32 Years Ago: Black Sabbath Release Their Only Album With Ian Gillan, ‘Born Again’
In August 1983, Black Sabbath released Born Again, their 11th album and the only one to feature former Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan. But this intriguing rock ‘n’ roll match-up was not fated to last. There was certainly every reason for excitement, given Sabbath’s glorious resurrection behind Ozzy Osbourne‘s first replacement, Ronnie James Dio. Gillan’s career was more impressive than Dio’s, as were his album sales and, in its equally spectacular way, his voice.
Still, the demons that had been consuming Black Sabbath over the past few years loomed heavily over guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward like the grim reaper. Whether you want to blame the baggage or just incompatibility with Gillan, the bottom line: Born Again was no Heaven and Hell.
Some fans found things to like about the pile-driving opening number “Trashed” or the cleverly worded “Disturbing the Priest,” but others took issue with everything else — from the clunky songwriting drudgery of “Zero the Hero” and “Keep It Warm” to the LP’s wind-tunnel production and its famously heinous cover art.
Others simply couldn’t get their heads around Gillan’s tongue-in-cheek, frequently double-entendre lyrics, which — when wedded to one of the most serious bands on the planet (they were the lords of doom and gloom, don’t forget) — birthed a true Frankenstein of an album. So no matter which faction you align yourself with, you’ll probably agree that Born Again remains one of Sabbath’s most divisive records.
When dismal sales, Ward’s deteriorating health and Spinal Tap-inspiring tour debacles (namely, the infamous Stonehenge stage set) expedited Gillan’s return to a newly reformed Deep Purple, this new version of Black Sabbath never even had a chance to hone their chemistry into something special on a follow-up album. Instead, Born Again gave way to the most confused and uncertain phase of the band’s long career.
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