Black Sabbath – The Tony Martin Years

When you talk about the founding fathers of Heavy Metal, one band stands above all…..Black Sabbath. Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass), Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), and Bill Ward (drums)…..the original lineup of Black Sabbath…..pioneers in helping create the basics of what we call Heavy Metal.

When you start to discuss the Black Sabbath career, fans become divided into two camps:

  1. The Ozzy purists who believe the only Sabbath is the original Sabbath and…..
  2. The Tony Iommi diehards who profess an allegiance to all eras of Sabbath, concentrating on the full catalog rather than just the Ozzy years.

Myself? I’m in category two, my allegiance is to the full career/catalog of the band. I equally enjoy the original lineup, the Ronnie James Dio years, the Ian Gillan experiment, the Glenn Hughes project, and the Tony Martin era. Granted, some albums and lineups I enjoy more than others but I am a fan of Black Sabbath the band.

Many fans divide when it comes to who is/was at the mic. Most accept the Dio albums because they are fine pieces of work. Many recognize the Gillan led BORN AGAIN (1983) because the album sold and the tour was successful. The downturn in support starts with singer change #4 to Glenn Hughes on SEVENTH STAR (1986), which was supposed to be a Tony Iommi solo album. A band can only go to the well so many times and, when Mr. Hughes developed vocal problems on the road, in stepped official singer #5, Ray Gillen (Badlands). After the Seventh Star tour, personnel changes plagued the band again resulting in Gillen leaving and the band regrouping with Tony Martin taking the mic in 1987.

—- For a far better detailed history of Black Sabbath, please refer to for a specific timeline. —-

With Tony Martin on vocals from 1987-1990 and 1993-1995, the band released six albums:

  • The Eternal Idol (1987)
  • Headless Cross (1989)
  • TYR (1990)
  • Cross Purposes (1994)
  • Cross Purposes Live (1995)
  • Forbidden (1995)

What I really like about this time is that the band is still trying to create new music amid a changing musical climate and numerous personnel changes. Martin can write songs and the Iommi/Martin team produced some of the most memorable Sabbath songs that the general fan may not know about. Songs like ‘The Shining’, ‘Headless Cross’, ‘Devil & Daughter’, and ‘When Death Calls’ became an integral part of the Sabbath catalog and tour setlists. Some of Tony Iommi’s best riffs and solos come from the 1990s with Tony Martin collaborating.

I also like the “underdog” factor. When Martin took over singing duties, bands like Black Sabbath were considered dinosaurs, they weren’t as popular as the bands of the day (Poison, Guns ‘n Roses, Bon Jovi) that had taken over radio and MTV. A few years later in the ’90s, the band had to contend with the sudden shift to the Alternative that condemned many Metal acts to early retirement.  The band continued touring and producing new material even though sold-out shows and platinum albums (especially in the U.S.) were hard to come by.

Tony Martin has a great singing voice, period. He was able to sing all eras of Sabbath on tour with great range and power. That ability enabled the band to branch out and play Ozzy-era, Dio-era, and other material in concert, creating a fresh live experience for band and fan alike.

The Black Sabbath albums with Tony Martin on vocals tend to be forgotten about…..even when they were new, they were afterthoughts so to speak. With Ozzy back in the band for touring and the new collaboration with Dio in the Heaven & Hell project, albums like HEADLESS CROSS and TYR are bound to be buried further while the “golden years” are celebrated regularly. The albums are seemingly harder to find: they didn’t sell all that well so there aren’t that many retail copies out there. I.R.S., Sabbath’s label for most of their ’90s catalog, folded years ago but some of the albums have had the reissue treatment in small distribution. If you’re interested in good Heavy Metal, Black Sabbath style, head to Ebay where the albums are easy to find at a decent price.

Further information on Black Sabbath history, Tony Martin, and future projects can be found at the following:
Black Sabbath Live Project
Tony Martin – official website
Tony Iommi – official website

31 comments on “Black Sabbath – The Tony Martin Years

  1. I think there are a group of Sabbath purists who don’t think it’s Sabbath unless Ozzy is there. I accept Dio in Sabbath and Gillan, but for me all the albums after that (except the Dio reunion Dehumanizer) are more like the Tony Iommi band rather than Sabbath. Maybe that’s not fair, but that’s the way it comes across to me. Doesn’t mean that those line-ups didn’t do some decent albums, it’s just not Sabbath to me. I think that some of the albums are decent are some are just okay. The whole fact that Iommi intended Seventh Star is a main factor in my thinking this way. It sounds and feels more like Warner Brothers and later IRS (I think) figured they would sell more albums that way so that’s why it was done.

  2. Great, very nice read. I’m in category two like you of course. I like all BLACK SABBATH albums the same only FORBIDDEN was shit. But how many bands over 30 years only made one shit album?????
    Take care and thanks.

