Black Sabbath – Headless Cross (1989)

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Black Sabbath – Headless Cross (1989, I.R.S.)

  1. The Gates Of Hell
  2. Headless Cross
  3. Devil & Daughter
  4. When Death Calls
  5. Kill In The Spirit World
  6. Call Of The Wild
  7. Black Moon
  8. Nightwing

Band Lineup:
Tony Iommi – Guitars
Tony Martin – Vocals
Laurence Cottle – Bass
Cozy Powell – Drums
Geoff Nicholls – Keyboards

Total Time – 40:23

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Black Sabbath’s first album for their new label, I.R.S. New label, new contract, new life? One would think so but more personnel changes ensue as Tony Iommi tries to keep his band afloat. Among the changes, Eric Singer exits and Cozy Powell takes his seat at the stool. This is a significant change as Iommi and Powell have reported good working relationship and, with the returning Nicholls (who has been with the band since 1979 in various capacities) and Martin, the band has the foundation of a solid band lineup. This shows in the writing: HEADLESS CROSS is more cohesive, more akin to Tony Martin’s versatile Dio-esque vocal range rather than made initially with a different type of singer like the previous album. Laurence Cottle is only a session player, he didn’t tour, Neil Murray (ex-Whitesnake/Vow Wow) is brought in for bass duties on the road. Iommi’s good friend, Brian May (Queen), plays the solo on ‘When Death Calls’ but is not credited, only thanked in the liner notes. Now that we’ve got the players straight, we can look at the music…..

Straight off we get a quick instrumental with ‘The Gates Of Hell’. Hey, every Sabbath album has at least one, right? Why break tradition? I see it as more of an “intro” to the heavy title track. ‘Headless Cross’ really gets things going in fine fashion, the opening Powell drums and Iommi riff let you know this is going to be a heavy record. It’s a mid-paced plodder but heavy, Martin hitting all the highs…..definitely my favorite track on the album. ‘Devil & Daughter’ speeds it up a bit. Great guitar inter-laced with the subtle keyboards. Come solo time, the keys kick in a little more but they don’t take anything away from Iommi’s playing. Another big drum sound on this song as well. Martin doing a good Dio here.

(Before I go further, I noticed that I tend to compare Tony Martin to the legendary Ronnie James Dio often. Maybe that’s unfair as I find Dio to be the better vocalist. Martin has some of the same stylings as RJD and, at times, is very similar. Tony is a good singer in his own right but his power and range remind me of Dio.)

‘When Death Calls’ is my second favorite song on this album. A slow song but I wouldn’t call it a ballad, more of a funeral march that speeds up a little mid-way through. Now that I know that it’s Brian May come solo time, I tend to listen a little more closely as Iommi and May are my Top 2 favortie guitarists. ‘Kill In The Spirit World’ is another great track. More of a heavy Rock vibe rather than Metal, I especially enjoy the “upbeat” hook of the verses and then the change to a slower, haunting tempo for the chorus. ‘Call Of The Wild’ (originally titled ‘Hero’) is a decent song but a shade under the excellence of the first four. I tend to sing along with it, it’s still a good piece of work.

‘Black Moon’ is a heavy song that was originally recorded during THE ETERNAL IDOL sessions as a b-side for ‘The Shining’. ‘Nightwing’ is another slow track much like ‘When Death Calls’. Martin shows off his ability to hit the high notes at chorus time. I don’t like ‘Nightwing’ that much as a whole but I do like Iommi’s guitar playing on it.

Bottom Line: Another improvement. This album is better than THE ETERNAL IDOL and I thought that was a solid record. I think it has to do with Martin having input into the writing and creation of the songs. Instead of coming in and just singing, he is able to help tailor the songs to his natural style. As I mentioned before, more of a band effort than a bunch of hired guns. The core of Iommi/Martin/Nicholls is made stronger by Cozy Powell’s inclusion: he had great talent and a strong drive to succeed, this added more stability. Also, new support from a new label generally helps to ease pressures a bit and keep the creative process fresh. For me, this is the high point of Martin-era Sabbath. My only complaint is that it’s only forty minutes long…..take away the instrumental and there’s only seven songs. A couple more solid songs and I think this album would rank higher up in the Black Sabbath discography.