Black Sabbath: Headless cross

05/04/13  ||  Habakuk


Until now I never dared to review Sabbath, let alone class666 them, for I’m just not enough of an expert in their discography. I still haven’t heard much Sabbath with obvious exceptions, so forgive me if some references in this text are incorrect. Maybe I’m just the right one for this one then, though. After all, this is probably the Sabbath album you hear least of. Me, I had no idea it existed until I actually dug through 1989 for my Year In Review feature. Since then, I’ve tried to hunt it down but it proves a real bitch to find. Apparently, Black Sabbath were in a difficult situation with the predecessor, “The eternal idol” not selling well. That resulted in the band being dropped by their label and being picked up by I.R.S. Records, aka the label no-one’s ever heard of. The result: Today you can find most Sabbath albums at any given store, but not this one. Which is a goddamn shame.


9. “Headless Cross” feels like a concise, tightly packed album, even though the songs are actually quite long, lasting generally over five minutes. At seven tracks, not counting the intro, you actually get an “all killer, no filler” package. After a stomping opener, there is a slight tendency towards uptempo rock numbers that are interrupted well-timedly with somewhat slower sections (in “When death calls” and “Nightwing”, to be precise). Yet even though the material doesn’t feel like simple verse-chorus-verse alterations, there is a great notion of stringency to it. You just never get lost, and before you know it, the song kicks up a notch and 5 minutes are over. Which to me is pretty clear evidence that something has been done right in the songwriting department. Even though the lyrics would justify calling this an “occult-themed” album, the music at hand actually is as far away from the pot-smoking haze that today’s bands with that label emanate. It’s like great catchy late 80s rock had just rediscovered the devil.


8. Three main instruments plus nicely unobtrusive keyboard support are matched perfectly with each other, and form the backdrop for the undisputed main man, Tony Martin. He is definitely mixed up front, but since nothing has to suffer for that, it’s all good. And while I’d call both bass and guitar sounds “warm”, the snappy drums serve as a nice counterpart.


9. Well, if it says Tony Iommi, there are usually high expectations, and they’re certainly met here. The guy has a pretty tasteful way of doing awesome shit one moment, and then keeping his hands still or rescinding to a mere backing role when needed. Thus, he carries the songs in the right direction and leaves enough space for the vocals to do their part. “Call of the Wild” or “Black Moon” are showcases, how simple powerchord progression can be given just a little timing twist and suddenly turn into super-awesome backbones of a song that lead to compulsive foot-tapping / headbanging, whatever your age allows for. And yes, the solos are great, take that from a man who doesn’t give much of a damn about them in general.


10. He certainly is neither Ozzy Osbourne nor Ronnie James Dio, but hot damn, Tony Martin has a set of pipes. It feels like an insult to call him a replacement, for he sure as hell does his own thing on here, even though there might be some similarities to Dio’s voice. Martin is powerful, he’s got character, never goes over the top, and effortlessly grabs and holds your attention taking you through a song with all its ups and lows – “Nightwing” is the perfect example. If the chorus doesn’t grab you the first time it hits after the great build-up, you probably have a tag hanging from your toe. Combined with Iommi taking over, it’s pure heavy metal bliss. I see absolutely no weaknesses in Martin’s performance, and in addition it has everything that elevates it to realms beyond the usual quality. This man certainly makes the album. Not single-handedly, but it certainly wouldn’t work without him. Nightwing flieeees again!!!


7. Laurence Cottle. Yeah, exactly. Never heard of him. Short-time replacement.
The guy knows how to handle his four strings, and you can constantly hear him working them in absolute servitude to the song. His sound is a pretty standard tone, but just a little edge actually makes it enjoyable. There’s nothing wrong, but there’s nothing particularly fantastic either. A typical 7.


7.5. The verdict for bass can almost be pasted into the drum section here. I could probably listen forever and not find a weakness, but on the other hand I’d be hard-pressed to name something that you’ve never heard before. What I do like however, is the snappy tone of the kit which really provides the energy to propel the songs and give them a heavy edge.


8. Satan and company. Honestly, I hardly ever listen closely, and Tony Martin could probably go on about Duffy Duck and I’d dig it, but the lyrics are actually quite well-written:

Listen for the feet as they pound the land to a tune of thunder
Watch as the legions ride again to a fate of death or torture
At the Headless Cross

Nightwing has stirred, and taken to flight
The silence is over, he’s shattered the night
Life ain’t for giving and forgiving ain’t free
No soul will rest while the hunted run free

Well, you get the vibe. Overall, I’d say this is quality.

Cover art

4. Artist: “So what’s your album called?” Band: “Headless cross.” Artist: “I think I have something in mind…”


4. Gothic Fonts are usually enjoyed by yours truly, but aligned centrally, and in blue? Nah man, that doesn’t cut it.


n/a. No album, no booklet. Damn you, I.R.S. Records.

Overall and ending rant

So while I can’t really relate this to any other Sabbath album out there, I can say one thing: Just taken for what it is, this is an absolutely killer album: catchy, memorable, proficiently played hard rock with high replay value. It deserves all the praise it may get, and if you haven’t heard it, then go and check it out. Then track it down, find it and buy it. After I’ve secured my copy, that is. And someone re-release it, for fuck’s sake.


  • Information
  • Released: 1989
  • Label: I.R.S. Records
  • Website:
  • Band
  • Tony Martin: vocals
  • Tony Iommi: guitars
  • Laurence Cottle: bass
  • Cozy Powell: drums
  • Geoff Nicholls: keyboards
  • Tracklist
  • 01. The gates of hell
  • 02. Headless cross
  • 03. Devil and daughter
  • 04. When death calls
  • 05. Kill in the spirit world
  • 06. Call of the wild
  • 07. Black Moon
  • 08. Nightwing

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This entry was posted on June 18, 2014 by in Class6(66) and tagged , , .
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