If I was to go out and do a public survey at this very moment asking what singer comes to mind when I say the name Black Sabbath, I guarantee that the #1 choice would be Ozzy Osbourne followed by a close #2 (of course) Ronnie James Dio. You might find some old burnout dude who will express his undying love for Ian Gillan in Sabbath but besides that, it’s going to be either Ozzy or Dio. Over the last few years, I have found myself delving into the Black Sabbath discography and while the greatness of the Ozzy and Dio eras is undeniable, I found myself coming back to one particular era more than any of them. That era was the era of Tony “The Cat” Martin.
I can count on one hand how many people (yes, Jacob, you are one of them) have ever shared with me their love for the Tony Martin years. The Eternal Idol album was the first time we hear Tony fronting Black Sabbath and right off the bat, “The Shining” just blows my mind and “Glory Ride”? You gotta be kidding me. That song is unfuckingreal! Upon carefully listening to this album, The Eternal Idol, in my opinion, should’ve and would’ve been the perfect follow up to Mob Rules with or without Dio. The lyrical content of The Eternal Idol is a bit different but the overall songwriting and performances are top shelf and better than anything on Born Again.
Once The Cat got settled in, The Headless Cross is where I feel like it all came together. According to Iommi, he didn’t love the occult laden lyrics but this album is a pretty much an occult rock masterpiece. There are so many great fucking songs on this album and it is so strongly produced and it sounds absolutely monstrous. TYR really showed some growth and at this point The Cat sounds like he was always meant to sing in Black Sabbath. With songs like “The Law Maker”, “Jerusalem”, and “even the ballad “Feels Good to Me” is absolutely outstanding. “Odin’s Court” > “Valhalla?” If that shit doesn’t break your face I don’t know what will. TYR is lyrically outstanding really showcasing Tony’s ability to craft some of the best metal songs that went completely overlooked.
In 1992 Ronnie James Dio reunited with Sabbath along with Vinnie Appice on drums and the band put out Dehumanizer and hit the road. I remember this album and I loved it and I saw this tour but when shit just didn’t work out, Tony returned to the fold and Sabbath put out Cross Purposes. It’s like The Cat didn’t miss a fucking beat and from there Sabbath delivered a really good set. While not as strong as it’s predecesors, this album showcased Sabbath’s musical versatility to write outside of the box and also Tony’s versatility as a vocalist. Songs like “I Witness”, “Virtual Death”, and “Cardinal Sin” were all so different from each other which further proves this versatility. “Dying for Love” is also a song that deserves some attention as it almost sounds like Sabbath dipping into Led Zeppelin-esque waters.
The final album from the Tony Martin era is, unfortunately, Forbidden. Have you ever heard people talk about listening to an album that sounds like a band breaking up right there before your very ears? That is exactly what happened here. From the horrid artwork to the fact that the album was produced by Ernie C. of Body Count (horrible idea), Forbidden just seem like it was damned to fail before it even started. It’s hard to listen to this album and truly consider itself a worthy contender of standing alongside these four other outstanding albums.
Tony Martin is the true, fitting successor to Ronnie James Dio and, call it it blasphemy or whatever, but there’s a lot of this material I even dig more than the Dio era stuff. Tony’s contributions to Black Sabbath were very sadly overlooked. I don’t know why that was. Was it because people had a hard time accepting that Sabbath could be anyone besides Ozzy and Dio? Was it due to the frequent singer changes? Was it due to the fact that The Cat was pretty much unknown to the general public? I would love to speak with more diehard Black Sabbath fans about this.
These days that Tony is very interactive with his fans via his Facebook page but aside from that, I haven’t heard anything from him in years. Tony did put out a couple of note worth solo albums that reminded me a lot of early Whitesnake which isn’t a bad thing. It was so different from Sabbath that it took a few listens to sink in but once again Tony proved just what a versatile artist he was and, hell, still is. I hope to one of these days get a chance to speak with The Cat himself and ask him all the questions I ever wanted to ask. So Tony, if you’re out there, let’s talk. You deserve the time as much as anyone else does to be heard.