Black Sabbath: ‘Forbidden’

Released on June 20, 1995 (I.R.S.)

Forbidden is like the red-headed stepchild of Black Sabbath’s discography. You know an album must be bad when the band’s own guitarist puts it down. Tony Iommi calls Forbidden “a total shambles” and said that he was “not happy” with it. Forbidden received an overwhelmingly negative response from fans and critics alike and sold the fewest units of any Black Sabbath album worldwide. Metal Hammer’s recent article, The 10 worst albums by 10 brilliant bands, places Forbidden high on the list by calling out its many flaws. 

Released on June 20, 1995, Forbidden is the eighteenth studio album by iconic British heavy metal progenitors Black Sabbath, consisting of only original member in Iommi. Forbidden was a rushed affair recorded in only ten days, likely to fulfill the band’s contract with I.R.S. and was recorded with the same line-up as previous album, 1990’s Tyr, featuring Iommi, singer Tony Martin, bassist Neil Murray, keyboardist Geoff Nicholls and drummer Cozy Powell. However, two new faces in the Sabbath camp proved to be a head-scratcher. We all know that Ice-T is a badass, as most metalheads and rockers equally respect and revere what he has done for the music scene in general. However, to have him “guest rap” on opening track “The Illusion of Power” was highly peculiar. Plus, getting fellow Body Count band member Ernie C to produce Forbidden was a mismatch made from hell, achieving a very thin and tinny sound, while often burying some instruments in the mix and muddying up some parts throughout.

“The Illusion of Power” actually starts off well enough with that ominous Iommi trademark reverb-laden guitar tone and its crushing, slow/mid-paced rhythm section. I’ve always liked Tony Martin’s voice and think he’s a fantastic singer, although his vocals on this particular track sound a bit rushed on the verses, while the chorus sounds rather evil and hefty. The aforementioned Ice-T’s spoken word segment really does nothing to add to the song, which in turn proves to be an odd decision for Sabbath to make. Follow up track “Get A Grip” almost sounds like it could have come right off of Born Again with its bluesy “Zero The Hero” type riff with a catchy chorus and pleasing melodic vocal harmonies, accompanied by a brief but tasty Iommi solo. However, there’s not much to the song, with little tempo change or transitional riffs. But it does pick up a bit toward the end, including some powerful Cozy Powell mid-paced double kick drum patterns.

I love the opening melancholic reverb guitar picking on track three “Can’t Get Close Enough.” Martin’s soulful and melodic vocals, run through a cool echo effect, includes a heavy riff and a prominent bassline. However, the riffs could have been mixed with more grit and heft, which falls right back on Ernie C’s shoulders. “Shaking Off The Chains” opens with a killer, bluesy riff and rolling rhythm section, decorated with all kinds of swagger and a stuttered drum beat. Martin’s more aggressive vocals manages to capture tons of emotion. It’s probably not Iommi’s most innovative riff ever invented, but it’s a hard-driving approach with a somewhat atypical sloppy guitar solo.

Ballad “I Won’t Cry For You” sounds almost like Dio-era Sabbath with slight Headless Cross similarities, decorated with reverb melancholic picking and soulful vocals on the intro. However, the mix sounds thin when the rest of the band come in for the chorus, thus rendering Martin’s vocals weak and distant. “Guilty As Hell” is decorated with a killer mid-paced riff that sounds more like classic Sabbath, but also seems like filler to me as well. It lacks a strong or memorable chorus and it’s not mixed heavy enough, while “Sick And Tired” also lacks a strong chorus with the best part of this track being Cozy Powell’s invigorating opening drum fill.

“Rusty Angels” sounds like an attempt at cheesy ’80s hair metal with its main riff. Although the bluesy yet frenetic solo is energetic enough, the volume levels in the mix fluctuate noticeably on this track. The title track is also a weak attempt at a ’80s hair metal power ballad with its blatant keyboard accents, while the six-plus minute album closer, “Kiss of Death,” with its soulful vocal harmonies and its familiar Sabbath trademark riff, is as close to classic Sabbath as you’ll get on Forbidden, as the song fades out with a ticking clock resembling the end of the Tony Martin Sabbath era.  

With the lack of hooks and weak choruses, Ernie C’s thin mix and Ice-T’s rapped vocals, this album was doomed from the start. Some fans even say Forbidden is Sabbath’s worst album. However, there are some good ideas and themes throughout, it’s just that the band’s execution was weak and uninspired. Although it’s not an album that most die-hard Sabbath fans would voluntarily choose to listen to, I would encourage readers to revisit this highly polarized album.

Track List:
01. The Illusion of Power (feat. Ice-T)
02. Get A Grip
03. Can’t Get Close Enough
04. Shaking Off The Chains
05. I Won’t Cry For You
06. Guilty As Hell
07. Sick And Tired
08. Rusty Angels
09. Forbidden
10. Kiss of Death
Japanese Bonus Track
11. Loser Gets It All

Band Members:
Tony Iommi – guitar
Tony Martin – lead vocals
Cozy Powell – drums
Neil Murray – bass
Geoff Nicholls – keyboards

Additional Musicians:
Ice-T – additional vocals (1)

Produced by Ernie C
Engineered and mixed by Ernie C and Bobby Brooks

Band Websites:
Official Website

Reviewed by Kelley Simms for Sleaze Roxx, June 2020

Black Sabbath performing live in Gzira Malta on August 25, 1995 (on Forbidden Tour):