Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Eternal Idol

Here's where the bleeding stopped.

After the departures of Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio, Black Sabbath membership became a game of musical chairs with different guys cycling in and out. By 1987, only guitarist Tony Iommi remained of the original lineup, and in fact, the previous album, Seventh Star, was supposed to be an Iommi solo project before record company pressure forced its release under the Sabbath moniker.

The recording of The Eternal Idol was similarly chaotic. Producers came and went as did backing musicians. Ray Gillen was supposed to be the vocalist and even recorded some songs, but he departed, too, leaving the band in a lurch. By this point, Sabbath had seen Ozzy, Dio, Gillen, Ian Gillan, and Glenn Hughes as singers. To finish the album, the band brought in relative unknown singer Tony Martin (no, not the same one who sang "Stranger in Paradise").

With all the dysfunction and setbacks, the pleasant surprise of The Eternal Idol is it emerges as a consistent and solid album that in no way reflects its difficult birth. No, it doesn't compare to the likes of Paranoid or Heaven and Hell, but as an example of smooth, polished late-80s heavy metal, it's worth checking out by those fans who can accept other front men for the legendary band.

Musically, The Eternal Idol is positioned somewhere between the gloomy, gothic sludge of the Ozzy era and the faster, fantasy-based juggernaut of the Dio years. The songs are mostly mid-tempo, and Iommi's guitar packs some mighty riffs, especially on the awesome opener, "The Shining" and "Hard Life to Love." The sound is more anthemic than the usual Sabbath fare, still heavy but much more uplifting, the kind of music you raise your fist to and sing along with.

"Rise up to the shining
Live long, live now.
Rise up to the shining
Don't be blinded by fools again.
Fools again."

Rounding out the sound is the keyboard work of Geoff Nicholls, perhaps the most underappreciated member of Sabbath in its history. His work gives the hard-rocking songs some cool atmosphere and a touch of the band's expected eeriness, especially on the title track, "Glory Ride," and "Nightmare," that contrast nicely with the crunch of the guitar.

Vocally, Martin is closer to Dio than Ozzy. His voice is cleaner and smoother than Ozzy's, and he can hit those high notes and soar when called upon to do so. He's unsung among Sabbath singers, but after Ozzy, he ended up having the longest tenure as vocalist, and on The Eternal Idol, it's not hard to see why: he's dependable.

"It won't be too long.
You think I'm chasing shadows in the dark.
Well I'm not born to lose."

Standout Songs
"The Shining" - A great opener and a lost classic.
"Hard Life to Love" - Sabbath plays an epic rock anthem.
"Scarlet Pimpernel" - A short instrumental. Iommi plays a gentle, tender acoustic guitar.

Favorite Moment
The opening of "The Shining" and its main riff. Given the band's then-recent troubled history, they sound re-energized, rocking, and alive.

Album Cover
A recreation of an Auguste Rodin sculpture from which the album draws its name, showing two nude figures, a submissive male leaning against a dominant female. Perhaps reflecting the band's recent struggles while highlighting their dedication?

Track Order
1) The Shining
2) Ancient Warrior
3) Hard Life to Love
4) Glory Ride
5) Born to Lose
6) Nightmare
7) Scarlet Pimpernel
8) Lost Forever
9) Eternal Idol

Tony Iomi - Guitar
Tony Martin - Vocals
Geoff Nicholls - Keyboard
Bob Daisley - Bass
Eric Singer - Drums

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