By Iain Blair
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Forty-three years ago Black Sabbath released its debut self-titled album, a collection of songs inspired by occult themes and powered by heavy-metal guitar riffs.
Now, three of the original band members - singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler - and drummer Brad Wilk, of Rage Against the Machine, are releasing a new album, "13," and planning to tour the world to promote it.
"I never thought we'd still be going strong in 2013," said Osbourne, whose well-publicized battles with drug and alcohol addiction and solo career led to friction with other members of Black Sabbath. "But it's great to be back together again."
"13," the original band's first studio album since 1978, is being released this week. A tour is scheduled to begin this summer in the United States followed by concerts in South America and Europe later in the year.
Osbourne said the band had tried to get back together in 2001 but nothing jelled.
This time the music flowed.
Osbourne said Iommi, who is being treated for lymphoma that was diagnosed a year ago, had great riffs and the band narrowed them down to ten tracks.
"I think working on this album helped Tony take his mind off his illness, but he never talks about it," Osbourne explained in an interview. "And no matter what we have to complain about, it's nothing compared to that."
After the band members agreed on the songs, they brought in record producer Rick Rubin to help shape the material.
Songs like "Damaged Soul," "End of the Beginning" and the first single "God Is Dead?" fit into the band's canon, but others, like the jazzy "Zeitgeist," might confound some fans.
"It was just a warm-up jam originally," said Butler, "but Rick thought it was great, so it ended up on the album."
Butler and Osbourne fight against the notion that Black Sabbath typifies the heavy-metal sound.
"I've never been able to get my head around the word 'heavy-metal,'" said Osbourne, adding that the 1970s were better for him than the 1980s. "And I kind of missed the '90s you know - I must have been in a cocaine haze, because I can't remember the '90s at all."
Osbourne said the best thing now is that the band members are alive and together and "it is a lot more fun being sober and enjoying your fellow workers."
Over the past decade Osbourne carved out a niche on television, appearing with his family in a reality TV show that ran from 2002 until 2005. They also starred in the 2011 documentary "God Bless Ozzy Osbourne."
Despite being together so long, Butler said the band is attracting younger fans.
"We've gotten older but the audience has stayed the same," he explained, "and then you get like a few people at the back that are our age and you see all the gray hair glinting."
For Osbourne touring now is better than it has ever been.
"It's all right until I have voice troubles and it takes me a couple of gigs to get over the fact that I've been the leader of my own band for 35 years or so and that I have to step back and be a band member. It's just getting used to it and it has worked out great in the end."
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Paul Simao)
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