On Sept. 29, 2014 news spread like wildfire that Black Sabbath are to finish their career with one last final album and tour, likely to be produced by Rick Rubin. The story seemed to appear first as a “world exclusive” on Classic Rock, then was picked up by music news sites around the world. Joe Siegler’s Black Sabbath online page, an encyclopedic fan page dedicated to the band, was forced to post an update on Sept. 29 stating that the announcement was not yet officially confirmed.
Fans waited with bated breath for a retraction from the band’s management, skeptical since the news seemed a little too good to be true. A retraction never came, and on Oct. 22 Ozzy re-confirmed the news in an Esquire interview. Note: there is still no official announcement from the band or from individual members, but it looks like the album will be moving forward! There remain several questions as how to this will all pan out. Below is a discussion of some of the variables regarding the new album and tour.
Who will produce?
Rick Rubin remains the most likely producer of the new Black Sabbath album. He’s a world-famous producer with a long string of classic albums under his belt. Any project with his name attached automatically becomes larger in scope: higher budget, more publicity, bigger financial return. Yet Rubin has also developed a reputation for producing critically acclaimed albums for bands and then moving on to the next project.
Will Rubin want to produce Black Sabbath again, or did he complete what he wanted to with the release of 13? Rubin went so far as to edit the final song of 13, “Dear Father”, to include thunder and church bells (without the band’s approval, incidentally) to create a continuity with Black Sabbath’s self-titled song from their debut album. Rubin without a doubt believed 13 to be the band’s final album. I could see how he may want to skip this last album in order to avoid risking his own legacy with the band. After all, 13 has sold over 1,000,000 copies worldwide and became the band’s first and only No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart. It’s going to be difficult to match that success.
Whether or not Rubin ends up producing, the choice of producer will have an immense impact on the final sound of the album. If Rubin ends up producing, expect a continuation of the 13 sound, capturing the sound and spirit of the early 70’s. With 13 Rubin did an immense job of persuading the band to re-live their early years, before “heavy metal” existed as a genre and the band’s music was influenced more by blues/jazz and live jam sessions. At the time, Black Sabbath had more in common with bands like Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and other hard rock icons of the time.
If someone besides Rubin produces I think it’s more likely that the band comes out with a more modern production. If you look at the band’s output as a band, and also including all solo projects, all members of Black Sabbath have been playing in a “heavy metal” style since at least the mid-80’s. Without Rubin at the helm I think it’s more likely that the band naturally reverts to more of a heavy metal sound, perhaps similar to Ozzy’s solo material.
Who will drum?
The other main question is who will drum on a new Black Sabbath album? This question I think is necessarily linked to who will produce. If Rubin ends up producing, the stakes are much higher. I expect the studio and Rubin himself to push strongly for Bill Ward’s return to the band. I wouldn’t be surprised, in fact, if Rubin’s role as producer is actually predicated on having Bill Ward on drums. However, as has long been the case, it remains unclear if Ward is physically up to the role or if the financial details can be successfully worked out. If Ward is unable to play, I expect Rubin’s second choice would again be Brad Wilk, if he’s available. It’s not clear if Wilk himself would be interested, as he was not selected to be drummer for the 13 tour and in interviews the band came off as somewhat indifferent to his album performance.
If a different producer is chosen, I would expect the band to also try to reconcile with Bill Ward, up to a point. If it doesn’t work with Ward, I would expect the band to reward Tommy Clufetos for his loyalty. Clufetos, a long-term drummer for Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band, was passed over for the recording of 13, only to be picked up for the tour. By most accounts his drumming has improved considerably during the 13 tour and today he could be a better match for the band in the studio. If Clufetos is selected as drummer, that may also push the next album in more of a heavy metal direction, given his main gigs have been with Ozzy’s solo band and with Rob Zombie.
Other drummer names periodically come up, but they are much less likely. Die-hard Black Sabbath fans would surely push for Vinny Appice, who has a long history playing with Black Sabbath, mostly the Ronnie James Dio years, and with Dio’s solo band. Rick Rubin reportedly suggested Cream’s Ginger Baker for 13, who Tony Iommi dismissed outright for unspecified, presumably personality-related, reasons. Other names reportedly considered have included Phil Collins of Genesis and Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but these are even less likely. Fans frequently suggest names like Dave Lombardo of Slayer and Vinnie Paul of Pantera, but there is nothing to indicate either has been seriously considered.
