Black Sabbath - The Eternal Idol
Jul 26, 2018
Whether or not you like them, Born Again and Seventh Star marked a stark decrease in the popularity of Black Sabbath. If that was deserved or not is up to debate, but those two albums definitely saw the group’s popularity waning. Their popularity was hurt so badly that a lot of people don’t know that this album (and era) even exist. The album in question is The Eternal Idol which was the first album with Tony Martin as the frontman of Black Sabbath. Admittedly, if someone knows of one album from this era then it would be this one. In fact, The Eternal Idol (released in 1987) might have one of the strongest “cult” followings in any Sabbath album. Sure back then the album was received in mixed fashion, however, now there is a dedicated set of fans who believe this is THE underrated Sabbath album. I have to ask though, does this album really deserve the intense following that it has?

Sound-wise, this album is almost like a blending of everything that came before it. There are moments that can remind you of the Ozzy era, like the surprisingly heavy and doom-y title track. Songs like “Hard Life To Love” have riffs that could be reminiscent of the Dio era and the atmosphere is similar to the atmosphere present on Born Again (sometimes). Even Seventh Star has some of its influence here with some melodies that sound like they were straight from that album like “The Shining”. That’s not to say that the Tony Martin era doesn’t add anything of its own to the mix. For example, the Tony Martin era is much more fond of slower and more atmospheric bridges. It also has a tendency to have choruses that are much catchier for the band than usual. There’s also the speedier approach to a lot of the songs which combines with the more melodic approach. In a way, this album is like a summary of every single part of the band’s career (to this point) combined into one cohesive package. Despite all of the good things about this album’s sound, the songwriting has been really sloppy in the last two releases. Does this album also suffer from this issue?

For the most part, this album is a large step up in the songwriting department. There is a good amount of variety from fast paced songs (“Lost Forever”) to the more mid-tempo melodic songs like “Ancient Warrior”. Unlike the last two albums where a lot of the songs felt like there was almost nothing going on for long periods of time, this one seems to be consistently interesting in some fashion. Even the longer songs like the title track and “The Shining” feel like their length is justified. There are still a few moments that feel odd, like the disjointed intro to “Nightmare”, but I would say that this a much stronger album in the songwriting from a music standpoint. At the same time, the lyrics on here are a little inconsistent. Some songs have fantastic lyrics such as “Ancient Warrior” and “Nightmare” however, some songs are kind of cheesy, like “The Shining”. There are also some out of place moments in the lyrics like the extremely strange last verse on the title track that only relates to the premise of the song loosely. Most of the time, it’s just kind of unremarkable from the lyrical standpoint. It doesn’t really add anything to the music, like Never Say Die, but it never detracts from the music like Born Again. Overall, the songwriting is strong although it doesn’t reach the songwriting peaks for the band, like Sabotage or Mob Rules.

Like most of the albums that Sabbath have made, the highlights are the actual performances from the band themselves. Tony Iommi is still the leader of the band and he is still delivering fantastic riffs and solos. Actually, the riffs on this album might be the strongest of the band’s career. Not as famous as the riffs on songs like “War Pigs” or “Heaven And Hell”, but riffs that are just as strong if not stronger. The only problem with Tony’s performance is that he doesn't have as many solos as usual. However with riffs this strong, I can’t complain because the riffs on the title track, “Born to Lose”, and “Lost Forever” are some of his greatest riffs he ever made. While that might make it sound like Tony overshadows everyone, that’s not true. Eric Singer is still on the drums and I would consider his drumming a step up from his last performance. He sounds really powerful in all of the songs and is actually doing things instead of just forming a back beat. It’s not extremely technical or anything, but he is a lot more entertaining and more versatile this time around. Geoff Nicholls is still on the keyboards and he is used for great atmospheric effect. You might not even notice him on your first few listens, however, anytime there is atmosphere in one of these songs it’s coming from him in the background. The only problem is that there are a few songs where he doesn’t even seem to exist.

Bob Daisley is one of the new members and he plays the bass for this album. How did he do? Pretty well, even if the same production issues from the previous two albums still hamper the basslines. Speaking of basslines, there are some amazing ones in this album like the bassline on the chorus of “Nightmare” or “Lost Forever”. His basslines aren’t always easy to hear, but the ones you do hear are fantastic. That leaves us with Tony Martin himself. He doesn’t have the popularity of Dio and Ozzy, but he probably should based off of this album. He has a lot of versistly throughout this album. He shows emotion like on the title track and he sounds really powerful on “Lost Forever”. He also has a lot of great melodies from the infectious chorus of “The Shining” to the interesting melody on “Glory Ride”. I actually think that Tony Martin might have the best versatility out of any of the Sabbath vocalists and that’s saying something. He might not be as powerful sounding as Dio or as emotive as Ozzy, but he serves as a really strong middle ground that’s arguably just as strong as those two.

The department where Sabbath tends to have problems is the production, but this time it’s not too bad. It’s not great and there are a few issues, however, it’s another step up for the band. The drums don’t sound as “empty” and the guitar tone is really powerful. Tony Martin is mixed perfectly in the album as he never takes the attention away from everything else, yet he is also never in the background. There are still a few problems like the bass playing being buried in the background at some points and the keyboard being a little too quiet throughout the album. The band member that seemed to benefit from the production the most is Tony Martin. Mostly because his vocals get some interesting production effects, like the echoes on the title track. Overall, it’s a pretty good production job even if it’s kind of unremarkable. For some people that might actually be an appealing thing.

There are a few other things I noticed about this album. For one, every single song seems to end the same way. After most of the track the last ten seconds will just be a fade out. While it has been a bit of a problem in the past for the band, this might be the album where it’s most noticable. Another thing is that “Scarlet Pimpernel” feels a little bit out of place on here. It’s a really good acoustic instrumental, but I’m not sure why it’s actually here. The song is not related thematically and isn’t even a proper interlude because it also ends in a fade. The last thing is that the actual consistency of this album is fantastic. While the fading does make the album have a bit of a flow issue, the songs themselves are extremely strong throughout the whole album. It’s 43 minutes, but it feels shorter because there is almost no wasted time.

Overall, it’s easy to understand the cult following that The Eternal Idol has developed. It’s consistent, enjoyable, varied, and a fantastic album in general. Does it have issues? Yes, at the same time from an enjoyment standpoint and replaypilty perspective, this is one of their strongest efforts. Very few of their albums are this consistent. Not even Heaven and Hell managed to be this enjoyable throughout the whole running time. If you haven’t heard this album, give it a listen. It might surprise you. The Eternal Idol continued the popularity landslide that the band was going through, however, they also put some of their strongest songs here like the title track or “Nightmare”. The Eternal Idol might not be an album that everyone is familiar with, but it’s possibly stronger than their most popular albums like Paranoid or Heaven and Hell.
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