The Eternal Idol
Well here’s something different, the year is 1987, Ronnie James Dio would release “Dream Evil”, and Ozzy was preparing to release “No Rest for the Wicked” in 1988, featuring Zakk Wylde and Geezer Butler. Meanwhile, Tony Iommi has been see n as responsible for the highly unpopular “Born Again”, and the downright terrible “Seventh Star”, Ray Gillen, who had shown a lot of promise, had quit the band during the recordings of “The Eternal Idol” to be replaced by the unknown Tony Martin, and the rest of the band consisted of Bob Daisley and Eric Singer. A shell of its former glory wouldn’t go nearly far enough to express what kind of shape the Black Sabbath brand was in by this point, but one constant remained.
I’ve heard it said that every great riff in history has already been played by Tony Iommi, and given what he’s seen fit to put to record, I believe it. You can take away the tortured but so powerful presence of Ozzy, and the haunting lyrics of Geezer Butler, but I will not hesitate in my resolve that Mr. Iommi IS Black Sabbath. I believe Ozzy to be the most fitting vocalist for the band, but when it comes to the quality of any album, it comes down to if Tony is on his game, and for 1987’s “The Eternal Idol”, he turned in an absolutely stellar performance.
Before we get to the riffs, I’m going to start with perhaps the most significant track on the album, “Scarlet Pimpernel”, the first all-acoustic Sabbath song I can remember hearing since Ozzy left the band. For the less educated in the audience, these types of tracks played key parts of the Master of Reality, Vol. 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and Sabotage. Or in other words, “The prime of their career”. Somewhere between decided E5150 was an appropriate replacement for this tradition, and very quickly realizing that letting Glenn Hughes sing is never a good idea, Iommi must have opened his eyes and decided he actually wanted to make a Black Sabbath album, and for me, Scarlet Pimpernel is one such sign.
But of course, the riffs. This thing is full of riffs. Good riffs. Very good riffs. While the nightmare fuzz attack of Master of Reality is perhaps gone forever. But in its place, songs like Glory Ride, Born to Lose, and Lost Forever take its place. Oh man is Lost Forever downright killer. Age taking its toll, Tony is no longer quite as innovative as his younger self, and so a lot of these riffs seem a tad commonplace, but if nothing else, Iommi is just teaching his contemporaries how to “Do it right”.
Singer and Daisley both do quite a respectable job on the album, the former who would go on to drum with KISS and Alice Cooper, and the latter already having done with Rainbow and Ozzy, but Tony Martins performance is a matter of fierce debate. Especially against that of Ray Gillen. New printings of the album contain both performances, from Martin and Gillen. The material for Eternal Idol was originally written for Ray Gillen, and when he skipped town, Tony Martin came in and sang the same songs, note for note. This similarity is what some people mistake for the two having very different voices, because I assure you, their tone and emphasis is quite different. As far as commercial potential is concerned, Martin had more. Gillen’s voice is perhaps a bit slicker and more sinister, whereas Martin’s seems to open up a bit more, and make a bit more with the vocals. It’s difficult for me to judge my favorite between the two however, because though I enjoy the Ray Gillen bootleg version more, part of that also has to do that those killer riffs I was telling about earlier are twice as crunchy on the original version.
If you’re looking at that vast, perceived inconsistent abyss of post-Ozzy material that Tony Iommi and Black Sabbath have done, this is as good a starting point as any, and if you claim to be a Sabbath fan and you haven’t heard it, shame on you!
Dagg’s rating: 4/5