I've really given this album a lot of time and listens to sink in before writing anything about it. I did so because I wanted to be fair about it, and not judge it with the anger I, as a fan, have at the band for passing this off as a "reunion" without Bill Ward playing drums. I've read all the arguments online for this. I've had a hundred friends all tell me that they played this album UNTIL they liked it, and had it "grow on them." I've tried that myself, to be honest. A lot of people are all claiming that "as long as it has Iommi's riffs, then they will like it." That is obviously a lie, unless you are like me and love albums like HEADLESS CROSS, FORBIDDEN and TYR. In the end, 13 is a release that needs to be judged like all releases do - on it's own merits and what you hear when listening to it. To me, it's a fairly average offering.
The thing that really stands out about 13 to me is how lacking of freshness this actually feels. For all the love that people (including me) have for guitarist Tony Iommi and his brilliant playing over the years, most of the riffs on 13 just sound like rehashed or slightly reworked versions of things he's done in the past. Be it the stolen "Planet Caravan" vibe of "Zeitgeist" or the direct knockoff riff on "Loner", it's clear that there were less new ideas and more of a concerned effort to simply sound like the old days by Iommi. That's fine, I guess. Keeping in mind that they are trying to reinvent the old vibe, I guess it makes sense. That said though, it's a major letdown when you consider the fresher vibe Iommi brought to THE DEVIL YOU KNOW by the Dio-led HEAVEN & HELL.
The real weakness on 13 to me though is vocalist Ozzy Osbourne. There's a reason his career as a solo artist has been done with triple tracking his voice to fill it out. It's because when it's raw, it's not very good. He's not cracking or going out of key or anything, but he's just very flat throughout the disc. In the old days, the lack of vocal excellence from Ozzy was masked by the crazy, frenetic energy that he brought. On 13, he's going through the motions to sound like the original singer from Black Sabbath. It's particularly noticeable and bad on "Age Of Reason", where he literally provides a performance that makes you sleepy...even though the song itself is probably the best the band have created for this release.
As far as the rhythm section, it's not surprisingly solid, even with some flaws in it. Geezer Butler's bass is it's usual thunderous. He does a great job of pushing the songs forward with his big, deep, stoner groove throughout. As for drummer Brad Wilk, he's a little sterile and doesn't quite bring the swing that Ward may have to the sound, but he's competent enough. The problem here is that as a unit, they just don't gel. Wilk's drums seem like they might have been recorded on a 1970s rig of some kind, as they are very sterile and lack a lot of oomph. Many times throughout songs like "God Is Dead", Butler's bass all but drowns them out.
PITRIFF RATING - 61/100 - I don't hate it. It's listenable. Honestly though, I can pretty much guarantee I'll hardly ever revisit this one. They sound like a really good cover band doing the first 4 albums of Black Sabbath. They don't feel like Black Sabbath though. Maybe it's age, or maybe it's too much intention without enough motivation, but whatever the case, 13 falls pretty flat on me.