Black Sabbath was back into rebuilding mode after the mighty Ronnie James Dio and drummer Vinny Appice left the band due to some miscommunication and poor handling of the “Live Evil” album. Tony Iommi went into his bag of tricks and turned heads with the announcement of Ian Gillan coming into the Sabbath fold. Purple and black mixed together sounded intriguing and it culminated in the release of “Born Again” with the one of the most infamous artwork ever created. The demon baby from hell is definitely eye catching and may also induce vomiting, like Gillan stated when talking about the cover. Finally, after all these years of trying to find a reliable copy, a deluxe edition was bestowed upon the masses in 2011 with the baby in all its glory along with a studio outtake and a live show from the Reading Festival in 1983.
The most noticeable aspect of the original release of “Born Again” was the poor production which had a very flat sound and muddy guitars. The deluxe edition remedies the problem as much as it could as the original tapes could not be found, but there are some noticeable improvements as each instrument is distinguished as the drums give a sharper snap, bass lines are recognized, and Iommi’s guitar is clearer.
As for the songs themselves, it’s like Sabbath received a shot to the system. Ozzy Osbourne and Dio never really used their voices wildly like Gillan does here. He carries an attitude and does not use his screams judiciously. In the opening moments of “Trashed”, Gillan sends a shriek to announce that he means business. The track itself is a solid opener featuring a driving riff with Gillan seeming to enjoy himself singing about how he took Bill Ward’s car for a joyride and wrecked it.
Iommi pays back Gillan’s eagerness by conjuring up some of his most sinister riffs. The crashing cymbal and snare provided by Ward act as a crescendo to Iommi’s hellish guitar in “Disturbing the Priest.” Gillan laughs like a madman and provides some vocal theatrics to one of the standout tracks. Iommi provides another gem with the most famous song from this album, “Zero the Hero.” The song seems like the successor to “Iron Man” as they both have that signature riff, interesting characters, and are very memorable.
The meld of Deep Purple and Sabbath comes into play with the final tracks “Hot Line” and “Keep it Warm.” The titles don’t exactly seem something one would see on a Black Sabbath album, but with Gillan penning the lyrics, there are some tongue-in-cheek sexual moments, but it works well with the content. Iommi lets the blues roll on the latter track featuring a great jam at the end with him, Geezer Butler, and Ward letting it fly. “Hot Line” has the as expected energetic vocal performance and a very catchy riff to knock your head to. Iommi nails down a gritty solo to round out a very cool song.
The only truly weak song is the goofy titled “Digital Bitch.” The vocal lines are weak and the guitar isn’t as strong. It does not help both as the chorus is not memorable and hearing Gillan sing these lyrics as well as the song title is too silly to take seriously. The title track also just falls short of being very memorable as it has a slow, dooming atmosphere, but it does not go anywhere. It has potential, but a stronger chorus and more interesting instrumentation could have helped. The last bit of quibbles is the two little tracks of sound effects in “Stonehenge” and “The Dark.” “Stonehenge” has eerie effects similiar to "E5150", and then segues into “Disturbing the Priest”, but serves little purpose and “The Dark” is some low, strange noises that transition into “Zero the Hero.” This leaves only seven actual songs on the album.
Apart from the record is the gem on the second disc of this deluxe edition. There is a studio outtake of a song called “The Fallen” which shows Ward flexing his muscles on the drums and the guitar puts together competent notes when it hits the chorus. An extended version of “Stonehenge” is also included and it’s basically three more minutes of eerie, spacey sounds.
The live concert at the Reading Festival is when business picks up. All I can say is Gillan is a beast singing the Sabbath classics. His performances of “Iron Man”, “War Pigs” and “Paranoid” are stellar. He unleashes spine-tingling screams to go along with the riffs in instrumental parts and injects new life to tracks associated with Osbourne. These moments make me wish that this lineup stayed together, but then “Perfect Strangers” would not have happened.
Bev Bevan filled in for Ward on the tour and does a competent job. He does not have all the groovy fills that Ward provides, but he certainly did not detract from the performance. “War Pigs” gives the indication that he knows what he’s doing.
The “Born Again” tracks receive some good pub too as “Hot Line” comes across well, but I was not too fond of “Digital Bitch” in the set. “Zero the Hero” retains oozy guitar and a wonderful solo from Iommi. In the encore, the boys throw a nod to Gillan’s previous band by pumping out “Smoke on the Water.” I could only imagine how awesome it was seeing the Sabbath guys playing a Purple classic with Gillan. The crowd was electric during this performance and definitely gives that feeling of wanting to be there.
The deluxe edition of “Born Again” also contains notes on the album came into being and also an essay by the man who created that darn devil baby explaining its origin and how it was accepted as the design. The live show is worth the purchase alone and serves as a time capsule for that period of Black Sabbath. Any fan curious of this collaboration and looking to finally get their hands on this album should take the plunge into Purple Sabbath.