The years of chaos were seemingly coming to an end as Black Sabbath stabalized into a solid core of Tony Iommi, Geoff Nicholls, and new lead singer Tony Martin. The drum and bass positions would continue to swirl for another year, right up until the Headless Cross tour. Getting to this point was not without struggle, and this new Deluxe Edition illustrates this beautifully.
I'm going to sidestep the issue of "Does Eternal Idol really deserve the Deluxe Edition treatment?" and just be glad it's out. There are, after all, two B-sides here that were ridiculously expensive to acquire on 12" vinyl. Those songs, "Some Kind of Woman" and the original version of "Black Moon" (which would later be re-recorded on Headless Cross) finally complete the Eternal Idol picture. And they're not bad songs either, particularly "Black Moon". "Strange Kind of Woman" I haven't wrapped my head around yet. It's this uptempo boogie rocker and aside from "Blue Suede Shoes" I don't think I've ever heard Black Sabbath boogie before. But it's not bad, Tony's playing is awesome, but maybe...ill advised is the term I'm looking for.
The bonus disc is the entire album's original recording with former vocalist Ray Gillen (their seventh) before he was replaced by Martin (their eigth singer). This had been mostly available on a very common bootleg called the Ray Gillen Years, but missing a couple tracks. Now, the entire album as recorded by Gillen can be heard, and in much better sound quality.
I can still remember keeping up with the Sabbath story via their music videos on Much Music. I was surprised when I saw that the "new" singer, the bearded Glenn Hughes, had been replaced by the much cooler looking Tony Martin. Skeptical, I watched the video for the first and only single "The Shining". Lo and behold, the song was awesome! The riff (which according to Tony went back to the Geezer Butler days) was powerful and epic just like anything Sabbath had done with Dio. The chorus shimmered with intensity. The new singer rocked! Unfortunately, Martin would spend his entire career with a "mini-Dio" or "Dio-clone" tag. The similarities are that Martin has a similar range and equal amount of power, but not the grit and a different character. Luckily, Martin would stick around for 5 albums but never shook the "replacement singer" tag.
Aside from "The Shining", I find The Eternal Album to lack lustre. "Glory Ride" is the only other song that was single-worthy, a great romp that reminds me heavily of "Strange Wings" by Savatage (a song that featured Ray Gillen on backing vocals!) The rest of the songs...well, they ain't bad. "Born To Lose" is fast and furious, as is "Lost Forever". "Scarlet Pimpernel" is one of those atmospheric Sab instrumentals that they were known for in the early days and its inclusion was very wise. However, the songs so tend to meld into one another, with only "The Shining" and "Glory Ride" making my personal Sabbath road tapes.
I mentioned the creation of this album was chaotic. Aside from the replacement of the lead singer position mid-album, there were also two drummers: Eric Singer departed to be replaced by ex-Sabbath drummer Bev Bevan! But by the tour, Bevan would be replaced by ex-The Clash drummer (Dr.) Terry Chimes. Dave Spitz partially recorded the bass to be replaced by ex-Rainbow and Ozzy bassist Bob Daisley. Daisley was gone before the video for "The Shining" was filmed, to be replaced by a mystery man who nobody bothered to catch the name of. You can see him in the video. The story goes, they needed a bassist for the video and pulled this guy off the street. For the tour, Jo Burt filled the bassist slot. Neither Chimes nor Burt would stick around to the next album, Headless Cross.
Eternal Idol was a crucial step towards solidifying Black Sabbath once again after the chaos of the previous years, but it would be the next album, Headless Cross, that was a resounding return. A much more solid album, Headless featured the new nucleus of the two Tony's and the legendary Cozy Powell on drums. Session bassist Lawrence Cottle (a great fretless player) was replaced for the new while by Cozy's longtime rhythm partner, Neil Murray on bass. That lineup of Powell, Murray, Iommi and Martin (always with Geoff Nicholls on keys) would prove to be one of the most stable in the band's history and the one that I saw when I first saw Sabbath live in 1995 on the Forbidden tour.
Anyway, I'm going off on a tangest. My point was to show that this album was really not the "comeback" that it could have been, but merely a step towards rebuilding Black Sabbath. You have to admire Tony Iommi for not giving up. Eternal Idol is not for those fans who just like Ozzy, or just like Dio. Eternal Idol is for the metal maven who wants to know every chapter in the band's history. Otherwise, I can't recommend it, except for the two songs "The Shining" and "Glory Ride". Purchase accordingly.
Now, when will we get a Born Again special edition? Dehumanizer is coming in 2011.