Following the departure of vocalist Ronnie James Dio and drummer Vinny Appice in 1982, Sabbath's future was in doubt. The band switched management to Don Arden (Sharon Osbourne's father) and he suggested Ian Gillan as the new vocalist. "That band was put together on paper," guitarist Tony Iommi revealed in the 1992 documentary Black Sabbath: 1978–1992. "We'd never rehearsed."
The band had considered vocalists such as Robert Plant and David Coverdale before settling on Gillan. They even received an audition tape from the then-unknown Michael Bolton. Iommi told Hit Parader magazine in 1983 that Gillan was the best candidate, saying "His shriek is legendary."
Gillan was at first reluctant, but his manager convinced him to meet with Iommi and Butler at The Bear pub in Oxford. After a night of heavy drinking, Gillan officially committed to the project in February 1983.
The project was intended to be a supergroup, not billed as Sabbath but Arden insisted they use the name. "We thought we were doing a kind of Gillan-Iommi-Butler-Ward album…" recalled bassist Geezer Butler. "That is the way we approached the album. When we had finished the album, we took it to the record company and they said, 'Well, here's the contract: it is going to go out as a Black Sabbath album."
Born Again featured the return of founding member Bill Ward on drums, who had left the band in 1980 and was newly sober. Ward has said that he enjoyed making the album. It was also his final studio album with the band.