"Tony Iommi should have dropped the name and called the band something else": Black Sabbath's least-loved album re-examined, four decades on

What happened when Tony Iommi brought two familiar faces back on board for Forbidden, an album produced by an extremely unexpected choice

Black Sabbath: Forbidden cover art
(Image: © BMG)

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Black Sabbath: Forbidden

Black Sabbath: Forbidden cover art cover art

(Image credit: BMG)

The Illusion Of Power
Get A Grip
Can't Get Close Enough
Shaking Off The Chains
I Won't Cry For You
Guilty As Hell
Sick And Tired
Rusty Angels
Kiss Of Death
Loser Gets It All

Although 1994's Black Sabbath album Cross Purposes performed respectably, charting on both sides of the Atlantic (No.41 in the UK, No,122 in the US), bassist Geezer Butler jumped ship for Ozzy Osbourne's solo band, and Tony Iommi realised that some stability was necessary. The call went out, and Sabbath's Tyr-era lineup reunited, with bassist Neil Murray and drummer Cozy Powell joining the guitarist and frontman Tony Martin. 

Forbidden, the album Sabbath made, was assured of its notoriety when the band’s label I.R.S. put forward the name of Ernie Cunningham, better known as Ernie C, the guitar player with rapper Ice T’s group Body Count, as its producer. 

As realisation dawned that the album, which would be titled Forbidden, was becoming a car crash, Iommi was powerless to hit the brakes. Decades later, Ice-T’s spoken word part on the album’s track The Illusion Of Power remains a genuine WTF moment. And despite peaking at No.71 in Britain, Forbidden dropped off a cliff in the US and remains the least successful Black Sabbath album of them all

“Forbidden has been a thorn in my side for years,” Iommi told Classic Rock. “I knew all about Ice-T and that he was good, but I didn’t expect him to bring along his guitar player to produce the album. When a band knows its sound and exactly what it wants, bringing in an outsider is very disruptive. I found myself on the sidelines. Our whole situation had become so frail.”

In 2024, Iommi brought Forbidden right up to date, making it sound more Sabbath-y. "I found some bits of guitar that Ernie hadn’t used,” he said. “Within the obvious constraints, I managed to make things sound a hell of a lot better." 

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What they said...

"When the most influential heavy metal band ever to have roamed the earth teams up with Body Count's Ernie C to try and inject new life into their sound, it should have been the signal to give up the ghost. But poor Black Sabbath named an album Never Say Die because they meant it, and this sad album is a reminder of how dim even the brightest lights can get. Where their last album was an uneven but pleasant return to form, this is just the band going through the motions." (AllMusic)

"Although Headless Cross is criticised by dramatic vocals, Born Again is criticised by bad production and "chemistry" between Gillan and Sabbath, Seventh Star is criticised to be a cheesy 80s album and not a Sabbath album, nothing can save Forbidden from harsh criticism. Even for Sabbath fans Forbidden is easily avoided, and it's justified. But... if you like an uninspired and boring metal album... what are you waiting for?" (Sputnik Music)

"This album has few similarities to classic Sabbath albums such as Master Of Reality and Paranoid. However, this album does have its moments. Vocalist Tony Martin is a decent heavy metal singer, but the songwriting is where this album suffers. Instead of going for the usual doomy atmosphere, it appears the band decided to go in a bit more of a mainstream direction as the songs have a more upbeat feel than much of the band's early work." (Metal Reviews)

What you said...

Gus Schultz: I haven’t really listened to any Sabbath since the original lineup disbanded. I bought the Dio albums at the time but the sound just wasn’t Black Sabbath sounding for my tastes. As great and iconic metal singer Dio was, to me everything he sang on sounded like a Dio album, but I digress. I think my point is regardless of the singer they just don’t capture that rich dark sound they had developed in the 70’s, which was fading regardless as time passed in the original lineup as Ozzy was falling into addiction. 

I had not listened to the original mix of this album as they were off my radar at the time but the remix does not impress me at all. If it were not for Tony’s iconic guitar (which was muted by 90s production) I wouldn't realise this was a Sabbath LP. As with most classic bands, time hasn't been very kind to them, and holding on to the magic of the past is difficult. Although some of it came back with Ozzy’s return, nothing really came to fruition as far as studio material. 

Sometimes I think it’s impossible to capture the magic of the past, (especially when you have different musicians coming and going) and this album does not do it at all. I’ll stick to the original lineup material.