  3. I can definitely see the point. With Tony Iommi being the only stable member, it definitely doesn’t seem like a band. It’s harder when the changes are at the most noticeable position: singer. Sabbath was a revolving door during the late ’80s thru the ’90s but, if you look at the recording and touring lineups, you’ll notice that Iommi/Martin/Nicholls/Powell form the nucleas. You have to take the Dio reunion out of it and accept that Powell was in and out a couple times.

    I agree that label pressure forced the use of the Black Sabbath name for SEVENTH STAR. I’m sure Iommi realized that he would get no where as a solo artist and that his best bet was to carry on as Sabbath. Financially this was his only move.

    • I like all the Ozzy era albums, but then I also like the Martin albums too. Frankly, Dio and the rest should’ve stuck to Rainbow!
      As for Blow up your video being shit; I totally diagree. i mean heatseeker, blow up your video, this means war, etc are great tracks. flick ofthe switch is worse than this.
      your call!

  4. Good article- I wonder how many fans there are tucked away who actually prefer the post-Ozzy years- I am one of a small group who only like post-Ozzy Sabbath-I’m a huge fan of everything they did once he left but I don’t like the Ozzy stuff much- too druggy sounding. Tony Martin was my favourite- a real class act with a majestic, high-ranging voice- everyone should hear ‘The Eternal Idol” album- mystical metal at it’s best.
    Good on ya for doing this page

  5. I’m a third person who prefers the post-Ozzy band, but only because I love the Dio eras so much. I do love the Ozzy era, but I’m not a massive fan of anything post Vol.4, the first four albums are what got me into Sabbath. I just bought Born Again and I really like it, and I’m currently searching for some Tony Martin stuff, its hard to find at a low price.

  6. Pingback: Black Sabbath Week - The Tony Martin Years « Heavy Metal Addiction

  7. I love the Tony Martin albums. I see what you’re saying about “Forbidden”, but if you listen to each song individually besides “I Won’t Cry For You”, you will find some really good riffs. “Can’t get close enough has a retarded beginning, but the middle of the song is awesome. Post-Ozzy is the best to me too, but Dio Sabbath is a little overrated. “Mob Rules” doesn’t have the energy of “Heaven and Hell”, and “Dehumanizer” has some really good songs but some of them are stupid, like “Buried Alive” and “Too Late”.

  8. I might be the biggets fan of Black Sabbath not only in my country LEBANON but in the entire Middle East,i have all the original Album,the best Black Sabbath Album ever is HEADLESS CROSS and the best vocal is indeed TONY MARTIN, his voice is what Rock is all about,guys hear Headless Cross,The Eternal Idol,listen to his voice and judge.

  9. The vocal factor is major ingredient in what helps cements a band’s sound.
    That’s why it’s so hard for lotta people to get over a few vocalist change. A band may have 27 drummers and no one will ever pay much mind, but the voice of the band it’s sacred. A lotta people don’t even know there was another frontman before Dickinson’s era in Maiden, but I have friends who are fierce Paul Dianno’s fans (that’s the guy’s name) stating that he is indeed the real Iron Maiden’s voice.
    I discovered metal in the 80’s. Ozzy & Dio were a solo acts I adored, Ian Gillan was Sabbath’s man & God did I loved that Born Again album. Still to this day it’s my favorite album of the band. At that point in time I came to realize that Gillan was Deep Purple’s guy, Dio & Ozzy previous Sabbath’s singers, and two more guys would eventually step in their shoes as frontman of the band…
    I adapted (it was harsh), came to accept all Sabbath’s too many line-ups and started listening to songs rather than stricly vocalists or eras. I won’t loose sleep if Sabbath does a new excruciating singer change. Though I feel good with stability. That’s kinda what Tony Martin brought to the table.
    Fronting the band for ten years, while being a wonderfull voice, a bit close to Dio’s tone actually.
    My point is Ozzy’s era may overshadow any other excellent singers Sabbath had, but what really had shivers up my spine was Dio back with the guy’s under that Heaven & Hell moniker. Ozzy is the original singer, but Dio, Gillan and Martin are the great ones…
    Live live to Sabbath (with whoever screams in the mike)
    STEPHEN MURPHY, Montreal

  10. It is a complete and total travesty that Tony Martin is slighted constantly in the History of Sabbath… He was the only vocalist to be in the band as long as Ozzy and he returned to the band even after being booted for a Dio return… The songs were great and Tony is still out there belting his ass off… Unlike RJD who NEEDS TO RETIRE BECAUSE HE CAN NO LONGER SING LIVE.

