Review Summary: A stellar debut from the fathers of heavy metal.
Black Sabbath are credited with the creation of heavy metal and the inspiration of subgenres like doom metal and thrash metal. Some outright call them the first metal band, while others will call them stuff like "proto-metal". Regardless of what you'd classify these guys, one thing is certain; they're masterful musicians. Black Sabbath's first six albums are (more or less) a string of superb albums, one after the other. Whether you'd say Sabbath's first six albums are "classic hard rock" or "heavy blues" or "the first metal albums" or whatever, they're all really good and certainly spawned, or kickstarted, or at least inspired the aggressive and often ominous style that metal is built around.
Here on their self titled debut, they're a bit more blues influenced. After all, they were originally a blues band that played gigs in bars and clubs in '69 and happened to get darker. By the time this album came out, though, I think it's safe to say that they were set on the often more sinister direction that they were headed in. Black Sabbath (which, if you think about it, is a pretty evil sounding name) have lyrics dealing with topics like wizards, Lucifer, being dragged into the fire, the evils of the world, all that fun stuff. Of course, many parts of the album's lyrical contents aren't as dark as they seem, but I'll get into that later. Iommi's signature guitar tone is certainly there, as is Ozzy's ever-distinctive wails. He sounds a bit different here, though. His delivery is more...raw, and unpolished. Which I guess is to be expected, since this is their first album and all. Geezer's bass playing is absolutely terrific here, and gives N.I.B. a cool intro. ("Bassically") Bill Ward's drumming is also very nice, you can tell he's got a hell of a lot of talent.
If you want a really good indicator of the darker tone this album took, take a look at the cover! Lady dressed in black, that spooky building combined with the red sky and the dead, blood-red appearance of the scenery...How innovative for an album released in 1970, during the height of all the "flower power" stuff no less! In the original vinyl cover, when you opened it up it had this huge inverted cross with a poem featuring lines like "the veils of darkness shroud the blackened trees". Even the packaging is heavy! In Ozzy's book, they talked about being blown away by the cover. This was some spooky stuff for 1970. They all hated that hippie music, considering that they came from Aston, a fairly boring, poor, and generally ***ty part of Birmingham, England. Ozzy mentions in his book that at the time, he'd thought about writing a parody of San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair) called Aston (Be Sure To Wear Some Glass In Your Face). This was a real monkey wrench to all that stuff. Musically, this stuff is pretty raw and harsh (while still very proficiently performed, mind you), often having that heavy blues sound. Hey, they aren't called the godfathers of heavy metal for nothing!
The album opens with the heaviest song on here, and possibly one of the heaviest in the Sabs' career. It's Black Sabbath off of Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath! Thunder, rain, the chiming of bells...remember that darkness I was telling you about. And wham
! Tony, Geezer, and Bill all come in strong, with that ultra-heavy, ominous, tritone-derived RIFF! I'd call that the first metal riff, really. More importantly, I'd call it an awesome guitar riff in general. Then they quiet down a bit for that extra foreboding vibe. It is here that we are introduced to Ozzy's voice, which, as I stated before, sounds raw and emotional here. "What is this...that stands before me?
" Ozzy sounds like he's really encountering the devil. The lyrics to this song are about a "big black shape with eyes of fire", assumed to be related to Satan somehow ("telling people their desire"), choosing the hapless narrator to drag into flames which are getting "higher and higher". "No, no, please, God, help me!" Ozzy's desperate wails are really good here. Then they speed back up, and the lyrics shouted by Ozzy get darker. "Satan's comin' 'round the bend...the people better go and beware! No, no, please, no!
" Cue some excellent soloing from the über-talented Tony Iommi. With a combination of that intensity, those riffs, those lyrics, and the vocal performance from Ozzy, this song is
metal, and I'd say it's the first metal song recorded.
