Review | Black Sabbath – Anno Domini 1989-1995

Warner / Rhino

This 4-CD box has been years in the making. It marks the time that vocalist Tony Martin was standing behind the microphone recording albums such as ‘Headless Cross’, ‘Tyr’, ‘Cross Purposes’ and ‘Forbidden’ seeing the light of day in that time. But one of the best albums the band made with Martin (‘The Eternal Idol’) is unfortunately not included as in 1987 Black Sabbath (read Tony Iommi) was still under contract with Vertigo/Phonogram. I am sure Iommi has tried to include ‘The Eternal Idol’ as well but that did not work out. So, it leaves a bit of a gap if you ask me.


In the years that these four albums were made Black Sabbath had not much stability in their line-up. Only Tony Iommi and Tony Martin appear on all tracks. Other musicians involved with the recordings were bass player Geezer Butler, drummer Cozy Powell, drummer Bobby Rondinelli, bass player Neil Murray, keyboardist Geoff Nicholls and bass player Laurence Cottle (who recorded the whole ‘Headless Cross’ album but never stood on stage with the group.) And in between ‘Cross Purposes’ and ‘Forbidden’ Iommi once again bonded with Butler, Vinny Appice (drums) and the one and only Ronnie James Dio to record the album ‘Dehumanizer’ and tour for that album as well. At that time Dio called it ‘unfinished business’, but it was also known that there was a lot of money at stake as well. Enough reason for Iommi to temporarily stop working with Tony Martin and several others.


I must admit that the packaging of the box is quite immaculate. It includes a poster from the ‘Headless Cross’ period plus a photo book from that time. Plus a quite extensive liner-notes book with many quotes from Iommi, Powell, Martin, Nicholls, Butler, Murray and Rondinelli. Where they express their thoughts on the songs, how they came about and the chemistry between the musicians involved. An interesting read accompanied by plenty of band shots and tour posters.


Although Black Sabbath has had several ‘iconic’ singers throughout the decades it must be stated that Tony Martin has done an immaculate job. It is not easy stepping in the footsteps of Dio, Ian Gillan and even Ozzy Osbourne. But Martin did his job with class, power, finesse, and a huge reach. When he recorded ‘The Eternal Idol’ his influence on the material was practically zero. The album was already written and there are demos with former Badlands singer Ray Gillen singing the songs (and quite good too, I might add). Gillen replaced Glenn Hughes who in 1986 recorded ‘Seventh Star’ with Iommi. But while on tour Hughes could not bring his best performance due to health reasons.

Ray Gillen came in, finished the tour, recorded the bulk of the songs for ‘The Eternal Idol’, but got thanked for his efforts. Gillen moved on to form Badlands before dying at a very young age. Tony Martin came in at a late stage and was asked to sing the songs as they were. Once he established himself, he started to write the lyrics for ‘Headless Cross’ taking the band to a (familiar) dark theme scenario. Something that fitted the band perfectly.


Is there any bonus material present on this release? Not much unfortunately. On ‘Headless Cross’ we find the track ,,Cloak And Dagger’ while ‘Cross Purposes’ is ‘expanded’ with ,,What’s The Use’’.  ‘Forbidden’ has ,,Loser Gets All’’ as an extra. All pretty good but to name this bonus material is a bit rich as they have been published before


Like stated before this box has been a long time in the planning. Iommi mentioned this release years ago and that he wanted to remix the ‘Forbidden’ album. He did that some three/four years ago together with his engineer Mike Exeter. Why? Well, when ‘Forbidden’ was recorded the record company and management insisted/suggested to use the services of Body Counts’s Ernie C. as producer. When you read the liner notes you can just feel the unhappiness about this move. Iommi had nothing to do with the production or mix of the album. He hated his own guitar sound while Cozy Powell was disgusted with his drum sound.

I mean, a hip hop/rap artist telling Cozy Powell how to play the drums. Really? Iommi decided to remix the album and with Mike Exter he has certainly beefed up the sound to a point that ‘Forbidden’ sounds as a very acceptable Black Sabbath album. But for me it is still my least favourite one of the whole Sabbath-catalogue. I just find it unbelievable that a legend like Iommi was forced to work with a producer/musician that had not the right feeling for this kind of music. And the fact that he just gave in to that as well. Was it a surprise that Cozy Powell left the band after this release? And that it would take years for Sabbath to record a proper studio-album again? Eh no! This also marked the end of the Iommi-Martin liaison.


Although ‘The Eternal Idol’ is missing this is without a doubt a beautiful release. The CD-Box looks great as does the vinyl version of ‘Anno Domini 1989-1995’. It is a shame that there is so little extra music included as this release is reasonably expensive to buy. If you have all the regular releases already, the pull to get this is not being stimulated by the small amount of bonus material, I guess. But if you, just like me, are a life-long fan of Black Sabbath and Tony Iommi in particular, having this box means something. At least it does to me.

According to the latest news around the iconic musician that Tony Iommi is, he is working on new material for a solo-CD. Nothing is being mentioned on the singer, the release date, or other participating musicians but as far as I am concerned a new liaison with Glenn Hughes would be most welcome. Or am I just dreaming here?

Release date: 31 May 2024



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