Gino Sigismondi: I come at this from the perspective of someone who has never heard the original, having pretty much checked out after Mob Rules. So I only know the new remix, and I think it's great! On the earlier Tony Martin records, they had taken the dragons and demons thing about as far as it could go (and let's face it: you'll never out-castle Dio...), so the lyrical direction is refreshing. 

Cozy is a monster, and I find Neil Murray one of the most criminally overlooked bass players of his era. At times, this reminds me of the Iommi/Hughes Fused record. Perhaps, like Seventh Star, it just shouldn't have been called a Sabbath record? And all the hubbub over the Ice T spot? It's over so quickly it hardly seems worth getting so upset over. Obviously, this doesn't hold a candle to the Ozzy and Dio albums, and The Eternal Idol is still the best Tony Martin effort, but this album doesn't deserve its poor reputation.

Chris Downie: Football fans will be only too familiar with the 'game of two halves' analogy, and it's one that springs to mind when thinking of Black Sabbath's 1995 Forbidden album. Precipitated by the brilliant new Anno Domini: 1989-95 boxset, the Tony Martin era's long-overdue reappraisal will see this album (newly remixed from the ground up by Tony Iommi) as a central talking point and rightly so.

While there are many Sabbath fans who cannot see beyond the original line-up, or at a stretch the Dio years, many who approached Forbidden back in the day knew there was a good album in there somewhere and that it was marred by poor production by Ernie C (Body Count were a hot band in the day, but the consensus was they didn't mix well with Sabbath), but when this remix was announced, there were murmurs of optimism.

Upon first listen, it's clear the sonics have been massively improved and the Sabbath sound we know and love, at least that of the criminally underrated Tony Martin iteration, is now present and correct. Ice T's original original contribution has been pared back to that of a cameo, but without losing impact, while the title track and the album closer in particular now sound like formidable slabs of mid-90s heavy metal. 

The only gripe is that, unlike the rest of the box set, the contributions of keyboard player Geoff Nicholls (RIP) have been reduced to barely audible on Forbidden and thus detract from his usual embellishing of their albums from Heaven And Hell onwards.

To be clear, once the dust settles on this rejuvenation, Forbidden is not a perfect album and, with a few sub-par efforts within, will always rank near the bottom of their albums list (I would rank it just above Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die and well above Seventh Star) and is the weakest of the Martin era. However, this fine remix sees justice finally done and will hopefully help kickstart an ongoing rehabilitation of Martin himself, both a fine singer and humble individual.

One thing that will never go away, however, is the debate (one for another day!) on whether Martin's introduction on 1987's The Eternal Idol should have also seen a new band emerge, unencumbered by the baggage of the Sabbath history. The rebranding of Heaven And Hell and Last In Line, for instance, have certainly seen new generations warm to the Dio Sabbath years and the Dio band. 7/10.

Black Sabbath - Get A Grip (Official HD Video) - YouTube Black Sabbath - Get A Grip (Official HD Video) - YouTube
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Neil Immerz: If Ronnie James Dio was around to sing on this album in 1995, I would’ve loved it. But having Tony Martin do vocals doesn’t do it for me. I would’ve expected this album to be heavier and darker for what it was and for Iommi’s riffs to be more gargantuan than what they were on this album.

This new remix still doesn’t do it for me. It’s no different to the 1995 version and I hear no difference in sound at all.

Mike Canoe: It was common knowledge that the Tony Martin era of Black Sabbath sucked. Purely through hearsay and speculation, of course, because, aside from The Eternal Idol, their albums were unavailable, at least deep in the heart of Texas.

This may be the remix talking but I find Forbidden a thoroughly satisfying heavy heavy metal album. There are riffs galore from Tony Iommi, a rhythm section to equal an earthquake in Neil Murray and Cozy Powell, and a confident and strong performance from Tony Martin that gives no indication of his perpetually tenuous position in the band.

I would point sceptics in the direction of headbangers like Shaking Off the Chains, Guilty As Hell, or Forbidden, as well as menacing slow burns like Sick And Tired or Can't Get Close Enough. While those tracks showcase Martin's angry snarl, it says something about Martin's prowess as a singer that scorched earth power ballad, I Won't Cry for You is one of the strongest songs on the album. And, yes, the album may be occasionally haunted by the riffs of Sabbath's past, but they still sound great here.

I realize that for many people, Tony Martin will never rate higher than the fourth or fifth best singer in Black Sabbath, if they know of his existence at all. That's fine, different strokes and all that. I'm just glad that these albums are finally readily available for reappraisal - or first appraisal in many cases.

Adam McCann: I used to say this was the weakest of the Sabbath albums, but this new remix is a masterclass in how to resurrect an album and make it sound great. It shows how the original duff mix from Ernie C demonstrates that he had no idea how to produce anything other than Body Count. The songs sound fresh and modern and I'm fully impressed with it.

