Not Fade Away: Black Sabbath + Deep Purple = ‘Born Again’

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In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we focus on Black Sabbaths 1983 post-Dio-era curio, Born Again.

Black Sabbath is currently touring in support of their first ever #1 album, 13. Fans worldwide have rejoiced that the band’s original (and most popular) frontman, Ozzy Osbourne, is back in the fold for his first album with the Sabbath since 1979’s Never Say Die!.

Ask most fans, and they’ll tell you: the original Sabbath – Ozzy, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward (who isn’t participating in the current reunion) — is the classic version of the band. Those are the only members who were included in Black Sabbath’s induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

After Ozzy left the band – to a phenomenally successful solo career – he was replaced by the late Ronnie James Dio (formerly of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow). Ward soon left and was replaced by Vinnie Appice. That version of the band put out two classic albums, Heaven And Hell and Mob Rules (and many fans felt that Dio and Appice deserved to be a part of the Rock Hall induction because of those records). After that, RJD left the band, and took Appice with him, to form a new group, Dio. Would Iommi and Butler be able to relaunch the band a second time? Who could fill the shoes of not just Ronnie James Dio, but Ozzy Osbourne – and sing the songs from both eras of the band, while also being able to add to the group’s formidable legacy?

Enter former Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan: he certainly had the chops. One of the great vocalists of the 1970’s hard rock era, he could certainly perform the band’s older songs.  But could he help them add to the legacy?  With founding drummer Bill Ward back in the fold, they hit the studio to find out.

The resulting album, Born Again, may not quite match Sabbath’s first ten albums (although parts of it are as good as, or better than, say, Technical Ecstasy), but it still warrants consideration from Sabbath, hard rock and metal fans.  If it isn’t a classic, at least “Trashed” and “Zero The Hero” are among the best heavy rock songs of the mid-‘80s.

The band toured, with Gillian singing songs from the album, as well as the Ozzy and Dio eras. That version of Sabbath showed potential to be sure… but eventually a reunion of the classic Deep Purple lineup beckoned and Gillan left.  Still, as he told Radio.com in an interview last year (promoting Whocares, a compilation of rare tracks from his and Iommi’s career), he never liked the album’s mix.

“I feel now as I did then. I loved every minute of the whole recording/touring year. It was the longest party I’ve ever been to. [But] the final version of Born Again bears no comparison to the bright monitor mixes I have on a cassette. I love the material but have to admit I was disappointed with the muffled bass-end dominance when I first heard it. The radio stations seemed to agree with me as they deemed it ‘unplayable’. You may have heard that line in This is Spinal Tap…Wonder where that may have come from?” Gillan and Iommi have remained friends and have worked together to raise funds for a music school in Armenia, an effort that has lasted over a decade (and was the recipient of the funds raised by the aforementioned Gillan/Iommi collection).

Gillan’s departure put Sabbath into a bit of a tailspin. Iommi attempted a solo album (featuring another Purple alumni, Glenn Hughes, on vocals), which his record label forced him to release as a Sabbath album. Hughes, who never intended to join Black Sabbath, soon was relieved of his gig, leading to a revolving door of frontmen for a few years.

Over the past decade and a half, Iommi and Butler have reunited for a number of tours with Ozzy, as well as with Dio (under the name Heaven & Hell) before the latter’s untimely passing. And a Gillan-era reunion seems rather unlikely; Deep Purple is still going strong.

The physical copy of Born Again may be hard to find these days, but you can download it at iTunes. It’s worth checking out for a glimpse of what may have been Black Sabbath’s third great lineup, had Deep Purple never reunited.

– Brian Ives, Radio.com 

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