In 2001, singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler of pioneering English heavy-metal band Black Sabbath reunited to record a new album with super-producer Rick Rubin.
But hell, the magic just wasn’t there.
“Rick has been a friend for 20, 30 years now,” Butler said in a phone interview from New York. “He always said to us, ‘If you ever get Sabbath back together, I want to produce it.’ We did finally get together with Rick in 2001 and tried to do an album, but the vibes just weren’t right.”
Fast forward 10 years to 2011, when Osbourne (star of the former Emmy-winning reality series “The Osbournes”), Iommi and Butler finally re-entered the studio with Rubin, who has worked with Beastie Boys, Tom Petty, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Johnny Cash, Adele and many others (in 2007, MTV called him “the most important producer of the last 20 years”).
“As soon as we got some good stuff written, we went to Rick and played it for him and he loved it. He sort of guided us in the right direction. He said to keep everything really simple like our first two or three albums and just play live in the studio like we did back then,” Butler went on.
Everything felt natural and unforced.
“What was different this time is that Tony had 40 to 50 different riffs that were really good,” Butler said. “So it gave us a starting point. Whereas before when we tried to record, we started from scratch. It was a lot easier this time.”
The result of those sessions was the dark and doom-filled “13,” the band’s first studio album in 35 years. Released earlier this year, it was an instant success, topping the Billboard charts in a number of countries. Incredibly, it became the first No. 1 album in the band’s 45-year career.
“We just thought it was unbelievable,” Butler said.
Before “13,” Black Sabbath’s most successful record had been “Paranoid,” an album that helped define the heavy-metal genre and yielded the hit song “Iron Man.” Rolling Stone magazine included the album on its list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
Having a No. 1 album so late in the band’s career has been exhilarating.
“It feels great. I’ve always said that as soon as my playing goes, and I can’t play as well, then I won’t do it anyone,” Butler said. “But everybody’s sounding really good, and as long as we can do it to top standards, then we’ll carry on. It’s a God-given gift. I say, ‘Do it while you can.’ ”
The band’s current tour, which includes a show Saturday at The Gorge, will feature material from the band’s entire career, as well as such new songs as “End of the Beginning,” “Dear Father” and “God Is Dead?”
Expect the live show to be loud, raucous and colorful.
“It’s really hard to surprise people now with the Internet,” lamented Butler. “As soon as you do a gig it’s on YouTube. But, of course, it’s nowhere near as good as when you’re watching it live.”
7:30 p.m. Saturday, The Gorge Amphitheatre, Grant County; $45-$125 (800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com).
Gene Stout: firstname.lastname@example.org