Repurposing Purposes. Black Sabbath’s “Cross Purposes”.

In 1994 Black Sabbath had become my favourite band to listen to. My tape collection was building up with the older albums. Some were special-order that I had to wait on. Columbia House did not carry many of the classic records beyond the first few Ozzy Osbourne records.

When Cross Purposes was released, it was located in a prominent place with “New Releases”. It was the first Tony Martin era album I owned and remains my favourite of his era. This chapter of Black Sabbath’s history was a form of pure power metal. The opening track “I Witness”, starts the album on an up-tempo charge. It’s thunderous musicality with a soaring vocal from Tony Martin. The words tell a story of pressure faced from people by religious fanatics. That was not something I observed much of in the 90’s but there was no doubt it was taking place. A slow radicalization of people being recruited to cause destruction and disrupt human rights in the name of religion. In March of 2021, Tony Martin provided additional insight into some of the lines of this song directly. References include a journey through life and facing your darkest fears in the dream state.

Martin’s lyrical abilities made for some interesting discussions on the early Black Sabbath email lists and chat rooms. Cross Purposes contains some of Martin’s best storytelling. Some of those words have carried over into present times. According to Tony Iommi in a Metal Maniacs interview (Note: Apologies to the Iommi camp as I may have this wrong and have not been able to locate the interview. This is from memory) “Cross of Thorns” was allegedly to be a summary of the fighting that was taking place in the former Yugoslavia. Allegedly, Tony Martin had been there and someone in a pub referred to the whole situation as “A Cross of Thorns”. We now have a “Cross of Thorns” in the Ukraine. Words fail me when I read those news stories. Many of which I can barely get through. The Yugoslavia reference story may not be accurate. According to Tony Martin himself, he indicated in a February 2021 post that the lyrics reflected his observations on politics in Ireland. The song starts out with an airy mix of Geoff Nicholls keyboard and acoustic guitar. When Tony Martin sings “Look at what you’ve done!” it reflects the majority of the first and third world standing up against the horrors of war. It is what people are saying about the war-torn nations of the world.

Track 3 “Psychophobia” is one of those heavy, sliding, riffs which for a few seconds had me wondering how would a vocal melody fit in? Tony Martin made it work, requiring quick work of his singing voice during verses. The words are more references to the pressures of religion. Radicalization and potential to become a victim of dangerous practices are suggested. It is a warning to chaos and confusion.

“Virtual Death” is very relevant in the present 2020’s. An avalanche of misinformation has consumed people into losing lives they once had. It’s as if their previous existences have perished completely, meeting a virtual death. The person continue to exist from behind the safety of their computer screens, churning out extremist views of whatever spectrum with an aim to pour fire onto the flames of chaos. The song starts out with a great resonating doom-tempo bass riff from Geezer Butler. It’s a mix of doom and pure metal. Tony Martin layered vocal tracks throughout the melody to punch through the mix.

It was not until several years after the release of Cross Purposes that I learned “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” was about the horrific crimes of nurse Beverley Allitt. A video produced for the track does not give the slightest indication of the story behind the song. Knowing the story now, the words point out the hypocrisy of Allitt and others in healthcare who have taken innocent lives. “The oath you take is sacred, to save not steal a life”. It is a loud rocker with killer playing from all performers of the track. I’m grateful I had the chance in 2000 to talk to drummer Bobby Rondinelli about his playing on this album. This song is a standout for the drum performance as it carries another masterful riff from Tony Iommi, doubled by the brilliant bass of Geezer Butler.

“Cross Purposes” reflects a major chapter of my life where I felt a stronger connection to the discography of Black Sabbath. I was absorbing and learning the bass parts of many albums, playing along with them in full once they were learned which never took long. There was a binder of lyrics that I kept for reference thanks to them being available on Joe Siegler’s excellent Sabbath site, which is still running today. Like everything in the Black Sabbath catalog, every hardcore fan has their own personal connection to certain albums, certain songs and certain musical parts that stand out to them. Cross Purposes is not one of the albums that gets spoken of by many, but to hardcore fans and well-versed music critics, it remains an important piece of the Sabbath story.


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