Cross Purposes could have been the ultimate Black Sabbath album. That may be a bold claim, but it combines members from several different eras together for perhaps the most promising lineup since Ronnie James Dio's days with the band. Geezer Butler is there to represent the classic '70s version, Tony Martin returned to the fold to be the '80s representative, new drummer Bob Rondinelli brings the '90s flavor to everything, and Tony Iommi is the never-say-die (no pun intended) original member who never left the flock. But instead of crafting Sabbath's masterful return to grace, they made a weird mishmash of power metal and stoner rock that works more often than not. At least Butler seems to have Iommi attempting memorable riffs again, something he couldn't quite get the hang of until the album previous to this. "I Witness" opens with a classic guitar part, while the drums drive the song along and the bass chugs away with a newfound energy. But this energy is offset by the increasingly soulful vocals of Martin, who simply cannot muster the creepy wail that Ozzy Osbourne brought to the band. In fact, he puts in a performance that is even below the standards he set on albums like The Eternal Idol. The minute his voice starts on the first track, it's as if Sabbath had to adjust to not make him sound out of place. Why the band couldn't have found a suitable replacement is a mystery, unless Iommi had simply given up on bringing in yet another singer after so many had come after Osbourne. "Virtual Death" is the brutally heavy shocker that suddenly appears in the middle of the album; it goes to show how they could have incorporated Martin much more effectively and is also the best slow crawl Iommi had worked on since 1983's "Zero the Hero." Butler does seem to have a good influence on Iommi whenever they work together, and their interplay becomes quite interesting as the album goes on. For whatever reason, most of the filler is at the beginning, leaving the better material to hang back for the second half. "Immaculate Deception" contains another good riff, although keyboardist Geoff Nichols spews inappropriate new age nonsense all over it. "Back to Eden" improves matters again with more wonderful interaction between Butler and Iommi, while "Cardinal Sin" is yet another good song that goes to show how misused Martin had been during his first run with the band. Many might disagree, but Cross Purposes is the first album since Born Again that actually sounds like a real Sabbath record. And it is probably the best thing they'd released since The Mob Rules, even with the filler tracks and keyboards. Of course, the lineup completely dissolved as Iommi perpetuated the band's downward spiral, but for a brief moment it seemed like Sabbath could have really shaped up into something special.
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AllMusic Review by Bradley Torreano