All you really need to know about Rondellus's Sabbatum: A Medieval Tribute to Black Sabbath is that the disc doesn't contain "Sweet Leaf," the song that boasts Sabbath's most monstrous riff. Think that's an oversight akin to sacrilege for any Sabbath tribute? Read on, there's more.
Sabbatum's promising, wicked-awesome premise is Sab songs, unplugged, 14th-century style. But therein lies the rub: Sabbath established itself as a metal overlord through six-string bombast and a razor-sharp pen. The band's evil sludgery backed tales of darkness asserting infernal dominion over the earth. Translated into Latin and performed -- often in monophonic or a cappella adaptations -- via chants, lutes, fiddles, and harps, the songs lose almost all of their visceral power. Hardly a hook, nary a riff, and scant few melodies survive the treatment. If you have the background to follow and appreciate the all-too-authentic conversions, Sabbatum is probably a must-have. For the average listener, it's more akin to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. The results are deeply atmospheric, but the songs' trip through a time warp yields the opposite of Iron Man's transformation into a murderous steel monster -- at the end of the day, they're weaker for it.