If you look at Black Sabbath’s long history of drummers, though, it’s clear that the band doesn’t pick people based on name or reputation, or even necessarily skill. They may only want Bill Ward on drums and if that doesn’t work out, they will probably be fine with Clufetos or Wilk. At this late point in their career the band is acutely aware that their recording/touring time is quickly running out and that they don’t have time to audition and select the perfect drummer. A perfect drummer in this case, apart from Ward, may be a young drummer with lots of stamina who does what he is told and does not expect a huge paycheck.
What happened to the extra ’13’ songs?
Another question that remains is what exactly happened to the 4 unreleased songs from the 13 sessions? They have not been released to date, so presumably the band is holding these tracks back in the event there’s a need to use them for the upcoming album. Tony Iommi has stated previously that he does not like to use old songs in this manner, but if there are any problems recording the next album, I think we can expect these tracks to surface to fill in any gaps.
With that possibility in mind, a mixed production seems a very real possibility, with perhaps half the album produced by Rubin (the 4 unreleased songs) and the other half produced by someone else (or multiple producers). The same could be said of the drummer situation; maybe some songs will feature Wilk and some will feature Clufetos. There are reportedly also demos made with Bill Ward before he left the ‘13’ sessions, so perhaps there’s even a possibility of using some of those demos for the upcoming album.
Who will be the live drummer and how extensive will the tour be?
Finally, who will be on the drum stool for the upcoming tour? If Bill Ward is selected, expect the band to have a replacement drummer waiting in the wings, ready to step in in case Ward cannot continue. This has long been a band practice, as Ward’s live performances have been questionable since at least the mid-2000’s. If Ward is not selected, it’s very likely that Clufetos will continue to be the live drummer. He knows all the songs, he has the stamina and he has won over a skeptical fan base.
It’s possible that Clufetos will play the bulk of the live shows and then Ward may take the stage to do 2-3 songs. Regardless of what happens with Ward, most fans would love to see him play some role in this last saga of the band’s history. Ideally, I think the final show should be in the band’s hometown of Birmingham, England, with Ward on drums for one last time. It’s also very likely that Ward could be selected just for the album, where he can play in a safe and controlled environment, and that Clufetos will end up playing all or the bulk of the live shows.
How long should fans expect this final tour to last? That truly is something very unpredictable, especially with Tony Iommi’s ongoing cancer treatments. It will be interesting to see what is finally decided upon. My gut feeling is that the tour this time around will only hit major markets, such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and places like that. But we’ll see! The touring side of this is definitely something that can’t really be commented on at this time.
Looking for more info? Be sure to check out Joe Siegler’s Black Sabbath online page. Everything you ever wanted to know about the band is available, including an extensive timeline of the band. The forum section is also a great resource to connect with other fans and to answer any questions you may have. 2015 should be a great year for rock ‘n’ roll, when Black Sabbath, the “godfathers of metal” return for one last album and tour. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that all goes as planned, ideally with Bill Ward behind the drum kit for one last time.
Ultimately, Black Sabbath did not decide to record a follow-up to 13. Four unreleased songs from the 13 sessions were released as “bonus” tracks on some versions of 13, most notably the Best Buy Deluxe version, which included all four songs and a lenticular/hologram cover. The four unreleased songs were “Methademic,” “Peace of Mind,” “Pariah,” and “Naïveté In Black.”
As it turns out there were additional songs from the 13 sessions that were later released. On Jan. 20, 2016 the band released The End EP which was sold as a concert exclusive for the band’s final world tour. The EP contained four additional tracks never heard before, including “Season of the Dead,” “Cry All Night,” “Take Me Home,” and “Isolated Man”. Rounding out the EP were four live recordings captured during the 2013-2014 tour. Brad Wilk played drums on the studio recordings; Tommy Clufetos played drums on the live recordings.
With a total of eight unreleased songs from the 13 sessions it was almost as if fans really did receive a whole new album. Unfortunately, due to the haphazard manner of release, and especially regarding The End EP, many of these songs were not heard by fans and they did not receive the attention they should have. The End EP is particularly an expensive collector’s item now and is frequently bootlegged. Many of the songs were just as good as the songs on 13, or even better. Purists may also appreciate that the unreleased songs are “underproduced” and retain a certain raw aesthetic.
The final Black Sabbath world tour, also entitled The End, began on Jan. 20, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska, coinciding with the release of The End EP, of course. The final show of the tour, and their final tour to date, was on Feb. 4, 2017 in the band’s hometown of Birmingham. Tommy Clufetos played for the entire tour, including the final dates in Birmingham.
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