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Black Sabbath’s Forbidden’s Second Life

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Last Updated on 11:33 AM by Nikos Nakos

The reissue of the decade is probably the Anno Domini 1989-1995 box set by Black Sabbath and I can see what all the fuss is about, as the reason has one name: “Forbidden”.

I’ve been witnessed so many remixes or re-recordings and most of them were from unnecessary or without bias to just meaningless. Still many artists continue doing it over and over again and it is their inalienable right to try again and again until they find the final result they desire. I’m not talking about the legal or the rights issue here. We talk about music we talk about Art. I can recall the days when Forbidden was originally out. Black Sabbath were not so huge for 90’s metalheads which were deep into the extreme and with a punkish attitude were trying to turn their back to so called dinosaurs (1983-1997 era was hard for Sabbath and Iommi is a giant that kept the flame alive). Not all of them of course. Tony Martin had released with Iommi great albums and Dio’s return didn’t had the expected commercial success, in fact Dehumanizer was a disaster and Martin returned [along with the returning rhythm section of drummer Cozy Powell and bassist Neil Murray (plus longtime keyboard player and utility man Geoff Nicholls)] for a second chance that 1994’s Cross Purposes turned it to a triumph.

After that Black Sabbath started working on “Forbidden” in Par Street Studios in Liverpool, England in 1994 and flew to the Sates for recording it in 10 days in Los Angeles at Devonshire Studios with producer / Body Count guitarist Ernie C. 

For some unknown reason their label which Iommi had many issues with and complains thought that the new producer would bring fresh ideas, but it seems like Ernie C brought only chaos in the mix and his front man Ice-T for guest vocals to the opening track. So now everyone were discussing about the guest appearance of Ice T and why Sabbath betrayed their Hard Rock/Heavy Metal origins for a less than 20 seconds rap or better saying spoken words passage on “ Illusion of Power”. With an almost 30 year long distance I feel proud for defending the right of Iommi to explore his musical horizons and especially it turned that it was to big noise for something so small after all. For the record “Forbidden” is not the first Black Sabbath album to feature a guest artist. “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” featured Rick Wakeman on keyboards on “Sabbra Cadabra” and “Headless Cross” featured a guitar solo by Brian May on “When Death Calls”. Back to “Forbidden” and 1995 everyone was talking about a tired team, an uninspired band with no direction and awful production that were probably meant to sound raw and street wise but actually was blunt, flat and dry. But the ideas were inspired and interesting to my ears. C’mon it’s Sabbath, its Iommi and yes it’s Cozy Powell and Tony Martin; guys the line up here is exactly the same as it was on TYR that was released five years earlier, how the hell was going to be something bad?

Tony Iommi, when he announced that he’s planning to remix the disc for a re-release, wrote, “I really like the album but I was never happy with the overall sound.”Well, when we did that album, Forbidden, it was a difficult time for us because at the time, the record company wanted to make us probably more hip or updated. But it was a hard time. They suggested Ice-T to sing on the album, which was great. I met with Ice-T and he was really nice guy. It was all planned for Ice to do a track. But then it became into working with Ernie C., who was in Ice T’s band. The record company wanted him to produce it and also with our engineer, which was a difficult thing for us because I’ve always been, since day one, involved in the Sabbath production. So I’ve always been in the studio there doing the production, being involved somewhere. But on this one I wasn’t. And it was left to Ernie C and their engineer. They were great, really lovely people. But when it comes to getting in the studio, Ernie wanted Cozy Powell, who’s a very famous drummer, to play certain things, and it wasn’t Cozy’s style at all, what he wanted him to play. So it did cause a lot of friction. It was very hard. It was very difficult. And we never actually liked the whole thing when it came out, to put it in a nutshell, the sound and everything. So I just thought, “Cozy always said I hated my drum sound. I hated this, I hated that.” And none of us felt comfortable. So the idea was to go back in and get the tape sample transferred so we could relook at it and remix it. And that’s what I did. I went in with my engineer and we remixed it.”

