Black Sabbath - Tyr
Aug 11, 2018
What’s the most forgotten about Black Sabbath album under the Black Sabbath name? There could be a decently sized list of candidates if you tried to answer that question. However, in that list there are two constants, one of which is Sabbath’s first album of the nineties known as Tyr (the other is Cross Purposes). Sure, dedicated listeners of the band likely know about this album. Otherwise, this is one of the albums from the Tony Martin era that is not well known. Even worse was that 1990’s Tyr got mixed reception when it came out and chances are that the reviews weren’t good for publicity. At the same time, the first two Tony Martin albums are really good and stand out as gems. Did this album do the same?

Tyr might be the most Tony Martin-y album from the Tony Martin era. What I mean by that is, that this album doesn’t really have anything that could be seen as a callback to their earlier material. The closest thing you get to a callback is a few, sort of, Dio era sounding riffs. Besides that, this takes the Tony Martin era stylings and makes them a larger part of their sound. Those anthemic choruses are still here and are in more of the songs. There is still a nice variety from the speedy “The Lawmaker” to the ballad “Feels Good to Me”. While The Eternal Idol and Headless Cross could remind someone of the past time periods of the band, Tyr couldn’t be mistaken for anything else in the Black Sabbath discography. It’s a Tony Martin era album and it thrives when it decides to embrace this fact the most such as the album opener “Anno Mundi” (one of their strongest openers). This is easily the most power metal-y album that they made since Mob Rules, but I think that this album is more of a power metal album than anything else they made.

This power metal approach is strengthened by the musicianship here. Tony Iommi’s riffing is fantastic with highlights being found in “Jerusalem” and his soloing has a decent amount of variety. While his soloing will rarely blow your mind, it is consistently enjoyable and there are great solos on “Heaven in Black”. Cozy Powell’s drumming is powerful and he serves as an incredibly strong backbone for the band in most of these songs. Despite being the backbone he can still be a fantastic highlight, like“Valhalla” or the ending stretch of “The Sabbath Stones”. Neil Murray (who’s new to the band) on bass is doing a great job and for the first time in a while, the production actually makes it somewhat possible to hear the bass playing. That’s an especially great thing this time because the basslines found on some of these songs, “Feels Good to Me” for example, are incredible. Geoff Nicholls’ work on the keyboard isn’t as prevalent as usual for the band which is kind of disappointing. When he does appear, he adds a good amount to the music with the best example being the instrumental interlude “Battle Of Tyr”. Tony Martin continues to be the vocalist of the band and continues to show some nice variety in his performance. Most of the time, he is showing how powerful his voice can sound which works with the choruses that were written for this album. He still tones it down on songs like “Odin’s Court” or “Feels Good To Me”. He is always a positive to the songs here and, even on the chessier moments, he manages to make it sound really good.

That all means a lot less though if the lyrics have continued to be subpar. Luckily, the band actually improved in this department. The lyrics aren’t amazing and they can get pretty cheesy, but I think that they are infinitely more interesting than the uninteresting lyrics on Headless Cross. There’s a decent amount of variety here instead of just focusing on the same topic. Songs range from being a social commentary of sorts (“Anno Mundi”) to being about Nordic mythology (“Valhalla”). The lyrics are never fantastic. On the flip side, they are usually at least good and tend to even be great at points. There’s an argument to be had that the songwriting is kind of unnoteworthy, but the lyrics are always well-written and fit really nicely with the music behind. Anything that’s actually bad is made better by Tony Martin’s vocal delivery. He can add a bit of personality to otherwise bland lyrics through his vocals. Overall it’s not going to top the songwriting highlights for the band (Sabotage) however, it’s consistently good enough and never detracts from the songs.

The most impressive thing is that the variety of lyrical topics and musical themes don’t get in the way of the flow of Tyr. Every song seems to lead into the next one really well. In fact, there’s even three songs that kind of form a “suite” (for lack of a better word) that each flow into each other perfectly. “The Battle of Tyr” sets up the atmosphere of the other two perfectly and “Odin’s Court” serves as a nice introduction to the lyrical themes of the set. “Valhalla” ends up following “Odin’s Court” and is the pay off for the other two. As the tame nature of the other two end up leading into a song with a loud and anthemic chorus with great guitar solos and a large amount of energy. Elsewhere on the album, it constantly switches between the faster, slower, and more mid-tempo songs giving a nice feeling to it all. There is only one issue with the pacing and that’s the fact that “Feels Good to Me” doesn't seem to fit that much with the rest of the tracklisting. This only applies thematically though, because the actual pacing benefits from it’s conclusion as a nice ballad-y track that’s a cool down from “Valhalla” and a set up for “Heaven In Black”. The only thing that’s really bothersome about the flow is that I really wish that the album didn’t end with a fade although that’s probably a nitpick.

Tyr definitely stands out as a gem in the band’s discography. It’s the best of the Tony Martin era (up to this point) and is full of great songs that have a lot of energy and great ideas. There really aren’t any weak songs to be found here and a good amount of them could land with some of the best that the band ever made. Is it perfect? No, it really isn't. Tyr can get cheesy and kind of ridiculous at points. The weird thing is that the album is a lot of fun to listen to despite that and, in some ways, it’s a lot of fun to listen to because of how ridiculous it can get. From an objective sense, this album probably isn’t that strong. From an enjoyability standpoint, I absolutely love this release. Every member is doing a fantastic job and the songwriting wasn’t embarrassing (the first for the band since Mob Rules). This stands up there as one of the group’s strongest albums and it’s probably the biggest hidden gem (as an album) in their work.

“Anno Mundi” (Best Song)
“The Sabbath Stones”
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