Album Review

Tony Martin ‘Thorns’ Review

Posted by Andrew Johann Datoush on Tuesday, February 1, 2022 at 5:30 AM (PST)
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In April of 1980, one of the biggest debates in metal music began. Who is BLACK SABBATH’s greatest singer? Is it OZZY or is it DIO? That debate still goes strong today with both sides feeling very strong in their debates. “OZZY is the best because he’s had all these hits with SABBATH!” “No, DIO is the best because he pulled SABBATH out of the slump they were in!” “Yeah, but OZZY was the original, so that means he’s better!”

 

I never understood how music fans, especially in the metal genre, can believe that the original lineup just means it’s automatically better because it came before any other lineup, and there’s no way to improve upon it. I mean, a new singer will definitely change the sound of a band more drastically than any other position in the group, but it doesn’t mean the band can’t be improved by that. Hell, if we would just stop paying attention to any band because they changed singers, bands like IRON MAIDEN, AC/DC or ANTHRAX wouldn’t be nearly as popular as they are today.

 

I’m a man who enjoys the first SYMPHONY X record with Rod Tyler on vocals just as much as their last one with Russel Allen. That said, I’ve always hated that argument. I don’t think it’s much of a secret that OZZY is my least favorite BLACK SABBATH singer (and yeah, I’ve heard demos with his first replacement, Dave Walker), and as much as I loved RONNIE JAMES DIO, he only ranks as my 2nd favorite BLACK SABBATH front man. I know what I just said is considered to be blasphemy amongst two very adamant sides of the BLACK SABBATH fan base debate, but of SABBATH’s other 243 singers they’ve had for albums, tours or even just demos (my math might be only slightly off), one man stands out as my absolute favorite. The man who could cover all eras of the band’s music on stage, and still have a sound that was distinctly his own, Mr. Tony Martin.

 

My introduction to Tony Martin era SABBATH was around 2000-2001 when a buddy of mine made me a CD-R copy of the Headless Cross album. Yeah, CD-R’s. Remember those? Anyway, I very quickly went out and located an actual copy of the album. I needed to know so much. Who was this singing this heavenly music? Who was hitting these high notes on tunes like “Devil & Daughter” and “Night Wing”? I’m that old school kid that had to have the actual cd or vinyl record so that I could get lost in the album cover while listening to the album. I had to read the booklet that gave me the lyrics, the band personal, and even the “thank you notes” afterward. That’s where I got my info. Tony Martin! That’s the guy. Well, luckily for me, Tony Martin has done a handful of records with SABBATH, all of them excellent in their own ways, but all of them criminally underrated, even by the fans of the band themselves. So, I checked out these other albums. Cross Purposes and TYR in particular stood out. Now, I know I’m doing a lot of ranting about Tony Martin’s under-appreciated contributions to BLACK SABBATH, but there’s a point I’m leading to here. Tony Martin began his tenure in 1987,and was the voice of the band until 1997 (minus a one album return from DIO). Remember when I said earlier that he could cover all eras of BLACK SABBATH? Well, during that time frame, he truly did. It wasn’t just him singing “War Pigs” and “Paranoid”. Tony was pulling out truly underrated SABBATH tunes. There’s a really excellent version of “The Wizard” from the band’s Cross Purposes: Live video release.

 

He put himself to the test nearly every night for a decade with the band, and here we are, 25 years after his last SABBATH gig, and I’m questioning if Tony’s new album Thorns was really recorded 25 years later, because right on the opening song alone, there’s no evidence the man has aged whatsoever. His voice is just as powerful today as it was when I was a teenager jamming out to him singing “The Sabbath Stones” (my all time favorite BLACK SABBATH song). I’m excited to be writing this today, because I just came home to find a signed copy of Tony Martin’s new Thorns album here for me, and I truly think fans of his SABBATH days are really going to love this new album, as he seems to channel the voices he had during his tenure, but with this new energy and power that he hadn’t quite put on full display in the past. Thorns opens with the incredibly powerful “As The World Burns”. I swear to Christ, this song slaps even harder than the “Headless Cross” song did when I first heard it, but it feels like it’s a natural fit for that record, but not in an overbearing way.

 

It’s very clear that this isn’t a SABBATH reprisal. This is Tony Martin’s album. “Book Of Shadows” is another big standout track on this album, opening with a dark ominous sound, before Tony comes in with a vocal style that feels almost like he’s channeling DIO as he did years ago when doing songs like “Die Young” or “Mob Rules”. This one might actually be my top favorite on the album personally. “Damned By You” is another that really deserves mention. It has the somewhat bluesy groove of an old SABBATH tune, with an almost Viking kinda vibe in the intro, and it feels in certain parts like Tony is channeling that voice he used to use when performing OZZY era songs, but he definitely keeps that to a minimum, like he’s letting us know he can still go, like 25 years hasn’t affected him at all. Meanwhile, 25 years have done quite the number on the rest of us!

 

“Nowhere To Fly” is the next one I have to mention. Again, it feels like a natural fit for the Headless Cross album, but harder and more powerful. This one made me feel like it should be the song in between “Call Of The Wild” and “Nightwing”, but as a bit more of a standout tune, if that makes any sense to you. “Passion Killer” is another standout for me, as it’s the track Tony seems to sing with a bit more growl and manages to switch between that and his high pitch tone with real ease. “This Is Your Damnation” is another great groove that I think everyone will enjoy. In a weird way, it feels like part of it is Tony’s answer to “Devil Went Down To Georgia”, but instead of Charlie Daniels slapping with that song, it’s more like Tony is hitting you with the same power it must have taken to get that image from ANTHRAX’s “Fistful Of Metal” record, except without the two left hands. When Tony signed the album for me, he wrote “Keep Rockin’”, which will not be a hard request for me to fulfill, because this is a hell of a return! One of the most solid albums I’ve heard in a long time. There isn’t a single song on this record that feels like it’s filler. It’s all supposed to be here, and it’s all going to hit you. Check it out now, ya muthas!

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