They gotta lighten up a bit though, right? The Wizard, which opens up with a harmonica (which is played pretty well by Ozzy), is about a wizard whose magic gets rid of evil (and was inspired by the character of Gandalf)...right? I've heard that this song's also supposed to be about their drug dealer at the time, though. There's one super heavy riff that's pretty prevalent through the song. This one's not ominous like the last song, though. It's actually quite fun, what with the harmonica and the fun drum patterns from Bill. Just because it's not "evil metal" or whatever doesn't mean it's not a good listen, and this song certainly a great listen. Next up is...well, it depends on your version. Either there are two songs, Behind the Wall of Sleep and then N.I.B., or if you got the version that I'm familiar with, it's a four-song medley. "Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep/Bassically/N.I.B." It's a lot easier to digest split into two separate tracks, though. I guess Wasp is the intro to BTWOS, which is a fun sounding little stomp about a "sleeping wall of remorse" that "turns your body to a corpse". It has a happy end, though, because the wall of sleep ends up broken and, quoth the song, "Now from darkness there springs light".
That one fades into Bassically, which is a fancy name for the cool bass solo (Geezer is still great, by the way) that opens up N.I.B. This is probably the second most well known song from this album. It's super catchy and great, and has lyrics about Lucifer falling in love and no longer being evil. See, this album isn't fully murkiness! Geezer's bass is awesome on this song, and Ozzy's delivery is still fantastic. "Your love for me has just got to be real/Before you know the way I'm going to feel..." The way he sings those lines is so great. Tony performs some pretty awesome lead guitar stuff in this song too, by the way.
Now the North American version of this album (or at least the one I had) doesn't even come with Evil Woman. It doesn't really sound like anything else on here, and I think I saw something in Ozzy's book (or somewhere) where they mentioned they didn't like the song, didn't want to do it, or felt the need to make it heavier. It's a catchy little cover, I suppose. The version that I had, though, came with Wicked World, which is way cooler. The intro here is a ton of fun, and then the main riff carries on the intro's funky, bluesy feel, only it displays those traits in greater force. Ozzy's vocal delivery is kind of strange here, which I guess has to do with him having to do a lot of switching between ranges here. The lyrics here are pretty dark, as the title would have you guess, basically saying the world kinda sucks. "The world today is such a wicked place/Fighting goin' on between the human race", no happy ending here! There's also some softer noodling before a solo that breaks a brief period of silence. Moments like that would become more common on their more progressive albums Volume 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. and "A politician's job they say is very high/'Cause he has to choose who's got to go and die" Man...I'm hearing shades of War Pigs here!
The final medley (in the version I'm familiar with...) consists of "A Bit Of Finger", which I guess is the intro to Sleeping Village. Only that part actually uses the phrase "sleeping village" in the lyrics. The lyrics are certainly soothing and relaxing, and the ensuing jam starts out fairly happy sounding. But then they veer between some faster jammin' and some slower, doomier stuff before heading into the closing cover song, Warning, which individually clocks in at over ten minutes! All I know about the original is that it's certainly well under ten minutes long, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't feature those awesome solos and stuff at the end. The sound of this song and the lyrics are certainly befitting of this song. "I was born without ya baby..." Gotta love that little flub. Ozzy misheard the original lyric, which was "warned about ya", which makes way more sense. This song's already really damned good when there are still vocals, mainly being driven by Geezer's powerful bass playing along with some awesome bluesy licks from the ever-impressive riffmeister Tony Iommi. When the vocals stop for a while and they go into that freaking jam, though...I'm not going to summarize it all, but it's probably my favorite part of the album. Iommi shreds the whole way through, and despite the jam consisting of the majority of the ten minute song (Supposedly the original take was much longer, reaching over 30 minutes!), it never once gets boring. Awesome conclusion that starts and ends gloomy with that freaking awesome midsection. Usually I feel weird praising covers so much, but the jamming is all original (I think...), and the original isn't too well known (Especially relative to this), so I don't feel bad placing this as the "main" version of the song. The Sabs really expanded on the original here!
What we have here is an impressive debut album that more or less lays down many basic foundations for heavy metal music, with often occult-focused, magical, or just plain dark subject matter. Every band member gives a terrific performance, and it still sounds great sonically 44 years later! When this was released, it sold well, but was trashed by the critics and the lyrics were often accused of promoting Satanism (although the band has described the title track as more of "a warning"). It has since been deservedly vindicated by history. 4.5/5, if only because there are releases by Black Sabbath (Namely Sabotage and Paranoid) that are more deserving of the coveted perfect score.
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