Tony Martin

Dark Star Records, 2022

REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker


The music industry has taken a beating in this online era, but it has also opened windows of opportunity for artists to connect with their fans—or in this case, vice versa. In 2010, former Black Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin was working on a third solo album titled Book Of Shadows when he was contacted over Facebook by Scott McLellan. Armed with a Dean guitar and 20 years’ experience playing in Pantera tribute bands Cemetery Gatez and Domination, McLellan sent what Tony Martin describes as “Not a one-riff thing but many riffs, just like when I worked with Tony Iommi….” It’s difficult to think of higher praise for a heavy metal guitarist, and the collaboration that led to Thorns is a treat for any fans of Black Sabbath.

The first thing to leap out at you is how powerful Tony Martin’s voice still is 35 years after his debut on Black Sabbath’s The Eternal Idol (1987). The speedy, chugging riffs of the opener “As The World Burns” pack a punch and are matched by his range, with a neat changeup to a spoken interlude after McLellan’s first solo of the album. “Black Widow Angel” opens with a sludgy riff accompanied by Martin’s longtime drummer Danny Needham pounding on the drums. A highlight comes at about 2:30 in when bassist Magnus Rosén gets his time in the spotlight, with a break that brings to mind Les Claypool. Although the musicians’ parts were recorded separately and spread out over time (and space in this pandemic era), they blend together excellently and sound like a top-notch band.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Three songs written and composed for the Book Of Shadows album feature on Thorns and blend well with those Martin co-wrote with McLellan. What would have been the title track reminds me a bit of “Anno Mundi” from the criminally underrated Black Sabbath album TYR (1990), while “Crying Wolf” is a nice change-up to a stripped-down acoustic number. They’re great back-to-back numbers as they show two sides of Martin as a vocalist, still able to hit the notes he did 30 years ago and having branched out into different styles. The best of the three for my tastes is actually the most out of left field: “This Is Your Damnation” is a great, foot-stomping acoustic number that goes from spoken-word, to a soulful chorus, to a great pitch in the closing verses. It feels the most “solo” of the numbers on this album.

But make no mistake. The highlights come in the form of heavy metal! “Damned By You” has a great solo from Scott McLellan while Danny Needham pummels away at the double-bass; “No Shame At All” has a heavy, swinging groove; and “Passion Killer” and “Run Like The Devil” are a hard-hitting one-two punch that see Martin share center stage with McLellan. It’s a thrill to listen to a guitarist strongly influenced by Dimebag Darrell collaborate with a Black Sabbath vocalist, and despite being written and recorded over the space of 12 years, the songs come together very well as an album, which speaks to the great songwriting between them. Indeed, Tony Martin has already spoken of writing and recording a second album with Scott McLellan, giving them ample material to play live in the future. 

Despite COVID-19 having obstructed bands from touring, recording in the studio to beat cabin fever has led to a series of great albums from former Black Sabbath vocalists: Ozzy Osbourne, Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, and now Tony Martin have recorded top-notch material in the past two years, and Thorns is his best solo album to date.

Rating: A-

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