2019 has been a great year for heavy metal comebacks. Tool, Rammstein and Slipknot all released new albums after long hiatuses, and Rage Against the Machine announced a reunion tour. But perhaps the biggest surprise of all came when Ozzy Osbourne reported that he had finished working on a new solo album, his first since 2010’s “Scream.” The new album, titled “Ordinary Man,” is set to be released sometime in early 2020 (NPR, “Ozzy Osbourne Announces First Solo Album In 10 Years, ‘Ordinary Man,’” 11.08.2019). Not long after the announcement came the Prince of Darkness’ first new single in nearly a decade, “Under the Graveyard.” Given the changing face of the metal genre in recent years, the single raises the question: What will Ozzy Osbourne sound like in 2020?
John Michael “Ozzy” Osbourne hardly needs an introduction. The Godfather of Heavy Metal has been pissing off parents and churning out some of the genre’s biggest hits for nearly 50 years. As the lead singer of ’70s icon Black Sabbath, Osbourne helped forge the heavy metal blueprint with such classic songs as “Iron Man” and “Paranoid.” Following his abrupt dismissal from Black Sabbath, Ozzy went on to have one of the most successful solo careers of any metal singer ever, releasing incredible tunes as “Crazy Train,” “Mr. Crowley” and “No More Tears.” Though not immune to controversy—he became a scapegoat for the negative influence of heavy metal on children—Osbourne’s career has shown astonishing longevity, earning him the much-deserved status of “legend” throughout both the music industry and the metal community.
Unfortunately, the musical output of Ozzy’s later years has been fairly lackluster compared to his earlier work. While a few songs stand out more than others (“Perry Mason,” “Life Won’t Wait”), I would argue that Osbourne has not released a truly cohesive album since 1991’s “No More Tears.” The problem with this portion of the Prince of Darkness’ career is a ubiquitous phenomenon: aging. Few musicians stay on the cutting edge of their genres as they are overtaken by younger, fresher musicians. Not even Paul McCartney can escape this inevitability (yes, I’m going out on a limb to say that “Egypt Station” is a fairly mediocre album compared to the former Beatles bassist’s other work). Thus, the relative inferiority of this era in Ozzy’s solo career is, more than anything, indicative of his association with a bygone moment in music history.
Mortality is the main subject of “Under the Graveyard.” This subject has been one of great importance to Ozzy in recent years, as 2019 saw the Prince of Darkness suffer from several health issues, resulting in the circulation of rumors that he was dying. The song opens with a plaintive guitar melody, while Ozzy reflects on how his past addictions won’t save him from his despair, even as he wishes for death. Suddenly, at the arrival of the chorus, the track erupts into a cascade of crushing guitar riffs and thunderous drumming. At this point, Ozzy delivers one of the catchiest melodic hooks of his more recent works, while reminding the listener that, under the graveyard, “We all die alone.”
In my opinion, this single’s lyrics are its greatest strength. Ozzy’s reflections on his personal demons, his wealth and the fragility of humanity are incredibly poignant while remaining simple enough to become a true earworm. Additionally, the music serves the song very well, encompassing the melancholic tone of Ozzy’s lyrics but also creating a truly headbang-able groove.
Unfortunately, the weakest aspect of “Under the Graveyard,” is its guitar playing. This is truly disappointing because the most memorable characteristic of any Ozzy Osbourne song, besides Ozzy’s singing, is generally the guitar. In the past, this has been attributed to Ozzy’s impeccable choice of lead guitarists, which include musical gods such as Zakk Wylde, Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Gus G. However, “Under the Graveyard,” features producer Andrew Watt on guitar. Although Watt is a very competent musician, his signature bluesy style is such a dramatic change from the chops of Ozzy’s former guitarists that it almost doesn’t fit with the song. This clashing of styles becomes especially apparent at the solo portion of the tune, where normally Zakk Wylde would deliver some shred-tastic leads—but instead, Watt’s solo is repetitive and, frankly, dull.
“Under the Graveyard,” is one of the best works that Ozzy has put out in recent years, even if Andrew Watt’s guitar work leaves quite a bit to be desired. Still, I am excited to hear what Ozzy will do on “Ordinary Man.” Given the overall strength of “Under the Graveyard,” I anticipate this new album to be Ozzy’s return to form.