to for a specific timeline. —-

With Tony Martin on vocals from 1987-1990 and 1993-1995, the band released six albums:

  • The Eternal Idol (1987)
  • Headless Cross (1989)
  • TYR (1990)
  • Cross Purposes (1994)
  • Cross Purposes Live (1995)
  • Forbidden (1995)

What I really like about this time is that the band is still trying to create new music amid a changing musical climate and numerous personnel changes. Martin can write songs and the Iommi/Martin team produced some of the most memorable Sabbath songs that the general fan may not know about. Songs like ‘The Shining’, ‘Headless Cross’, ‘Devil & Daughter’, and ‘When Death Calls’ became an integral part of the Sabbath catalog and tour setlists. Some of Tony Iommi’s best riffs and solos come from the 1990s with Tony Martin collaborating.

I also like the “underdog” factor. When Martin took over singing duties, bands like Black Sabbath were considered dinosaurs, they weren’t as popular as the bands of the day (Poison, Guns ‘n Roses, Bon Jovi) that had taken over radio and MTV. A few years later in the ’90s, the band had to contend with the sudden shift to the Alternative that condemned many Metal acts to early retirement.  The band continued touring and producing new material even though sold-out shows and platinum albums (especially in the U.S.) were hard to come by.

Tony Martin has a great singing voice, period. He was able to sing all eras of Sabbath on tour with great range and power. That ability enabled the band to branch out and play Ozzy-era, Dio-era, and other material in concert, creating a fresh live experience for band and fan alike.

The Black Sabbath albums with Tony Martin on vocals tend to be forgotten about…..even when they were new, they were afterthoughts so to speak. With Ozzy back in the band for touring and the new collaboration with Dio in the Heaven & Hell project, albums like HEADLESS CROSS and TYR are bound to be buried further while the “golden years” are celebrated regularly. The albums are seemingly harder to find: they didn’t sell all that well so there aren’t that many retail copies out there. I.R.S., Sabbath’s label for most of their ’90s catalog, folded years ago but some of the albums have had the reissue treatment in small distribution. If you’re interested in good Heavy Metal, Black Sabbath style, head to Ebay where the albums are easy to find at a decent price.

Further information on Black Sabbath history, Tony Martin, and future projects can be found at the following:
Black Sabbath Live Project
Tony Martin – official website
Tony Iommi – official website