“The Eternal Idol” is a funny album. Going into the recording for Black Sabbath’s 13th album, the unlucky number foreshadowed what was about to happen to the group’s ranks. It started out with Tony Iommi on guitar as always along with Ray Gillen donning the microphone with Eric Singer and Dave Spitz on the drums and bass respectively. By the time the Idol was finished, Spitz and Gillen were out and the reliable Bob Daisley and little known Tony Martin would wrap up the recording sessions. With the sudden line-up changes, Iommi still managed to make a cohesive record with heavier guitars than “Seventh Star.” There are some elements of glam thrown in as well, letting it be known this is indeed came out in the eighties. The 2010 deluxe edition comes with two b-sides as well as the demos with Gillen before he departed.
The most notable aspect is the new comer behind the microphone with Martin. He is blessed with the powers to resemble Ronnie James Dio at times and nail all the high notes. His ominous tone in the title track can send shutters down your spine and the grandmaster Iommi provides the necessary tools in “Ancient Warrior” to let Martin’s voice shine.
“The Shining” opens with an acoustic part that bursts into electric gravity with a riff easy to headbang along with complimented by solid vocal lines and chorus. The aforementioned “Ancient Warrior” is a standout track because Martin’s voice travels with the rhythm wonderfully and the synth effects provided by Geoff Nicholls are a nice touch.
The idol loses its luster with “Hard Life to Love.” This song would not sound out of place on a Dokken record. Dokken rocks, but a band like Black Sabbath should not be hopping the glam train. The offense would be committed twice more with “Lost Forever” and “Born to Lose.” The latter always makes me think of Motorhead because of the title and this song receives a pass because it is hard not to appreciate the riff and Eric Singer’s drumming stands out.
If the hardened listener is gawking for true Black Sabbath from the Ozzy Osbourne days then “Scarlet Pimpernel” and the title track may provide the answer. The former is a little acoustic number with Iommi putting some light notes together and it serves as a change of pace and a breather for what is ahead. The title track has the gloom and doom that provides a sense of despair that permeates the atmosphere. It’s a startling ending to an album that is pretty upbeat throughout.
There are two extra songs on the first disc in “Black Moon” and “Some Kind of Woman.” “Black Moon” would reappear on “Headless Cross”, but the single version is different as there are no added vocals near the end of the song and not as much put into the lead guitar from Iommi. It still is an enjoyable tune and the verses give Martin room to deliver his message. “Some Kind of Woman” seems like an answer to Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” with some blistering guitar effects and theatrics and fast paced singing. It is not that great a song though and ultimately forgettable.
Disc two has the Gillen sessions and the one thought that prevailed was that was his album. “The Eternal Idol” suited Gillen’s strengths and he sings effortlessly and flawlessly. It is a shame that he did not stick around long enough to have his voice on the record. This is by no means an affront to Martin because he does a great job on here and he is to be commended for coming in on short notice, but Gillen has more the glam image to him and lyrics about love and women seem more believable with him singing than an ugly dude like Martin. If there was any doubt that Gillen could not conceive demons in his voice than look no further than to the title track to dispel any doubt. His voice soars in “Glory Ride” and the chorus lines seem so natural to him.
If you are going to purchase this album, then this is the way to go. The deluxe edition is more expensive, but it is hard to deny the extras. On the other hand, if you already own this then its best to decide the worth of wanting the Gillen demos and the two b-sides. As for the album itself, I point to what Alex Milas wrote in the linear notes as he basically states this no classic, but is a mark of a band trying to survive and hang on to its legacy. That sums the album up perfectly.