Roy Davies: Been listening to it on Spotify and what a cracking album it is, don't know why it gets such bad press.

Damian Jones: Not the best Sabbath album, but still better than 13 (still the only Black Sabbath album I don't rate).

John Davidson: Not the worst Black Sabbath album, but not a must-have either. The opening couple of tracks are OK, but things get interesting with Can't Get Close Enough which showcases what a great singer Tony Martin can be when he gets his moment as well as delivering some classic Iommi riffage. The rest of the album is very listenable, but Tony Martin can't quite decide whether he is emulating the phrasing of Ronnie James Dio (as on Cry for You) or doing his own thing. It's better than Dehumanizer, so there's that. 7/10.

Mark Herrington: This isn’t a bad album, and the remaster improves it, but it's not a good Sabbath album. It improves after a weakish start and later tracks are better. For me, as a big Dio fan, the vocalist is my biggest stumbling block. Trying too hard at times to be Dio-lite, but without those unique vocal tools, is something I can’t help but be conscious of. An average score from me.

Tony Iommi & Tony Martin in conversation : Black Sabbath - Forbidden - YouTube Tony Iommi & Tony Martin in conversation : Black Sabbath - Forbidden - YouTube
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Philip Qvist: When does Black Sabbath stop being Black Sabbath and become something else instead? Full marks to Tony Iommi for keeping the Sabs name alive throughout the 80s and 90s, but for me the band Black Sabbath has always been Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill - and at a push the late, great Ronnie James Dio.

After that, he should have dropped the name and called the band something else. Bad Company made the same mistake at about the same time when Brian Howe, a great singer and songwriter in his own right, joined the band. By keeping the Bad Company name it put their singer at a disadvantage – a mistake that Audioslave and Alter Bridge never made.

And this is the case here. Tony Martin is a good singer and you cannot argue against the credentials of Cozy Powell and Neil Murray either, but Black Sabbath? Forget it, and that is the crux of the matter here.

Forbidden is not a train crash, there are some good songs on the album, including the title track and Kiss Of Death. Even the inclusion of Ice-T on The Illusion Of Power works in my opinion. On the downside, Ernie C was ill-suited as the producer and engineer for Forbidden, and a lot of the backing music sounds too muted.

If this album was released as a Supergroup rather than as Black Sabbath, then I suspect the reviews would have been kinder. It certainly doesn't deserve the poor press, as it is a much better album than that. However, it has to be said that it definitely isn't a great Sabbath album either. A 4 for the Black Sabbath catalogue, a 6 if it was released as another band.

Brian Anderson: It’s the worst of the Tony Martin albums, I rate it 18th out of the 19 Sabbath albums. It suffers from the influences of that god-awful decade that was the 90s. 4/10.

Denys Denysevych: Great album as for me. Much better than 13.

Wibo Koeman: I tried to listen to the new remix. Nothing but respect for Tony Iommi and I like the other Tony Martin albums but this one doesn't work for me. Like someone else posted, maybe too many nineties influences?

Greg Schwepe: So, you’ve got the undeniable architect and creator of heavy metal guitar, making yet another album with another lineup and the fourth vocalist to front this band. On one hand it’s “why bother?” On the other hand, it’s “well, if can still come up with the riffs, then why not?”

Black Sabbath’s Forbidden leads off with The Illusion of Power. The rap-style delivery had me troubled right off the proverbial bat; “Uh oh…” I thought this would be a short listen leading to a non-existent review this week. But I got through it and the next track Get A Grip turns up the interest a little bit, but we’re not there just yet.

Can’t Get Close Enough follows, and at 1:24 into the song, I get my invitation to finish out the album. Tony Iommi shows us why, well, he’s Tony Iommi! After the slow bass and vocal intro, we get a crushing chord progression riff that tells you “stick around, there’s more where that came from.”

And from that point on, Forbidden just got better for me. Unlike some albums we’ve reviewed where they just fade with non-interest to the last track, this one is just the opposite. My interest increased from Shaking Off The Chains all the way to the closer Loser Gets It All. And smack in the middle of those tracks is Rusty Angels, which might be my favourite track.

Is this album better than Paranoid or Heaven And Hell? Heck no! Let me restate that; Hell no! Is it worthy of multiple listens? Hell yes! 8 out of 10 on this one for me. The Two Tonys made an album that won't make you flash the peace sign or devil horns, but give it a simple thumbs up.

Final score: 5.55 (123 votes cast, total score 683)

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