It’s hard being a Black Sabbath fan when your favorite era of the band isn’t the Ozzy era. A typical conversation I have with other Sabbath fans goes something like this…
Them: “Oh hey! You’re a Black Sabbath fan?”
Me: “Yeah, but probably not the same type as you.”
Them: “What do you mean?”
Me: “My favorite Sabbath singers are Dio and Tony Martin.”
Them: “I guess Dio’s okay, but who the heck is Tony Martin?”
Yeah. That happens a lot. While the Dio-era of Sabbath will always be my favorite, my second favorite era is the Tony Martin era. Not many know that Tony Martin was even in Black Sabbath, let alone that he was the band’s second longest tenured singer, with five studio albums.
But first, let me get some stuff out of the way. Yes, Dio is my favorite Sabbath singer, and Martin is second, but this doesn’t mean I dislike the classic Ozzy-era. I enjoy almost all of the Ozzy-era material. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is one of my favorite albums by the band. So none of this is anti-Ozzy at all.
Second. Yes. Forbidden is an absolutely awful album. It’s easily my least favorite by the group, bar none. Pretty much everyone involved with that album hates it, because of how rushed, and half-assed it was made.
Let’s forget all that, though. What makes people either dislike, or completely skip over the Tony Martin-era of Sabbath? Well, first, it’s different. Every era of Sabbath is different than the others, but this era isn’t really doomy or scary at all. A lot of people go as far to call Martin-era Sabbath power metal, but I’d disagree with that. It’s a lighter side of the band, with less of a focus on dark heavy playing. The Martin albums are melodic, and thematic. Of course, Iommi ALWAYS gives amazing riffs, and these albums are no different, but they aren’t as crushing, and heavily focused as they are in the past works.
In addition, the band themselves cite difficulties in marketing the albums, and difficulties touring the albums as reasons for the lackluster chart performances, and in turn, lackluster longevity in the minds of fans. Tony Iommi did an interview with fan magazine Southern Cross and said…
“When we had the first record out with I.R.S. (Headless Cross), Cozy (Powell) and myself went into record stores in Toronto, Canada, where we are pretty big. Nobody could get the record, it wasn’t in the shops… unbelievable. We had such a fight with the local rep. I really came close to chinning him – it really was that bad. At the end of the day, it’s us that suffer. They say, ‘Oh, it didn’t sell.’ How can it sell if you haven’t got the record in the shops?”
There’s so much great about the Martin-era of Sabbath, though. Martin was enlisted to be the new Sabbath vocalist almost at the time his debut album with them, The Eternal Idol, was done. Ray Gillen originally sang on the album, but when the album was pretty much done, he left, and Martin was enlisted to sing on it. You can still hear the completed Ray Gillen version of the album, too. THAT’S how close to finished the album was. The Eternal Idol was a really solid start for the era, but not my favorite. The title track of the album has a lot of similarities with the original Black Sabbath track.
In an interview with the same fanzine, Iommi said…
“I’d like to have seen some of the stuff off The Eternal Idol be a bit more credited, because I think there’s some good tracks on that album – ‘Ancient Warrior’…”
As for myself, I prefer “Nightmare” and “Lost Forever,” even though a lot of people I’ve had listen to this album have told me “The Shining” was their favorite.
Now, the next two albums, Headless Cross and Tyr are the real deal. They are both incredible albums that still hold up to this day. Headless Cross is easily one of the greatest Sabbath records of all time, in my opinion. Iommi always spoke highly of the album, and it’s still listed on the band’s official website for memorable works post-Ozzy. Cozy Powell, formerly of Rainbow, and Emerson Lake & Powell, joined Sabbath on this album, and his drumming kicks it up to another level. Brian May of Queen, and a close friend of Iommi’s guests on the track “When Death Calls” for a great solo. The only track on the album that I think doesn’t hold up as well is “Kill in the Spirit World.” Other than that track, the album is filled with awesome material from cover to cover. My favorite track is “Nightwing” although, the title track has seemed to have more longevity.
Tyr continues the power of Headless Cross, but gives it Norse themes instead of the classic Sabbath occult themes. Cozy Powell’s drumming is off the page, and Tony Martin really shows how he grew as a vocalist since his first album with the group. If you need proof, check out “Anno Mundi.”
Viking metal band Tyr also took inspiration from this album when selecting their name, and the Sabbath themselves named a greatest hits album after “The Sabbath Stones.” If you want another really great Norse themed song from the album, try “Valhalla” which fades without pause after both “The Battle of Tyr” and “Odin’s Court.”
After this, Tony Martin was dropped for Dio, and the result was the incredible, but short lived Dehumanizer album. What happened when Dio left, and the band’s possible Ozzy reunion at the time fell through? Well, they got Tony Martin back for the Cross Purposes release! This album is decent. Not one of the best, but certainly not one of the worst either. I won’t spend much more time on this album, as I already did a full review on it. Forbidden was next and…well…it sucked.
The Tony Martin-era of Sabbath is an overlooked, and vastly underrated era of the band. It’s different, and it changed a lot of things, and a lot of people don’t like change. If you go into these albums with an open mind, and don’t expect to be hearing the same Sabbath you may be used to, you might find some real gems, but in a different light then the other gems you already knew existed. Love this era or hate it, I certainly think it’s worth listened to at least once. The Martin-era gets completely glanced over to much for my taste. Give Headless Cross a listen, at least, and hear the opposite side of the Black Sabbath coin.