Black Sabbath - Seventh Star
Jul 19, 2018
58
1983 saw the release of Born Again. The only Sabbath album with Ian Gillan (from Deep Purple) on vocals. It wasn’t really well liked at its release, although it has become a sort-of cult classic now. Would you believe me if I told you that there was a similar story with 1986’s Seventh Star? This was the only Sabbath album with Glenn Hughes who was a former member of Deep Purple. Seventh Star was also the first album with Dave Spitz (Bass), Eric Singer (Drums), and Geoff Nicholls (Keyboard). It also wasn’t liked at release, however, there isn’t really a cult-classic status with this album compared to Born Again. Seventh Star would also be the album to kick off the “forgotten” era of Black Sabbath where people tend to forget about many of these albums. Now, there are two main opinions (from those who heard it) with not a lot of people in the middle. Depending on who you ask it’s either garbage or it’s an underrated gem that got a lot of underserved bashing. So, where do I stand on this release?

First, there has to be some context for this album. This isn’t technically a Black Sabbath album. It’s a solo album from Tony Iommi. Bill Ward and Geezer Butler left the band again and Tony decided that it was time to start a solo career. The problem was that the record label felt that Tony Iommi’s name wouldn’t sell so, they demanded that it became a Black Sabbath album. Do yourself a favor and look at that album cover. See the top? Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi. A bit strange considering he has been the only consistent member of the band, isn’t it? That’s all important to know for one big reason. This isn’t a metal album. It doesn’t even try to be a metal album. At its core, Seventh Star is an eighties hard rock album with all of the upsides and downside that sound brings.You have some powerful vocals from Glenn Hughes and you have strong sounding riffs from Tony Iommi. There is also use of keyboards which contributes to that eighties sound. Of course, with the eighties hard rock sound there is some cheese. Still, it’s about what you would expect of an eighties hard rock album and the fact that Tony Iommi is the mind behind it doesn’t change much. While this album definitely has an identity to it’s sound (unlike Born Again), it’s not a particular unique identity. In fact sound-wise, this might be one of the most uninteresting efforts under the Black Sabbath name. It sounds like a lot of other eighties hard rock albums. Still that problem can be changed with some performances.

The performances are an interesting case. Tony Iommi’s guitar work is pretty good per usual. His riffs are still mostly good with some strong pounding riffs on “In for the Kill” or the atmospheric riffing on the title track. Sadly, not all of the riffs are good this time around. “No Stranger to Love” has a pretty boring riff and the one on “Heart Like a Wheel” is fine, but not good enough to go on for six and a half minutes. Another problem is that Tony’s solos aren’t as good this time around either. There are a few good ones like the solo on “Danger Zone” or “Turn to Stone”. My problem is that a lot of the solos just go in one ear and out the other. There’s not much to latch onto for memorability. Eric Singer does a pretty good job on the drums. He tends to just kind of hang out in the background, but he does have his moments like “Turn to Stone”. The biggest problem with his drumming is that there really isn’t anything going on a lot of times. He doesn’t do a bad job and he never detracts from the music. On the songs where he’s at his most boring they were already boring songs, so there wasn’t much he could do to help.

Geoff Nicholls on the keyboards is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, his keyboard adds some nice atmosphere to a lot of these tracks like “Angry Heart”. On the other hand, his keyboard is also the reason some of these songs are as cheesy as they are. Still, I think he adds a lot to some of these songs and he is mostly doing a great job. Dave Spitz on bass is actually great through most of the album. His basslines on “Heart Like a Wheel” and “In For The Kill” are amazing and the one on the title track is just as good. Sadly, there are a few problems with his performance that relate to a bigger issue with the album. First though, Glenn Hughes. Let’s just say that Glenn Hughes makes most of these songs better. From his great vocals on the faster songs like “In for the Kill” to his emotive vocals on slower songs like “In Memory”. His vocal melodies are also mostly good. They tend to be catchy and somewhat interesting with exceptions in songs like “No Stranger to Love”. He is usually the best part of each song and he tends to make the cheesier songs a little less cheesy with his powerful and strong vocal performance.

Remember when I mentioned a bigger issue with the album affecting some of those performances? Well, that bigger issue was the production. For some reason, almost every eighties hard rock album suffers from the same production problems. The bass has a tendency to disappear for no reason. When it is audible, it’s barely noticeable which is a shame with the great basslines that are actually here. The drums sound powerful, yet they also sound so empty at the same time. The keyboard sounds fine on most of the songs and can actually sound really powerful at certain points of the album. The guitar tone is also fine, I guess, with a nice amount of power to it’s sound. My biggest problem is that the production sounds so clean. Now, clean production isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I think clean production can be better than rougher production on albums like Kreator’s Pleasure To Kill. However, there is a limit and Seventh Star just constantly seems almost powerless. There are some neat production effects on “Angry Heart” or the title track. On the flip side, there are also some poor production choices such as the extremely low volume of “Sphinx (The Guardian)” where the interlude is almost pointless because of how quiet it is. In general, the production on Seventh Star has the exact opposite issue as the production on Born Again. While Born Again was way too rough, Seventh Star is way too refined and clean.

The songwriting on this album is another mixed bag. Musically, it can be really engaging such as the constant swapping in speeds between fast paced rockers and slow paced ballads. The problem is that the music on the slower numbers is really boring. However, the faster songs have some great instrumentation and tend to be fun throughout their whole length. More mid-paced songs like the title track also don't have this issue as the riff and vocals are engaging. This album has nine songs and I feel like four of them have instrumentation (“No Stranger to Love”, “Sphinx (The Guardian)”, “Heart Like a Wheel”, and “In Memory”) that just can’t keep my attention. Lyrically, this album is in its worst department. The lyrics just tend to be really generic. That’s not always the case as the title track has some pretty good lyrics. However, most of the time they are really uninteresting. All of the other songs have almost nothing going on in their lyrics. The closest another song gets to having good lyrics is “Angry Heart”, but that’s only two songs. Another issue is that Tony Iommi can’t write a love song to save himself. Both of the love songs on this album are really cheesy, cliche, boring, and just not that well-written. Overall, the songwriting is just as I mentioned. A mixed bag. There are a lot of good elements here, but the album is lesser than the sum of its parts when it comes to the songwriting.

About those two sides I mentioned earlier. Well, I’m not really on either side. I don’t think it’s garbage, but I don’t think it’s an underrated gem. It’s an album with some truly astonishing songs like “In for the Kill”, “Angry Heart”, “Danger Zone”, “Turn to Stone”, and the title track. I don’t know if the album is good or bad. I think it’s neither. It’s close to being something that I would call a good album, but I don’t think I can call it a good album. At the same time, there are too many good songs to call it a bad album. It’s okay. It’s what I would call a pretty average album with some highlights. It’s not hard to see the appeal of Seventh Star. If you really enjoy the eighties hard rock sound and find yourself enjoying several albums in that genre than, give it a listen. It might be right in your taste and you might really enjoy it. It’s an alright Tony Iommi solo album, but not a Black Sabbath album.
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