Black Sabbath Anno Domini 1989 1995

Black Sabbath – Anno Domini 1989-1995 (BMG, boxset)

A lot of people live their lives thinking Ozzy Osbourne is the embodiment of Black Sabbath. He was, of course, but that doesn’t mean the band didn’t go on to make some incredible records after the dismissal of the drug-addled Prince Of Darkness in 1979. Most folk will be aware that both Ronnie James Dio and Ian Gillan filled the void admirably for a while, but, beyond the diehard Sab fans, Tony Martin‘s name is not as instantly familiar. Ask a superfan though, and they’ll tell you – Martin’s tenure as frontman is one of the great purple patches in rock history, and as this new boxset will attest, Black Sabbath at this point were nothing short of jaw-droppingly tremendous. You know how when you meet a new lover and you get on so well that you can’t keep your hands off each other? Well, owning Anno Domini is a bit like that. Quite simply, this is one of the most amazing box sets anyone has ever put out, and I say that without even a hint of jest.

As the extensive sleeve notes (in the fabulous accompanying booklet) point out, Martin’s first record with the band, 1987’s The Eternal Idol, was released with little fanfare, somewhat unfairly, as there is some killer work on there, such as the outstanding, impossibly infectious ‘A Hard Life To Live‘ and the blistering single ‘The Shining‘. Alas, the lack of recognition attained by The Eternal Idol has rendered it absent from this set, but the good news is that this means we’re immediately hit with the out-and-out classic Headless Cross (remastered version) first, and it still sounds as stunning now as it did when it first electrified us in 1989.

The ominous instrumental brooding of ‘The Gates Of Hell‘ soon explodes into life with the title track, leaving us in no doubt – if any convincing was actually still needed – that Tony Martin’s vocal range made him the perfect fit for the band at that time, over an irresistibly intense, synth enhanced backing that ultimately demonstrated that yes, in terms of classic rock, Sabbath were, indeed, still king. Highlights – from an album filled to the brim with them – include ‘Kill In The Spirit World‘, which is one of those songs that just completely lifts you out of your banal existence and transports you another world completely, fantastical and with pathways lit up by Tony Iommi’s lead guitar, which drips with passion here, and ‘Devil & Daughter‘, where Martin’s vocals, Iommi’s shredding and Cozy Powell’s powerhouse drums are a marriage made in Hell. In a good way.

Two more remastered albums follow – 1990’s Tyr, which might even be my favourite of the four vinyl discs included, with its Nordic mythology theme as fascinating as it is atmospheric, ‘Anno Mundi‘ welcoming you to the nineties, making you feel like you’re up in the clouds that adorn the sleeve’s artwork. Then ‘The Law Maker‘ is uptempo, hard and commercial in a similar way to how Iron Maiden‘s ‘The Trooper‘ was, and every bit as tantalising. ‘The Sabbath Stones‘ is perhaps my favourite track here, visceral and tenacious, opening the door for Metallica to dominate the decade as pretenders to the golden rock crown.

Third in the set is 1994’s Cross Purposes, which tends to hark back to Sabbath’s former glories, Martin returning after the band had released 1992’s Dehumanizer with Dio as the main man again. It’s harder hitting and a foot to the floor 100mph joyride, tracks like ‘Psychophobia‘ and the Eddie Van Halen co-write ‘Evil Eye‘ letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that Black Sabbath remained well and truly one of the tightest bands ever to have graced this earth.

It’s a shame then, that this boxset has to end with 1995’s Forbidden. It’s not as bad as the reviews would have you believe, but it’s simply not that interesting either, despite the ‘new mix’ that makes the cut here (it is, however, superior to the original) although Ice-T‘s admittedly divisive (among fans) appearance is a curiously captivating moment on its opener ‘The Illusion Of Power‘. It is though, sadly, for the most part, the sound of a band devoid of ideas, but the strength of the other three albums here overrides its weaknesses and makes this as compelling a boxset as I’ve ever seen.

In terms of the packaging, it’s difficult to top. The accompanying book is one of the most informative things I’ve seen with a set like this, then you get a 1989 Headless Cross tour programme, a breathtaking poster from the same tour, and the four vinyl albums themselves all inside an immaculately crafted hard cardboard box. It looks and feels spectacular. If the scoring were down entirely to the packaging, it would be a 10/10 unquestionably. And even without that, it’s still an essential part of the Black Sabbath story.

Only Forbidden flaunts the imperfection of the set, but even that’s slightly better than its legacy would suggest, so I can’t be too harsh, and it only loses a point from its potential perfect score as a result. I only hope that Anno Domini introduces a new legion of fans to the wonderful Tony Martin, whose tenure with the band deserves a whole lot more acknowledgement. A stunning body of work.


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