The West

The fires of hell have taken their toll on Ozzy Osbourne since Black Sabbath first toured Australia 40 years ago. But the drugs, the satanic verses, the bat sandwiches and reality television were nothing compared to the Perth sun in 1973.

"They said we could get off the plane for half an hour, if we liked, while they refuelled," the recovering prince of darkness recalls, his trademark fever pitch of indignation in full stammer.

"I thought 'Well, I'll just grab a bit of a suntan'. I sat on this wall for about 20 minutes and I was fried. I had to spend 30 hours on a plane on fire.

"I don't lie in the sun anymore because that frightened the crap out of me. One of the guys in the band said 'You wanna get in a hot shower to take the sting away'. So I did that and I nearly died."

Death has miraculously failed to slow Black Sabbath but, by 1973, a long sleep was looming. After five classic albums forged the mould for a particularly dark and heavy brand of metal, the four Birmingham blokes were being torn apart by legal dramas, the progressive ambitions of guitarist Tony Iommi and Osbourne's increasingly dangerous lifestyle.

To dispense with a long and splintered saga, last year the two reunited with bassist Geezer Butler to make their first album together in 35 years. The singer says he doesn't know why original drummer Bill Ward opted out of the reunion project, now titled 13, to be replaced by Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk.

But he does know this: "It's a masterpiece as far as I'm concerned.

"I heard the finished thing last week and I've got to be truthful with you, I was so bowled over by the way it sounded. If you liked Black Sabbath in the old days, you got to love 13. It's very heavy. It's very, VERY heavy.

"I'm my own worst critic," Osbourne adds. "Rather than the pluses I look for the minuses. And I haven't been this excited for an album in a long, long time. I can't remember the last time."

There's a free kick in that sentence, of course. Osbourne's trademark slurred and rambling speech, as heard ad nauseam on the family TV saga The Osbournes between 2002 and 2005, is a permanent reminder of forgotten days.

Luckily, star producer Rick Rubin - Slipknot, Slayer, Metallica, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, ZZ Top et al - came equipped with a very long memory.

"Rubin kept going on about the first album," Osbourne says. "I'm thinking, 'What you going on about the first album for?' I suddenly got it. You know what you need to do before you start playing for real? Just jam. And one of the jams ended up on the album."

The eight-minute Damaged Soul is one of eight tracks set for release on June 10. The first single, God Is Dead? was greeted with a legion of 'Likes' on YouTube last week; its creeping death riff and bloody images of doom, gloom and tombs clearly geared towards the undead Sabbath faithful.

"(Rubin) wouldn't have me singing anything related to happy, fun, anything like that," Osbourne protests.

"It was a bit of a sticking point at times."

According to chirpy reports from all concerned, any old bones of contention remained buried behind big grins as 13 took shape. Osbourne takes the opportunity to refute the legend that Iommi has been beating him up since they were schoolkids in Birmingham.

"It's all bulls…. He never ever laid a finger on me," he says. "Now it's the way it should have always been. We had a time where we would talk behind each other's backs and that (led to) problems. The only way to do it is to be honest."

A few years ago, Osbourne confessed he had been stoned every day on The Osbournes set, despite claims of sobriety.

Earlier this month he admitted via Facebook that he had fallen off the wagon again and had been drinking and taking drugs for "the past year and a half".

With hand on heart, today he says: "I don't do anything any more. I don't drink or smoke." Perhaps most remarkably, nor does he regret the TV series that gave his suddenly famous children Kelly and Jack drug problems of their own.

"No. It was in God's master plan," he says.

"My kids have got a career out of it, and my wife did. She loves to do television, my wife. I'm not particularly crazy about it but I'll do it if I have to.

"The blessing I have is that today I'm alive. My heart stopped more than once and they got me going again. I had a bike accident a few years back, nearly broke my neck, smashed my clavicle, broke my ribs, punctured my lungs.

"I've fallen down flights of stairs, lift shafts, everything in my life. Been arrested for attempted murder, which I'm not really proud of. But I never thought I could go into a recording studio and do an album totally sober. It's better than it was."

Black Sabbath play Perth Arena on Saturday. Tickets from Ticketek. 13 will be released on June 10.

The West Australian

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