  11. My all time favorite band is Deep Purple, but Black Sabbath is my second dearly beloved band. Ian Gillan is my favorite singer, and Born Again is clearly in my top 5 not only Sabbath’s albums, but all time records. However, and as a professional heavy metal singer, I must admit that the best singer Black Sabbath ever had, was Tony “The Cat” Martin. His performance on that glorious 1st period from ’87 to ’90 is absolutely brilliant. Not only was captured on his highlight on those 3 wonderful albums, his live performance was so powerful that even Dio was not missed at all. When I listen to those bootlegs and I se that footage on Youtube, I just can’t believe how wonderful was his voice, singing and stage presence. And if we add the fact that on most of his era Cozy Powell and Neil Murray were part of the band, we are before one of the more solid line ups the band ever had. Just amazing.

    Tony is so underrated, he certainly deserved tons of more attention that he has received. The true is that his momentum lasted for too short. In Cross Purposes he sound in top form, but the tour was to forget. And in Forbbiden he is singing on his “safe zone” all the time, never took the risk to go higher as he always did before, and on the tour it was the same. Even tho’ the band was hot behind him, song like When Dead Calls lost all that power and magic that he printed on the original and early live versions. It’s said that for Cross Purpose tour he was under a respiratoy infection and its consequences, that obligated him to force his voice and that had irreversible effects to his voice. Might be true, what is certain is that his voice never was the same and nowadays is showing a similar level. Butr who cares? At least I don’t. I respect him for what he gave, a legacy that won’t be easily forgotten nor equalized.

  12. My love of RJD first led me to Black Sabbath. The first time I heard Tony Martin was on Tyr. I quickly found the first two albums as well. To me the embodied a more mystical version of Sabbath, with one of the most powerful voices I have ever heard. They still remain some of my favorites almost twenty years later. I could not however get into the forbidden album. I did like the beginning of ” the Illusion of Power”, but the rest was pretty crappy.


  13. The only thing the really marred the Tony Martin era was that the were on a SHIT LABEL – IRS. Horrible promotion and distribution. Sabbath really had no business being on that label, especially if you look at their other artists.

    Now on a personal note, the only stuff that I really, really like from the Martin era is Headless Cross and most of the Cross Purposes album. Other than that, I only like a handful of tracks from all of the other Martin era albums. I feel that the most of the Martin era sound is plagued by weak riffs and a weaker guitar tone – too much chorus and not enough crunch like previous albums. Geoff Nichols’ keyboards fuck it up even more. Martin’s voice is awesome, but to me it doesn’t sound like Sabbath.
    If you slipped in one of the CD’s without telling me who it was, I never would have guessed Sabbath. It sounds like any other metal band of that era, except it has the Sabbath name on it. But as one of the previous writers mentioned, they were trying to stay afloat among the trends of the time. So I will let them slide on that one.

    The only thing that I can’t make sense of is how Forbidden sounds so weak considering that Ernie C produced it and Ice-T sang on it. HOW WE HAD SOMETHING SO SHITTY COME FROM TWO OF THE MEN WHO WROTE “COP KILLER” MAKES NO SENSE TO ME WHATSOEVER! :-)

    The Dio stuff is great, although some of it reminds me more of Rainbow or Iron Maiden than Sabbath. Obviously the Rainbow reference is obvious. The Maiden reference comes from having Martin Birch as producer.

    I thought Born Again was really fucking stupid when I first heard it, but it has grown on me tremendously.

    My favorite post Ozzy album has to be SEVENTH STAR. Glenn Hughes fucking rips!!!! I really wish this line up would have continued longer, but at least we have the Iommi solo albums.

    • I change my mind about some of the things that I said. After taking some more listens, I’ve realized that Tony Martin is an awesome singer, and I love how heavy the drums are on Tyr and Cross Purposes. While I still feel that there are some weak spots during the Tony Martin era, there were weak spots in every Sabbath era. I thought Born Again was a heap of shit when I first heard it, but now it’s become one of my favorite Sabbath records. I really didn’t like H & H’s “The Devil You Know” very much, even though I’m a big Dio fan. Go figure. I do think that the Martin era deserves more respect, and hopefully Tony Iommi will take this seriously when the rest of the Sabbath catalog is remastered. I can’t wait to hear the new version of The Eternal Idol coming out this month!

  14. I think it is great that he is touring the United States and Canada this July and August 2009. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to witness his gift firsthand in Arcata California on July 11, 2009. Myspace Headless Cross Tour 2009 is consistently adding new dates and I hope to perhaps see him a second time during this tour. The Headless Cross Tour I missed originally the first time in 1989, therefore, I will feel as if I am transported back in time for this event.

  15. Tony Martin is undoubtedly the best singer Black Sabbath ever had. Other eras had their charm, which might trump the singer’s skill for many people…and I’d never deny them their preference. But for sheer skill, range and vocal quality, Tony is unmatched.

  16. Black Sabbath/Tony Iommi musical genius,I love every album produced to date, but ” Cross Purposes ” with T/Martin I just simply cant get enough off even at being 57 year old . Black Sabbath Please keep on going !

