Black Sabbath - Headless Cross
I.R.S. Records
Heavy Metal
8 songs (40'24")
Release year: 1989
Black Sabbath
Reviewed by Adam
Archive review
Black Sabbath was a band in utter turmoil in the late 80’s. The previous few years had been difficult, with the release of two albums never intended to carry the Black Sabbath name (Born Again and Seventh Star). Critical support was waning, and continued to fall even after the release of the severely unheralded The Eternal Idol, Tony Martin’s maiden voyage with the band. Following the old adage that rats are the first to desert a sinking ship, US label Warner Bros. and UK label Vertigo Records both promptly dropped the band from their respective rosters, leaving the future in question. After signing to I.R.S. Records, Tony Iommi elected to produce the follow-up to The Eternal Idol himself. Cozy Powell was installed as the new drummer; with Laurence Cottle taking over bass duties to accompany Iommi and Tony Martin for his second go round. The resulting album, Headless Cross, was released in 1989.

For those new to the Martin era, his vocals are undoubtedly the most power metal sounding of any Sabbath frontman, as they make their home in a generally higher pitch than those of Dio (whom he draws the most comparison to). This gives Headless Cross a definite feel of a power metal record, though it still has a tangible Sabbath flair thanks to Iommi’s riffing. In addition, the lyrics are almost all occult inspired, making this lyrically the most evil Black Sabbath album in existence. An ominous intro leads into the album’s namesake and finest track. Martin really takes the reins, belting out a sustained and harmonized chorus wail that still gives me goosebumps. There is no denying the man’s range, and he gives an overall impassioned performance. The title track was also one of two singles released from Headless Cross, with Devil & Daughter being the other. The latter is more quickly paced than its predecessor, and features a more prominent keyboard performance by Geoff Nicholls and well-placed classical solo by Iommi. When Death Calls is a track marked by a pounding chorus riff and more aggressive style of vocals from Martin. Of note is the guest appearance of Queen guitarist Brian May on the solo, which fits in quite well. Kill in the Spirit World and Call of the Wild both sound right at home in the 80’s thanks to the production and keyboards, though the former has the most power metal elements of any track in my opinion. Neither song is particularly memorable, but neither is worth skipping either. Headless Cross does close well, however, as Black Moon and Nightwing are two of the best tracks on the album. Black Moon uses a searing main riff to its utmost advantage, and Martin’s chorus vocals, again expertly harmonized, are flat out superb. The icing on the cake is the inclusion of some outstanding soloing and leads from Iommi. Nightwing is much darker track, but it contains a more lengthy share of soloing, and Martin’s vocals sound more emotionally charged, and he unleashes a perfect sendoff with “Nightwing flies again!!!” near the close of the album.

Though at the time of release Headless Cross was virtually ignored by critics and fans alike, it is a fine addition to the Black Sabbath catalog. Tony Martin deserves much praise for his performance on this album, and I like to think he lended a renewed sense of inspiration to Tony Iommi, who wrote some fine material here as well. As with the preceding album The Eternal Idol, Headless Cross does not often garner the reverence it deserves from fans. I am in no way trying to put either of these albums on the same pedestal as the Ozzy or Dio era albums, but they are still fine albums and deserve more credit than they tend to get.
Killing Songs :
Headless Cross, Black Moon, Nightwing
Adam quoted 81 / 100
Other albums by Black Sabbath that we have reviewed:
Black Sabbath - 13 reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
Black Sabbath - Classic Albums - Paranoid (DVD) reviewed by Marty and quoted no quote
Black Sabbath - Forbidden reviewed by Khelek and quoted 65 / 100
Black Sabbath - Mob Rules reviewed by Khelek and quoted CLASSIC
Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath reviewed by Adam and quoted CLASSIC
To see all 22 reviews click here
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