So far, the big sell on 13 is that it's the first Ozzy-fronted Sabbath album since 1978's Never Say Die!

By Kyle Anderson
Updated July 09, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

So far, the big sell on 13 is that it’s the first Ozzy-fronted Sabbath album since 1978’s Never Say Die! But the record’s real MVP may be the guy who’s not actually in the band at all: superproducer Rick Rubin. Rubin is known, in part, for reigniting the careers of established stars from Johnny Cash to Jay-Z, and his presence cuts two ways. Without him, it’s likely this reconstituted lineup (minus drummer Bill Ward, due to a contract dispute) would have stuck to the formula that has made them notorious for more than four decades: Osbourne’s volcanic wail, carried along on molten streams of heavy guitar magma. Instead, Rubin takes them back to their pre-”Iron Man” roots, encouraging them to indulge their love of pure blues and Cream-style-psychedelia. The result is surprisingly adventurous, considering the monochrome palette of Osbourne’s latter-day solo work. There’s plenty of sludge — especially on the morphing hell beast that is ”End of the Beginning” — and some excellent weirdness (see: the acoustic head trip ”Zeitgeist”). Still, Rubin makes too much here feel dry and disappointingly small, and the flat, mookish thudding of Ward’s replacement, Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk, doesn’t help. At their best, the devil-horn-worthy numbers come across like pretty good Queens of the Stone Age songs. But you know who make great Queens of the Stone Age songs? Queens of the Stone Age. And their new album, ?Like Clockwork, stands as a far better tribute to Sabbath’s legacy than what Rubin creates with the real thing. B?

”End of the Beginning”, A gloriously viscous rocker
”Live Forever”, An existential headbanger

Note: 13 will have a physical release on June 11, 2013 but is currently streaming on iTunes