Δευτέρα 20 Απριλίου 2020

Black Sabbath - Headless Cross: The story of the album.


Sometime in 1988, Tony Iommi and Black Sabbath were left without a record label after working for years with Warner Bros and Vertigo. Shortly, Iommi signed with I.R.S. Records after the label's owner, Miles Copeland, told him: "You know how to write albums, you know what people want. You do it and I'm fine with it." Later, Iommi asked drummer Cozy Powell to join him and they considered calling Ronnie James Dio but Tony Martin was finally the singer of Black Sabbath. There was a possibility for Geezer Butler to work again with Sabbath, but Geezer prefered to join Ozzy Osbourne's band since he was more successful than Sabbath at that time. Laurence Cottle played bass in Headless Cross, but mostly as a session musician since Neil Murray was brought as a full-time member for the upcoming tour. The song "When Death Calls" has a guest guitar solo by Brian May of Queen, and the titles of two tracks of Headless Cross were changed because Ozzy Osbourne's No Rest for the Wicked album that was released a few months earlier had the same ones; "Call of the Wild" was originally titled "Hero" and "Devil & Daughter" was originally titled "Devil's Daughter". Everyone also knows the story of Tony Iommi, that when Sabbath had the first record out with I.R.S., Cozy Powell and himself went into record stores in Toronto, Canada, and no one carried the album...

All of the above is the kind of information you can find in Wikipedia and all those articles that just copy and share these (known) details from Wiki, so let's dive deeper and try to elaborate more in one of the most underrated albums of the late '80s, the way it deserves it and not by just writing "one more article".

written by Andreas Andreou

Chapter I: Cut the crucifix half to the ground - Before the album.

After the release of Born Again (1983) and the supporting tour for the most disturbing Sabbath album, the band was falling apart and Tony Iommi was left alone, so he had the idea to record a solo album. The result was Seventh Star and you can read about it at Metal Nerdism Vol. 3: Five cases of albums that were not meant to be under that BAND name. "It was supposed to be a solo album. I certainly didn't want to release it as a Black Sabbath album, because I hadn't written it as a Black Sabbath album", Tony Iommi wrote in his biography and Seventh Star was finally released in January 1986 under the name Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi, with Tony alone on the cover sleeve; exactly as a solo project. The recording line-up besides Tony Iommi, was singer Glenn Hughes, bassist Dave Spitz, drummer Eric Singer, keyboardist Geoff Nicholls, and Jeff Glixman was the producer. The supporting tour was a commercial failure and just after a few shows, Glenn Hughes was replaced by Ray Gillen. Tony Iommi couldn't do anything else, so he continued using the name "Black Sabbath" and started working on his next album under the title The Eternal Idol, with Jeff Glixman once again producing. That album was very difficult to be completed with Iommi working like a solo project once again.

Bob Daisley was brought by producer Glixman to help with bass duties and even if the name of Dave Spitz also appears in the credits, Daisley had said that he played all the parts of the album. Daisley also wrote many of the lyrics since Iommi doesn't write lyrics and most of Gillen's parts were reworked because no matter how great his voice was, he was never a songwriter. It is said that Geoff Nicholls also contributed a few ideas but in the credits "all tracks written by Tony Iommi".

Back to the recordings though, they were started with Jeff Glixman and then he was replaced by producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, after Iommi's request because Glixman was very possessive with the project. Ray Gillen recorded his parts and then left the band (we will analyze it when an article for The Eternal Idol will be written). Bob Daisley was never an official member and just helped with recordings, but when he returned to Gary Moore's band, drummer Eric Singer also followed him... So at the end, Iommi was left with a nearly finished album but without a band. At the final stages, producer Chris Tsangaridis was brought to complete recordings and mixing, but most important, to lay down the new singer's performance because there was no chance for Tony Iommi to release an album and then go on tour without the singer of the album... And the new singer was Tony Martin.

Albert Chapman, a lifelong friend and old manager of Tony Iommi, suggested him Tony Martin of The Alliance, a band he was manager of [Read the story of Tony Martin & The Alliance]. Tony Martin recorded the vocals for the songs that were already written note by note in a few days and The Eternal Idol was ready for release. A difficult album, with many changes, a different touring line-up and another supporting tour that was a commercial failure, with just a few dates. Tony Martin's first live show with Black Sabbath was in Athens, Greece, on 21st of July 1987. In a few of the rest shows, Virgin Steele was the opening act.

