Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Black Sabbath, "Seventh Star" (1986)

"Seventh Star" album cover
"Seventh Star" album cover | Source

Black Sabbath Featuring Tony Iommi - SEVENTH STAR (Warner Bros., 1986)

The mighty Black Sabbath invented Heavy Metal and ruled the 1970s hard-rock scene with their ear splitting, doom-laden odes to War Pigs, Sweet Leaves, and Paranoia, but drugs and egos tore them apart when they should've been enjoying their greatest success. By the time I started getting into metal in the early 1980s, Black Sabbath had all but fallen off the musical radar. Instead of commanding their due respect as Elder Statesmen of the genre they'd helped forge, the legendary Brits were considered "washed up" or "irrelevant" at the time. While former Sabbath frontmen Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio had both moved on to solo careers which were outshining their Blackened former home, guitarist Tony Iommi was struggling to keep the Sabbath flame burning - with mixed results. 1983's Born Again featured Ian Gillan of Deep Purple fame on vocals and enjoyed some mild chart success, but it failed to vault Sabbath back to the forefront of the Metal movement. Gillan jumped ship for a Deep Purple reunion as soon as the Born Again tour was finished, and after a brief reunion set by all four original Sabbath members at the massive "Live Aid" charity concert in the summer of '85, the band was officially considered "on hiatus" as Tony Iommi began work on a new project... his first-ever solo album, which was to be titled Seventh Star.

"Seventh Star" band lineup L-R: Dave Spitz, Glenn Hughes, Tony Iommi, Eric Singer, Geoff Nichols
"Seventh Star" band lineup L-R: Dave Spitz, Glenn Hughes, Tony Iommi, Eric Singer, Geoff Nichols | Source

With Sabbath on ice, Iommi was intent on exploring new musical ideas and he hired a crew of high-powered studio musicians to help bring Seventh Star to fruition, including bassist Dave "The Beast" Spitz (older brother of Anthrax guitarist Dan Spitz), drummer Eric Singer (who would later go on to successful stints with Alice Cooper and KISS) and long time Sabbath keyboardist Geoff Nichols. Tony's original plan for Seventh Star was to feature a variety of guest vocalists, each singing one of the album's tracks. However, scheduling conflicts eventually led him to scrap that idea and utilize Glenn Hughes (ex-Deep Purple and Trapeze) on vocals for the entire album. (Iommi would later revisit the "one album with many singers" concept on his 2000 solo disc Iommi, which featured vocal contributions from Henry Rollins, Peter Steele, Serj Tankian and Phil Anselmo, among others.)

When it was completed, Tony's Seventh Star was a slicker, much more melodic disc than most Sabbath platters....which became a problem when the suits at Warner Bros. Records refused to release it as an Iommi solo album, and insisted that Tony attach the Black Sabbath name to it. D'OH!

"No Stranger To Love"

Trouble In Paradise

Iommi knew that it would be a mistake putting the Sabbath name on an album that sounded nothing like Black Sabbath, but he was given no choice in the matter so he was forced to bite the bullet. Seventh Star was released in January of 1986 with the unwieldy heading of "Black Sabbath Featuring Tony Iommi" splashed across its front cover...and the album was pretty much doomed from the moment it hit record store racks. Long time Sabbath fans scoffed at the unfamiliar faces in the "new" lineup, and assumed that Iommi, being the only original member left, was simply trying to squeeze the last bit of juice out of the Black Sabbath name for his own benefit. To make matters worse, Warner Brothers chose to release the album's bluesy ballad "No Stranger To Love" as the first single; the track's synths and commercial pop-metal/AOR vibe absolutely mortified Sabbath diehards. (Useless trivia: the moody, black and white video for "No Stranger..." starred a young Denise Crosby, of future Star Trek: The Next Generation fame.) Seventh Star debuted in the top 30 in Sabbath's native U.K., but came in at a paltry #78 in America before it slid off the U.S. Billboard chart altogether.

