BLACK SABBATH – Headless Cross

Black Sabbath – Headless Cross [Mini LP Edition; Japanese Import] (2010, Universal International)
Original Release: 1989, IRS Records

1. “The Gates of Hell” … 1:05
2. “Headless Cross” … 6:32
3. “Devil & Daughter” … 4:45
4. “When Death Calls” … 7:00
5. “Kill in the Spirit World” … 5:13
6. “Call of the Wild” … 5:21
7. “Black Moon” … 4:08
8. “Nightwing” … 6:43
9. “Cloak & Dagger” … 4:36

Tony Martin – Vocals
Tony Iommi – Guitar
Cozy Powell – Drums
Geoff Nicholls – Keyboards

Additional Musicians:
Brian May – Guitar solo on “When Death Calls”
Laurence Cottle – Bass

Producer: Tony Iommi and Cozy Powell

This is one of my favorite albums of all time and I’ve been trying to track down a copy of this out of print album down on CD for quite some time, but the prices are just too high for even a used copy ($30-40). I’ll have to wait until some miracle arrives and in the meantime, I’ll settle for this CD-R copy.

When I heard this album a few years ago, it was the one that made me stand up and pay attention to Black Sabbath. It wasn’t Ozzy, it wasn’t Dio, it was TONY MARTIN that made me a Sabbath fan. There’s been a lot of criticism over this era of Sabbath going in an AOR/eighties hard rock direction, but it doesn’t bother me in the least because it’s quality music. This album does such a great job in carrying on the dark and “evil” vibe that Sabbath was stereotyped for, yet uses a more commercial form of hard rock. The first two Tony Martin albums were so good that I truly do believe if Iommi was able to release these records under his own name or give this group an entirely different band name the story would’ve been much different and these albums would’ve been successful.

For the sake of doing something different, let’s go song by song:

“The Gates of Hell” – I’ve really enjoyed the instrumentals put on the Sabbath albums in the ’80s. They’re usually pretty creepy and evil sounding and the intro track “The Gates of Hell”, as short as it is, is no different.

“Headless Cross” – Along with “The Shining” from The Eternal Idol, this is one of the signature songs from the Martin era and it also stands out of a great Sabbath song, period. Fantastic mid-tempo number with great vocals by Martin.

“Devil & Daughter” – The pace picks up for this song. Like “Digital Bitch” from Born Again, I’ve heard this was about Sharon Osbourne (and her father ex-Sabbath manager Don Arden) but who knows.  It would have easily just been another random batch of evil lyrics. It was originally called “Devil’s Daughter”, but was changed because Ozzy had a song being released of the same name.

“When Death Calls” – Starts out slow and haunting, then builds in pace and peaks with an Iommi solo. Have I mentioned yet how great these songs are to sing along to?

“Kill in the Spirit World” – Very AORish at points, with touches of the continuing hauntedness. Initially, I didn’t appreciate this song much, but I’ve grown to love it. The idea behind it is interesting — what happens when the already dead do bad? Why, their spirits are killed, of course! Nice solo by Brian May of Queen!

“Call of the Wild” – I’ve never liked this title. C’mon, what, are they talking about going to the bathroom? This was originally called “Hero”, but was also changed because Ozzy beat them to the punch. I love the chorus and this is a great tune while working out in the gym!

“Black Moon” – Originally released (in a different key) as a B-Side to the single “Eternal Idol” from The Eternal Idol. Somewhats sounds like Ozzy Sabbath, but it just doesn’t work me. Not horrible, just average.

“Nightwing” – I once read a quote from Tony Martin somewhere that this song was about “things that fly… bats and stuff”. Good to see he put so much thought into it. I think he tried too hard with song lyrics sometimes, just writing what he thought he should write and not necessarily what he wanted to or had a passion for. Though I think this is the weakest song on the album, I’ve since changed my initials thoughts and enjoy this song very much.

So there you have it– the best Tony Martin Sabbath release and easily one of Sabbath’s best! Even though the band didn’t have a bassist at the time (hiring Laurence Cottle to play on the album but not to join the band), this is probably the best lineup of the Martin years. Ex-Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell and longtime keyboardist Geoff Nicholls made some great contributions to the group when they were in (more than they were ever given literal credit for).

UPDATE 7/23/10:

I finally got my hands on a legit copy of this album. Thanks to Manny for pointing me in the right direction on eBay! I bought a sealed copy of this Japanese reissue from someone in Russia! I’m becoming a fan of these mini LPs. This particular mini LP is pretty cool and very well done. There’s a cool band photo when you open up the album and then there’s the “slip” for the CD (which is made up to resemble the original vinyl release of this album) that has all the lyrics and then there’s also a mini-poster featuring the album cover and in Japanese there’s another booklet talking about the history of Black Sabbath. Wish I could read it!

Much to my surprise, “Cloak & Dagger” was included as a bonus track. It’s not listed on the back of the album but is mentioned on the cover and on the Japanese booklet. It was the B-side to the “Headless Cross” single and previously had only been a part of the album on the picture disc version. I really like the song, it’s a bluesy number that sounds a bit like Whitesnake. Martin even seems to emulate Coverdale some on this song.

Highlights: Oh, who am I kidding? The whole thing is a classic!

Posted on October 4, 2009, in Black Sabbath and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Agree on this one!! Given the disappointment of the new Heaven & Hell album Iommi should give Tony Martin a call imho. I saw Sabbath on both this and the Tyr tour and they were excellent. Would recommend Headless Cross, Tyr and Cross Purposes from the “Tony Martin years” anyday.

    • THE DEVIL YOU KNOW hasn’t been received well? I thought it was. I thought I was the only person was was saying that it was “okay”. 😀 If only that album wasn’t sooooooo slooooooooow…

      • The Devil You Know has got great reviews as far as I’m aware. And I thought it was a great album, as well.

  2. I follow you all the way to the last song, where we part ways galactically. “Nightwing” has got to be one of the most fantastic songs they ever made. It is, to me, among the best songs by any band, and the vocals on this are stunning. It’s a matter of taste, of course. I just wanted to let you know the song’s got it if you’re wired to pick up on it. Sad thing my cd is broken (scrathced – I got kids…) and nigh on impossible to find a replacement for.

  3. I decided to try out a song from the Tony Martin era today on youtube so I decided to try the title trck of this and boy that guitar is just awesome, and Tony is a good singer, I plan on picking this up eventually because I like wat I hear, I just never got around to trying this out because there was so much else I was concerned with

    • Headless Cross and Eternal Idol are essential Sabbath to me and both had Tony Martin. I like Tyr, Cross Purposes and Forbidden as well, but would only recommend those to people who loved the first two albums he did with them.

      Headless Cross, the album and the song, are two of Sabbath’s best moments.

      • too bad both run for quite a bit right now, I saw the double pack of Headless Cross and Etenral Idol on amzon for $50, but then again that is probably a good deal if buying them separately costs more

  4. Actually — Eternal Idol, Forbidden and Cross Purposes can be found for a decent price. Eternal Idol can be picked up brand new at a good price. Headless Cross is the one that has the insane $30-100 used price tag. Tyr can be expensive too but I was able to get my hands on a UK reissue of it for about $15.

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