Chapter II: To the hill of the Headless Cross - The album.

Once the few tour dates were completed, Tony Iommi entered 1988 with a huge uncertainty and without a record deal since Warner Bros dropped Black Sabbath. When he decided to ink a deal with I.R.S. Records, that was a huge step down but only with a smaller record label he could keep doing what he wanted. On the other hand, it was difficult to sign a deal with one of the major labels like Warner Bros because they would definitely want something that would be closer to real Black Sabbath and not something that was closer to a "solo project using the Black Sabbath banner". If Iommi wanted to continue releasing music under the Black Sabbath banner with a major label, he needed to have another major name also with him, something like Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio or David Coverdale.

Both Seventh Star and The Eternal Idol were great albums and had a few positive reviews despite the fact that had much less press coverage than the past when Ozzy and Dio were fronting. The poor sales, in contrast to the time it took them to be completed, the money spent for them and the tours that followed, didn't help at all. No one could actually consider them as a "real band" after 1984, since Seventh Star was supposed to be a solo album of Tony Iommi, The Eternal Idol was a record that had a different line-up started the recordings, a different line-up competed the recordings and another line-up completed the supporting tour...

Later in August 1988, legendary drummer Cozy Powell joined as an equal member with Tony Iommi and started working together on a new album. They even discussed getting another (most known) singer, considering Ronnie James Dio and David Coverdale, but Tony Martin was finally chosen for Black Sabbath; a wise final decision that was probably taken mostly thanks to Cozy Powell. David Coverdale was just a name they had in mind (mostly Powell) but he was never officially asked, probably for the better, because there was no way for Coverdale to let aside his successful career at that moment with Whitesnake, especially just one year after releasing the same-titled 1987 album, that sold more than all the latest Sabbath albums combined.

It was Powell also, who brought bassist Laurence Cottle to the project in order to record a few tracks, but in the end he recorded all of the album, since original Sabbath bass player Geezer Butler didn't finally join the Sabs again because he ended with Ozzy's solo band that was slightly more Sabbath-esque in 1988-'89, mainly during the live shows. Cottle was a jazz bass player and he was playing in a jazz club in London, so he completed his parts in just a few days overdubbing mostly. However, he was never meant to be a touring band member, even if he appears in the video clip of "Headless Cross" and is mentioned as a regular band member in the album credits.

The recording line-up of Headless Cross was Tony Martin (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitars), Laurence Cottle (bass), Cozy Powell (drums) and Geoff Nicholls (keyboards), while the album was produced by Tony Iommi and Cozy Powell who had the complete control of the project. The album was recorded in the United Kingdom with pre-production at Rich Bitch Studios in Birmingham, while recordings started when Iommi met Powell in August '88 and completed until November '88 in different studios: The Soundmill, Woodcray and Amazon Studios.

For Headless Cross, Tony Martin wrote the lyrics using a few Satanic themes in contrast to the older '70s lyrics of Geezer Butler that were more focused in the fear of Satan, society, anti-war themes and the dark future of the world. However, despite the general idea, Martin worked a lot in the lyrics, finding the most suitable words and phrasing that could perfectly fit with his vocal lines. According to what Martin has stated, the album's title was actually inspired by a village close to Birmingham, where it was hit hard by the Black Plague centuries ago. This time, writing credits are mentioned as "all songs by Black Sabbath".

Music wise, Black Sabbath brought many elements of the past, adding also a few new ones and presented a different album in their catalogue, even if The Riff is still there. The same-titled track has a strong Dio aura, even in the way Martin sings "Look through the people and on through the mist..." or "on a night such as this". What you can also clearly listen from the beginning (not "The Gates of Hell" intro...), is the fact that the album is very Powell-driven and also we need to add that Nicholls' keyboards create a perfect atmosphere. "When Death Calls" (with a guest solo of Queen's Brian May, Iommi's close friend) is one of those great epics of the Martin-era Sabbath with a great vocal performance, something that worked perfectly in the studio; so perfect that the expectations were set sky high and weren't easily reached in the live shows. Even "Devil & Daughter" is a very difficult song to perform live... and Tony Martin knows that very well!

