By: Brian Berger
March 20, 2024

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of metal records from the Eighties (1984–1993, in our periodization schema). Series edited by Heather Quinlan. Also check out our MÖSH YOUR ENTHUSIASM playlist at Spotify.



What if you pledge allegiance to Satan and no one notices?

This was the question facing 41-year-old Tony Iommi, Black Sabbath’s guitarist and sole remaining founding member, as he prepared to launch a new album, Headless Cross, in the spring of 1989.

This would be the fifth album in a row that Black Sabbath had a new lineup. Since Ozzy Osbourne’s exit in 1979, Sabbath had gained and lost Ronnie James Dio, then would eventually lose founding members Bill Ward (drums) and Geezer Butler (bass, lyrics). And that was just for starters.

Born Again, released in 1983, was a dark, murky masterpiece with ex-Deep Purple howler Ian Gillan on vocals.

Gillan was gone by the next album, 1986’s Seventh Star. This one was more modernized, and originally meant to be a Tony Iommi solo album, featuring another Purple alum, Glenn Hughes, on vocals.

Hughes’ drug problem, however, was incompatible with touring. He was replaced by Ray Gillen. But problems during the recording of Sabbath’s follow-up album led to Gillen’s departure.

Iommi found his next vocalist in Tony Martin, a powerful, Dio-esque singer from Iommi’s native Birmingham. With the songs already written, Martin’s job was essentially to cover what Ray Gillen had already sung. And he did so, remarkably — with the resulting album, The Eternal Idol, a musical triumph. And commercial flop.

Frustrated, Iommi left his long-time record labels, Warner Brothers and Vertigo, and signed with I.R.S. Records, the new wave and alternative rock label co-founded by Sabbath fan Miles Copeland (brother of The Police’s drummer Stewart Copeland).

There were reasons to be optimistic — notably, the addition of legendary British drummer Cozy Powell, and Tony Martin now singing his own, Sabbath-style lyrics. This album’s title track, “Headless Cross” was its first single and video.

The song begins with a thunderous, swinging backbeat, followed by archetypical Iommi riffing. Bass and subtle keyboards enter and then Martin takes us there — DOOM!

Look through the people, and on through the mist
To the hill of the headless cross
Where all witches meet, on a night such as this
And the power of darkness is host

What did it mean? What it did it matter!

But it did matter, as Tony Iommi explained in Kerrang magazine: “[Tony Martin] is really into the black arts. He studies it and so he’s very believable, both as singer and narrator. Tony has the knowledge to back it up.”

The song, Iommi continued, “is based on a real place, just outside Redditch in the West Midlands, called Headless Cross, and Tony’s amalgamated the name of the place with a true event where a plague wiped out a town called Alvechurch, and they tried to ward off evil with crosses. It’s not just mumbo-jumbo!”

Though a line later in the song: “There’s no escaping from the power of Satan,” went unremarked, Iommi was unimpressed by the era’s superficial neo-satanism. “All these other so-called ‘satanic’ bands make me laugh,” he asserted. “Their hearts don’t really seem to be in it. It’s a trend, whereas we were doing it because we really did believe in it!”

Between faith and fortune, however, lie a lot of open highways, especially in the United States. The Black Sabbath Headless Cross tour began in Poughkeepsie, NY on May 31, 1989, and was scheduled to end in Sacramento, CA on July 16th. Within days, however, Sabbath was undone by poor promotion and ticket sales: June 4th, Columbia, SC — canceled. June 8th, Clifton Park, NY — canceled. Even Detroit Rock City — canceled!

Black Sabbath played one more show, at the Agora in Cleveland, OH on June 14th, and that was it. Tour over. Headless Cross peaked at 115 on the Billboard 200. Satan had no comment.


MÖSH YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Heather Quinlan | Crockett Doob on Metallica’s ENTER SANDMAN | Dean Haspiel on Mötley Crüe’s HOME SWEET HOME | Jack Silbert on Poison’s TALK DIRTY TO ME | Adam McGovern on Dio’s INVISIBLE | Mariane Cara on Faith No More’s EPIC | Heather Quinlan on Blue Öyster Cult’s SHOOTING SHARK | Steve Schneider on UFO’s DIESEL IN THE DUST | Carlo Rotella on Primus’ JERRY WAS A RACE CAR DRIVER | Erik Davis on St. Vitus’ BORN TOO LATE | Greg Rowland on Motörhead’s ACE OF SPADES (remix) | Kathy Biehl on Twisted Sister’s WE’RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT | Nikhil Singh on G.I.S.M.’s GAS BURNER PANIC | Erin M. Routson on Metallica’s ESCAPE | Holly Interlandi on Helmet’s MILQUETOAST | Marc Weidenbaum on Celtic Frost’s I WON’T DANCE (THE ELDERS’ ORIENT) | Amy Keyishian on Living Colour’s CULT OF PERSONALITY | Josh Glenn on Scorpions’ STILL LOVING YOU | Alycia Chillemi on Danzig’s SOUL ON FIRE | James Parker on Godflesh’s CHRISTBAIT RISING | Miranda Mellis on The Afflicted’s HERE COME THE COPS | Rene Rosa on Type O Negative’s BLACK NO. 1 | Tony Leone on Slayer’s SOUTH OF HEAVEN | Christopher Cannon on Neurosis’s LOST | Brian Berger on Black Sabbath’s HEADLESS CROSS | MÖSH CONTEST-WINNING ENTRY: Tony Pacitti on Metallica’s THE CALL OF KTULU. PLUS: CONTEST RUNNER-UP: James Scott Maloy on Accept’s MIDNIGHT MOVER.




Enthusiasms, Music