23 Years Ago: Black Sabbath Team Up With Body Count Members for Ill-Fated ‘Forbidden’ Album
The last of five albums Black Sabbath recorded with vocalist Tony Martin, Forbidden, which came out on June 20, 1995, was a polarizing effort both for the band and its fans. Guitarist Tony Iommi, who recently 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.”
That’s a common complaint about the record, but it’s hardly the only one. Forbidden includes the surging, groove-rocker “Get a Grip,” which features a main riff that sounds remarkably like Aerosmith’s "Love in an Elevator" (coincidentally, Aerosmith did an album called Get a Grip in 1993). And the title track, which closes the album, is a doomy combination of creepy acoustic guitar-and-vocals and crashing power chords that sounds more like classic Sabbath than anything else on the record.
Too many of the other songs seem like they were written on autopilot in the vein of Deep Purple or Rainbow, which is why the album remains far-and-away fans’ least favorite Black Sabbath record, not including Seventh Star (1986), which was meant to be a Tony Iommi solo project, but which the label opted to tag with the title "Black Sabbath Featuring Tony Iommi," which is kind of like calling a Sebastian Bach solo album Skid Row featuring Bas.
Black Sabbath started working on Forbidden in Par Street Studios in Liverpool, England in 1994 and did the crux of the recording in 10 days in Los Angeles at Devonshire Studios with producer / Body Count guitarist Ernie C. The label had hoped the producer would provide the band with some fresh ideas, but listening back to the record it seems like the only thing Ernie C did was muffle the mix and bring in his frontman Ice-T to provide guest vocals to the opening track “The Illusion of Power.” That was another mistake.
While Body Count were obviously influenced by Sabbath, and the track opens with a haunting arpeggio and a string-bending lick. Martin curiously starts half-singing, half-ranting over the lumbering riff. Then, at the two-and-a-half minute point of the song, Ice-T comes in with a short rap over a double-bass beat and a half-speed doom riff. Needless to say, it doesn’t work at all.
“We were kinda steered into a rap Sabbath album,” Martin told Gibson in 2011. “Then I was told that [rapper] Ice-T was gonna be doing it and they couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me if he was doing the whole thing or just one track. I still didn’t know the answer to that when I was in the studio singing the tracks. They said they were gonna take it and see what Ice-T wanted to do. So it has a distinct ill feeling about it.”
In all likelihood, 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 resources behind Sabbath's four previous albums, and under radar, the band was already negotiating its next step. While Martin was kept out of the planning meetings, he caught wind of what was going on.
"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.”
Sure enough, the next step was a reunion with Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler, the latter of whom had been absent from Sabbath since 1994’s Cross Purposes. The band got together in the studio and wrote some material, but the sessions weren’t terribly productive and nothing got released. Of course, that didn’t stop them from launching their reunion tour with a pair of shows at the Birmingham NEC on Dec. 4 and 5, 1997 with original drummer Bill Ward. The concerts were recorded for the live album Reunion, which came out in Oct. 20, 1998.
By then Black Sabbath had already played their first Ozzfest, and Forbidden, along with the rest of the albums Black Sabbath recorded with Tony Martin, were at least temporarily forgotten. As forgettable as Forbidden is, in retrospect, it’s a shame that the Tony Martin-era of Sabbath ended not with a bang, but a rap-inflected fizzle.
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.
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