Black Sabbath Talks New Album, Metal Roots

On the eve of the release of "13," Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler discuss working with Rick Rubin, playing rare chestnuts on tour and why the 2013 version of the band is not your father's Sabbath.

To celebrate their new Rick Rubin-produced album 13 (out June 11), Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne and bassist Geezer Butler called a town hall meeting last week. Held at Los Angeles’ Harmony Gold, it was a reminder of the music industry’s good old days, with a buffet fit for a king, all to impress journalists, fans and metal heads as they took in the new music -- the band’s first studio offering with Osbourne since 1978's Never Say Die.

The itinerary for the night’s activities wasn’t entirely clear at first, not to attendees or Butler, who joked with The Hollywood Reporter that he and his bandmate were just along for the ride. “I wish we knew, we just came in for a drink and don’t know what’s going on,” he quipped when asked about the event.

But the two rock stars were also there to listen with fresh ears. Sure, they spent three months recording 13 at Malibu's Shangri-La studio, but it was, by Butler’s admission, their first time hearing it “in its entirety on a big PA system -- I’m used to listening to it on the cassette player. It sounds great.” Added Osbourne: “I hope people love the album as much as we do, we had a lot of fun making it.”

If the album has the feel of vintage Sabbath it’s because the band approached it as they did those seminal early albums. “We went back to the way we did the first three albums, live in the studio,” Butler elaborated.

“A couple of tracks were just written and done in the studio,” Osbourne interjected.

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They credit that return to a live setting to Rubin, who, according to Osbourne, had been requesting to work with Sabbath since the 1980s. “For years, Rick Rubin was saying to me, ‘When you get back to it, if you get back to it with the guys, please count me in. It’s one of my lifetime dreams to do a Black Sabbath album,’” Osbourne recalled.

But it was not an easy beginning as the two industry heavyweights first learned to communicate with each other. “He knew exactly what he wanted out of us and eventually we saw through his eyes. Took a while, but in the end we got what he was talking about,” said Butler. “He made us get the old spirit back, rather than try to be the ultimate heavy metal band and everything. He said, ‘Forget heavy metal.’”

That left Osbourne a little baffled. “I didn’t know what he was f---ing talking about. ‘Forget heavy metal, well, what are we gonna do, a f---ing acoustic album?’ I couldn’t get the vibe,” Osbourne said. “Then [Rubin] says, ‘The first album isn’t heavy metal.’ I say, ‘Well, what the f--- is it?’ He says, ‘It’s blues metal.’ And I thought, ‘Oh yeah, we started out with a blues, jazz band and progressed into heavy rock.’ There was a bluesy overtone to that album.”

The result: an album they’re both proud of and are able to bring to the stage. Several new tracks will make it on to the set lists for Sabbath’s upcoming U.S. arena tour, which kicks off July 25 in Houston.

“We did four songs on the tour and it’s blended seamlessly into the old stuff,” Butler said. “We’ve done ‘God Is Dead’ and ‘End of the Beginning,’ because they were the ones that were available on the Internet, so some people knew them. And then we tried a couple of other tracks, ‘Methademic’ and ‘Loner.’ We’re still experimenting with which ones we’ll end up playing live on this tour.”

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For Osbourne, playing the new material makes the requisite songs of the night, like “War Pigs,” “Iron Man” and “Paranoid,” more enjoyable. “It’s good to do something you’ve never really done before onstage,” he said. “And it does bring a breath of fresh air to the set, breaks it up a bit.”

The band is also digging deep into the catalog. Said Osbourne: “We do some old stuff that we never really played before, like ‘Under the Sun’ and ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep.’ We do a lot of different old songs as well.”

Ultimately, it’s playing new material with this lineup that makes it feel like a current act. “We did four new songs, and it makes it not a nostalgia act. It’s a modern act again,” said Butler, adding that’s he’s looking forward to new fans making Black Sabbath their own.

“This is gonna be their generation of Black Sabbath, so it’s not like the dad’s or granddad’s Sabbath.”

True to that ideal, Osbourne has very 2013 aspirations for the success of 13. “I just hope people really enjoy the work we’ve done,” he said. “Anything else I say, like, 'multiplatinum' … nobody buys records.”

Twitter: @THRMusic