  17. I’ve been following Sabbath since I was fifteen. At fifty one , my opinion has never changed. This is greatest band in the history of rock and roll. It doesn’t matter who was in the band. They were still Black Sabbath , because Iommi was the only one who cared about keeping it going. Sabbath with Tony Martin was not plagued by weak guitar riffs , nor did they ever sound like any other band at the time. They sounded like Black Sabbath. If I had not known about Tony Martin , and I heard one of the CD’s he produced with Sabbath , I would have recognized it as Black Sabbath , because they all sounded like Black Sabbath. Those who think otherwise , need to get their heads out of their asses.

  18. Though I enjoy all the Black Sabbath eras, I think I rank the Ozzy stuff at the top, w/ Dio’s stuff a close second. I appreciate the Tony Martin material, but don’t think it does as much for me personally as the other two…

  19. Tis a pity that the Tony Martin-Sabbath albums aren’t better known. I think the best of the albums are Cross Purposes and Headless Cross, but they’re all very good. Interesting lyrics, great vocals and the trademark Iomni guitars, plus some great drumming, especially when Cozy Powell was there. Now that Dio has passed away, and Ozzy has filed a lawsuit to keep Iommi from using the Sabbath name, it is doubtful there will be any more Sabbath albums, but anyway, great to see someone mentioning the Tony Martin albums. Shamefully underrated.

  20. The Sabbath albums with Tony Martin are great, excepting Forbidden which was a “let’s try to do it again” album, meaning the classic Headless Cross & Tyr albums! They had wasted themselves, song writing wise I mean & one dud album out of 5 is fine in my book! When I first heard the opening lines to The Shining in 1987, I was so excited to hear a great vocalist singing great songs with the riff meister! Man, what albums they were & we in Oz were so disappointed when concerts on sale in 1988/89 were cancelled for the Headless Cross tour for some reason! A great shame Martin era is over looked & I have blown some metal friends out listening to this era of Sabbath. I have stated on the Planet Rock website that I still believe the remaining members of Heaven & Hell for the Dio tribute gig in July, should have had Martin singing also, as he nailed the Dio era Sabbath songs big time! RIP Ronnie James Dio, a classic vocalist who surely influenced Tony Martin. I am so glad to have seen Sabbath in 1980 on the Heaven & Hell tour in Sydney & more recently in Brisbane 2007 from the 2nd row! Mind blowing gig, songs, sound & presence, Dio was mesmerising, we miss this type of Sabbath already, bring back Tony Martin, even if they call themselves something else, there are too many great songs to be not resurrected from the ashes! Cheers, all Martin era fans, it’s great to see so many out there!

  21. I always liked the Ozzy era albums as well as the Dio ones. However, the vocalist that I prefer is Tony Martin. There’s just something in his voice. I think it’s passion and power that Ozzy obviously doesn’t have. Dio has the passion and power but he’s a bit trebly. I do like Dio but Tony Martin is just THE heavy metal vocalist.

  22. I made a “best of” on CD of all the Sabbath albums with Tony Martin (and including the Seventh Star album). Here’s the tracklist:

    1. In For The Kill
    2. Seventh Star
    3. The Shining
    4. The Gates Of Hell
    5. Headless Cross
    6. Devil & Daughter
    7. When Death Calls
    8. Nightwing
    9. I Witness
    10. Dying For Love
    11. The Hand The Rocks The Cradle
    12. Illusion Of Power
    13. Can’t Get Close Enough
    14. I Won’t Cry For You
    15. Forbidden

    I would’ve included Anno Mundi, Turn To Stone, and Danger Zone too, if I had more room on the CD.

    • Plenty of gems from the Martin era.

      Here’s my 1986-1996 Sab comp:

      1. Seventh Star
      2. Hard Life To Love
      3. Ancient Warrior
      4. Scarlet Pimpernel
      5. Headless Cross
      6. When Death Calls
      7. Nightwing
      6. Odin’s Court
      7. Anno Mundi
      8. Feels Good To Me
      9. Computer God
      10. After all
      11. Tv Crimes
      12. I
      13. Hand That Rocks The Cradle
      14. Back to Eden
      15. Cross of Thorns
      16. Get A Grip
      17. I Won’t Cry For You
      18. Kiss Of Death

      Saphyre, good call on the Sick and tired lead. Awesome it is! Forbidden does it have its classic moments though. A near solid album imo the best of the Martin era.

  23. We are also great admirers of the Tony Martin era of Black Sabbath and rate the Headless Cross album as a gothic masterpiece. Eternal Idol, Tyr and Cross Purposes have also brought us many hours of listening pleasure. Forbidden sounds a little lack-lustre to our delicate ears, although the classic Iommi lead break on Sick & Tired always makes us smile malevolently.

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