The album also had a few more melodic moments that bring to mind even the AOR and melodic metal side of the late '80s, something that you could listen to during the verses of "Kill in the Spirit World". Even another Powell-driven cut like "Call of the Wind" has a melodic aura, something that a few Sabbath tracks had during the Martin-era. This is probably something that needs to be credited to Martin himself since he was also a part of the songwriting process, adding also the fact that he released a melodic solo album himself in 1992 (Back Where I Belong). "Black Moon" is a song that was written during The Eternal Idol sessions when producer Chris Tsangaridis was brought to complete the album. It was recorded as a single b-side and ended on "The Shining" single, just to be re-recorded and added again for Headless Cross. As for "Nightwing", this is the essence of an underrated track that, by the way, was remixed in a different session. "Cloak & Dagger" is another song that was recorded during the Headless Cross sessions and was finally used as a single b-side and bonus track.

Headless Cross was released on April 24th of 1989.

Chapter III: Where all witches meet - After the album.

It seemed that Sabbath were still waiting for the possibility of Geezer Butler joining them for the upcoming tour but in the end, bassist Neil Murray (former member of Whitesnake, Gary Moore and Vow Wow, among others), joined them. It is said that at some point after the release of The Eternal Idol, he was asked to join Sabbath but the first time he said "no". This is also something that should be credited to Cozy Powell since he introduced him to Tony Iommi.

The Headless Cross Tour in the United States started on May 31st of 1989 with Kingdom Come and Silent Rage supporting, but ticket sales and attendance were very low, so after just a handful of shows up to mid-June, all of the rest shows until mid-July were cancelled. Black Sabbath returned defeated in Europe and continued a European Tour (mainly in September, with Axxis supporting) with most dates in the UK and Germany. In October, Sabbath visited Japan for a few shows and later in November and December they went to Russia for more shows, where they played for around 20 dates with Girlschool supporting. It is said that Black Sabbath performed twice for a few days but the correct information is that they performed twice only during weekends, meaning just 4 or 5 days, where the first show in evening was around 60 to 70 minutes, and the next one later at night, was around 1 hour and 45 minutes. There is a rumour that these shows "burnt" Tony Martin's voice but this can't be considered as a fact. After all, it was just 5 dates maximum with a total of performance of 2 hours and 45 minutes for those 5 days. This sounds mostly as an "excuse" for future Sabbath performances where Tony Martin didn't reach the expected performance, according to a few people. Still though, the second longest serving frontman of Sabbath after Ozzy, never missed a show, even if he was sick.

Headless Cross had a better acceptance than The Eternal Idol but Tony Iommi wasn't really satisfied with the I.R.S. Records' distribution in North America (actually the album was released by the I.R.S. Metal sub-label). There is a story of Tony Iommi, who said that when Sabbath had the first record out with I.R.S., Cozy Powell and himself went into record stores in Toronto, Canada, and no one carried the album. However, Headless Cross charted higher than The Eternal Idol, even if none of them entered the Billboard 100 in the United States. And keep in mind, that The Eternal Idol was released by a bigger label but it wasn't easy for Iommi to blame a major label like Warner Bros or Vertigo, a label that even made him release a solo album under the Black Sabbath name. Most likely, I.R.S. was used as a scapegoat for the low ticket sales of the first shows and the cancellation of the rest of the Headless Cross North American tour.


Headless Cross is a great album, even if it lacks originality. It is one of those perfect '80s heavy metal albums that you're never tired of listening to. For a few people, it is the "best" Black Sabbath album and for a few more among their Sabbath Top-5 albums. Subjectively, anyone can say that this is the "best" (correct word is "favourite") album but objectively it can't be the best Sabbath album, probably not even in the Top-5 Sabs albums, if you have a wider view of what BLACK SABBATH actually is. If the album will disappear from Sabbath's discography, a favourite album of many people will disappear from their lives and memories but the history of metal music won't change. You can't say the same for albums like Black Sabbath, Master of Reality or Heaven and Hell where many things will change in the lineage of heavy music in general.

Along with Tyr, this is probably the best album of the Tony Martin-era and Headless Cross nowadays, seems to be more related with the name of Tony Martin than Black Sabbath (the band) and that's a huge credit for Tony Martin; the man, the voice, the artist.

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