This album is considered the worst of the worst by many critics and fans as far as Black Sabbath goes. And thankfully the 2024’s remix is here to re-write History…

It’s now a common secret that probably Black Sabbath rushed through the creation of Forbidden in order to get out of their contract with I.R.S. and move on. The band had been less than pleased with the label, which had refused to put significant money and effort behind Sabbath’s four previous albums, secretly the band was already negotiating its future plans.

While Martin was kept out of these plans, still he knew what future hold for him commenting: “Well, Forbidden is, I want to say, ‘crap,’ but it’s actually not,” Martin says. “The songs worked really well in rehearsals, and then things started to get political, and I got wind of an Ozzy reunion.” There were also persistent rumors that the end goal was simply to fulfill contractual obligations and clear the way for a long-awaited Ozzy Osbourne reunion. The differences between the two albums are more than obvious, giving a second chance to a failure as Xmas gift to our teenage years. 29 years later these brilliant songs are taking their revenge. Yes, underdogs like Forbidden are hard to kill and too hard to die. It is incredible of course how much difference the new mix by Mike Exeter (Mike Exeter is an English sound engineer and record producer who came to prominence via his work with Cradle of Filth, Judas Priest, Halford, Girlschool, Orange Goblin, Black Sabbath and more) – under guidance and instruction from Tony Iommi himself – has given “Forbidden” a second life.

The new version has a few smaller or bigger changes, but find me 100% pleased even the changing of the second chorus in “Get A Grip”.  “The Illusion of Power” that is opening the album has a mesmerizing Tony Martin’s singing, a slightly different tone and as mentioned above Ice-T has a second role and too small to judge it. “Get a Grip” has heavy riffs while the guitar intro is reworked and a bouncing chorus (the original name of the song was “Black Ice”.  Tony Martin said the choice of Get a Grip was Ernie C’s.  More from Tony on that: “I had originally called the track Black Ice, and Ernie said I couldn’t use it because of Ice T, being black and his name and all. So he looked over the lyrics and came to the conclusion that get a grip would be better. Talk about politically correct. Well there you have it”). “Can’t Get Close Enough” is a rather soft starter but it’s a grower after its second part and has better sound than the original and much cleaner. “Shaking off the Chains” seems like coming out of “Eternal Idol” and sounds a lot better than the original now that the double echo behind in the chorus are gone, and leads to the two best moments of the album: the emotional ballad “I Won’t Cry For You” now with thicker bass lines and the personal favorite and massive crusher “Guilty as Hell” with the stellar riff. The album though continues strong as it should with “Sick and Tired” (cleaner drums here than the 1995 version) and “Rusty Angels” that the intro is quite different. Then the title track “Forbidden” follows and big riffs return (and some keyboards) with the middle part sounding very different. “Kiss of Death” closes emphatically the album, as it does it in an epic way now with heavier guitars than in the authentic version.

 As I liked the first version, without considering it though great, you can imagine how happy I’m now with the new 2024 remix. “Forbidden” has actually become another (hidden) gem as all the Martin era albums are. I hope that even 3 decades later with the new mix’s help these songs will get the attention that they deserve.

You can grab “Forbidden” in Anno Domini 1989-1995, the box set by Black Sabbath, released on 31 May 2024. It includes four of five albums from the 1987–1997 Tony Martin-era of the band, with “Headless Cross” (1989), “Tyr” (1990) and “Cross Purposes” (1994) all remastered, and “Forbidden” (1995) remixed by guitarist Tony Iommi, making this the first time those albums have officially been reissued.

+ The CD version has “Loser Gets It All”, and the vinyl version does not.
++ Iommi’s comments as well as Martin’s were taken from interviews in Loudwire.

Giorgos Tsekas
Giorgos Tsekas
"Κάποτε Όταν Θα ‘χουμε Καιρό... Θα Σκεφτούμε Πάνω Στις Ιδέες Όλων Των Μεγάλων Στοχαστών, Θα Θαυμάσουμε Τους Πίνακες Όλων Των Μεγάλων Ζωγράφων, Θα Γελάσουμε Με Όλους Τους Χωρατατζήδες, Θα Φλερτάρουμε Όλες Τις Γυναίκες, Θα Διδάξουμε Όλους Τους Ανθρώπους" Μπ. Μπρεχτ

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