Revised promo shot with Ray Gillen at left.
Revised promo shot with Ray Gillen at left. | Source

Given the amount of behind-the-scenes drama that went into the album's creation, it should be no surprise that the Seventh Star concert tour quickly developed into a disaster of Spinal Tap proportions as well. Glenn Hughes only performed five shows with the band before he got into a fight in a bar that broke several bones in his face, leaving him swollen and unable to sing. Sabbath sent Hughes home to recuperate and hastily recruited a then-unknown New Jersey singer named Ray Gillen to fill in for the remainder of the tour. (Gillen would go on to a measure of fame several years later as frontman of the blues-rock band Badlands, with former Ozzy guitarist Jake E. Lee.) The vocalist switch was probably for the best, because Hughes has famously said of his brief Sabbath experience, "Glenn Hughes singing in Black Sabbath is like James Brown singing in Metallica. It just doesn't work." By all accounts, the Gillen-fronted version of Sabbath turned out to be a surprisingly strong musical unit that put on some tight live shows, but In the end it really didn't matter who was out front. Even with then-hot young opening acts like W.A.S.P. and Anthrax added to the bill in an attempt to boost ticket sales, the Seventh Star tour was met with massive fan disinterest, half filled venues and numerous cancellations.

When the smoke cleared, Seventh Star was denounced as one of Black Sabbath's worst albums, if not THE worst, and it regularly ranked at or near the bottom of their catalog in fan and critic polls for years after its release.

Live With Ray Gillen:

"No Stranger To Love" single
"No Stranger To Love" single | Source

My Take...

When I first heard Seventh Star as a teen in 1986, I didn't know what to make of it. I was still pretty much a noob when it came to Black Sabbath at that time, anyway. I owned Born Again and I knew a couple of the Ozzy-era songs that got play on classic rock radio like "Paranoid" and "War Pigs," and that was about it. Even to a clueless adolescent like me, Seventh Star certainly didn't sound much like Black Sabbath -- or at least, it didn't sound like what I thought Sabbath should sound like. I was expecting big, doomy, depressing slabs of Birmingham steel and what I got was slick, Sunset Strip sounding hard rock with some occasional dips into AOR. I decided that the album "sucked," pawned it off on my local used record store, and I didn't bother investigating any more of Black Sabbath's rich catalog till many years later. (I know, I know...sometimes I wish I could reach back in time and slap myself.)

In the more than a quarter century since its release, however, a strange phenomenon began to arise. Just as KISS' disastrously-received 1981 rock opera Music From The Elder slowly built a cult following over the years, the passage of time was similarly kind to Seventh Star, and its stock slowly began going up amongst retro-metal geeks and melodic rock fans. Those who missed out on it the first time around are now checking Seventh Star out thanks to reissues and the Internet, while old fans who dismissed the album back in '86 are re-assessing it and saying "Y'know what? This isn't as bad as I remembered." I include myself in that second group. On a whim I recently re-acquired Seventh Star on CD after not hearing -- or even thinking about -- the album since I was in high school. Now that I've had 25 years to become more well versed in Sabbath lore and I know about the strange circumstances regarding its creation, I can listen to Seventh Star without the lofty "Sabbath" expectations attached to it ... and I'm digging the album much more than I expected. Glenn Hughes turns in a strong performance throughout and the album has a number of catchy tracks like the driving opener "In For the Kill" and "Turn to Stone." Yeah, "No Stranger To Love" still sounds like a Whitesnake B-side, but Iommi turns in some awesome six string wailing throughout the otherwise lightweight song. The title track is probably the most "Sabbathy" song on the album with its ponderous themes of cosmic extraterrestrial doom, while "Danger Zone" and the Deep Purple-esque "Angry Heart" are both strong '80s style hard-rock songs. "Heart Like a Wheel" runs a bit too long at 6:35 and the two and a half minute closer "In Memory" feels like it was tacked on at the last minute to pad things out to album length, but aside from that I have few complaints.

"In For the Kill"

"The Eternal Idol" (1987)
"The Eternal Idol" (1987) | Source

The Aftermath...

Iommi and Black Sabbath survived the Seventh Star debacle, but just barely. When Ray Gillen left the band during pre-production for the next album, The Eternal Idol, Iommi cleaned house yet again and assembled yet another all new Sabbath lineup fronted by vocalist Tony Martin, who completed the vocals on Eternal Idol (released in 1987) and then remained in the Sabbath camp for four more albums (89's Headless Cross, 90's Tyr, 1994's Cross Purposes and 95's Forbidden) and one live disc (1995's Cross Purposes Live box set). Martin's five studio albums with Sabbath make him the vocalist with the second longest tenure in the band, right behind the mighty Ozzy Osbourne himself!

Like Seventh Star before it, The Eternal Idol was ignored when it was first released but over the years it has slowly climbed the ranks to become another one of Sabbath's "underrated" albums. Recent re-issues of both Seventh Star and Eternal Idol expanded them to two-disc sets. The Seventh Star bonus disc features a live recording from the ill-fated 1986 concert tour with Ray Gillen taped at London's Hammersmith Odeon, and the second Eternal Idol disc features album cuts with Gillen on vocals that were recorded prior to his departure from the band. Sadly, Ray Gillen passed away in 1993.

Since the mid 1990s, periodic reunions with both Osbourne and the late great Ronnie James Dio (R.I.P.) have kept the Black Sabbath flag flying, finally culminating in 2013's warmly received studio album, 13 - the first Black Sabbath album to feature Ozzy Osbourne on lead vocals since 1980's !Never Say Die!

I don't know how Tony Iommi looks back on the Seventh Star experience these days, but in my humble opinion it's an underrated album that's deserving of another listen. If you happen to come across it in the five-dollar CD bin at Best Buy like I did, give Seventh Star a chance...you may be surprised at how good it sounds after all these years.

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Comments 12 comments

Manny 2 years ago

I bought the album as a new release as a teenager and loved it, sadly nobody I knew felt the same way, or even bothered buying it. It did not help that vocalist Glenn Hughes dropped out six dates into the tour and Iommi hired unknown Ray Gillen. The concerts with Gillen are excellent as evident by the numerous youtube videos, but the album was dead in the water, not helped by releasing a ballad as the first single.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 2 years ago from The Garden State Author

Hey Manny... I agree, the album was doomed as soon as they told Tony to put the Sabbath name on it, obviously that name brings a set of expectations that Seventh Star couldn't live up to.


SkySlave profile image

SkySlave 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

I had never heard anything about this album. It is very strange that the sabbath name is on the album. However i'd still like to check it out. Thanks for sharing this.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 2 years ago from The Garden State Author

You're welcome SkySlave - I've seen the album in the cheap-CD bin at both Walmart and Best Buy in recent weeks if you want to find a copy for yourself.

As for the "name" controversy... the label apparently thought that it would sell more copies under the Black Sabbath banner than it would've if it had Tony Iommi's name on it. History has shown how horribly wrong they were. Haha.


Rad Man 2 years ago

Interesting Freddy. By the time these albums came out I had lost interest and started buying Dio albums. Only bought two. I recently went back to see if I could listen to the rest, but as much as I loved Dio with Sabbath and on his own I just can't bring myself to invest the time needed to enjoy any of the unheard stuff from these guy. Oh to be a teenager again with nothing to do but listen to an album over and over again without distractions.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 2 years ago from The Garden State Author

Hi Rad Man - thanks for stopping by. I'm still playing "Catch up" with Sabbath, Dio and a lot of other artists after all these years too.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 2 years ago from The Garden State Author

Updated!


SheGetsCreative profile image

SheGetsCreative 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

Definitely interesting read even though I'm not much of a metal fan.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 2 years ago from The Garden State Author

Thanx SGC - glad you found it informative!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 2 years ago from The Garden State Author

Updated


Jeremiah 17 months ago

Sadly I only have these two cd's because of the fact that Eric Singer played drums on both. Do I fault Eric for his poofy hair....no


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 2 months ago from The Garden State Author

Updated

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