Review Summary: Black Sabbath builds on Volume 4's approach towards a more progressive sound, with probably a million different overdubs here for guitars and synths. A lesser out of their legendary first six, but still great.
By 1973, Black Sabbath were in a creative rut. Putting out three albums in four years had left them out of ideas after their failed attempt at returning to Record Plant Studios in LA, where they'd recorded Volume 4. Spending a month, they couldn't even complete any songs thanks to writer's block and drugs. But after rehearsing in the dungeons of a creepy old castle in England, they'd finally found some inspiration and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was born. Although it's my personal least favorite of their classic first six albums, the Sabs still deliver some great songs here.
Don't be fooled by the demonic cover (Which actually says "666" on it!) or the album's murky dungeon origins, though. This is probably their least heavy album at the time, even moreso than Volume 4. Many a song here incorporates strings, synthesizers, alternative percussion, and miscellaneous experimentation. In fact, Tony had even fiddled with the idea of incorporating bagpipes and sitars! They were really going for less of a "scary", harder approach, and Tony would later remark that Sabbath Bloody Sabbath "wasn't a rock album, really" in comparison to the album that followed it, Sabotage.
You sure wouldn't guess it from the opening title track, though. Opening with a monster riff, compounded yet again with Tony's thick, downtuned guitar sound, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath begins as an angry rant against manipulation. Then they soften up for a second, hinting at the direction taken with this album, in a brief but brilliant and ultra memorable acoustic interlude that reoccurs throughout the song. After a second acoustic interlude comes a great lead from Iommi, followed by the heaviest moment on the album and one of the heaviest in Sabbath's career. Let the word be known, let it be shouted from the highest rooftops, the tallest mountains; Hell, let the message be broadcast through space that the
breakdown riff (for lack of a better term) after about three minutes from Black Sabbath's 1973 track "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" is one of the most effectively heavy things recorded. The bongos and other percussion in the background do not hamper the heaviness in these few orgasmic seconds of heavy metal mayhem. Ozzy's angry, high pitched wailing only serves to compliment the pummeling attack. "WHEEEREEEVER CAN YOU RUN TO? WHAT MORE CAN YOU DO? NOOOOOO MOOORE TOMORROW! LIFE IS KILLING YOU!" And then they do it again! And that outro...freaking hell, this song is perfect. A National Acrobat is also a dominantly heavy number built on an awesome riff. Like the previous song, there's an awesomely heavy moment midway through. They suddenly pick up speed towards the end, and it's just great.
By the way, each member's performance here is top notch. Iommi's riffage is still fantastic, and the acoustic sections on this album really show his skills. Geezer's driving bass, even if it is a bit low in the mix, still often helps compliment the songs instead of just doubling Iommi. Bill Ward still rules, but his talents really shine here with the album's tendency towards progressive songwriting. Ozzy is particularly impressive this time around. There's a lot of emotion and grit in his performances, and he also hits some really, really high notes. Most post-pubescent males more than likely can't imitate his vocal lines during the ultra heavy section of the opening title track without utilizing falsetto.
Bill, Geezer, and Ozzy all take a backseat to experimentation and Iommi's acoustic guitar wizardry in Fluff, which is this album's light and pretty instrumental interlude. I personally liked Laguna Sunrise better. For me, Fluff just serves as an intro to Sabbra Cadabra, a more blues-inspired number. Not necessarily "heavy", but rockin' nonetheless. The lyrics are a ton of fun here, too. "Someone to live for/Love me 'til the end of tiiiiiime!" A far cry from tales of nuclear winter, huh? Especially when they launch into section heavy with synthesizers and pianos, with heavy filtering on Ozzy's voice and atmospheric guitar work. By the way, this song features Rick Wakeman of Yes as a guest musician. After the atmospheric sections is some fun jamming featuring a simultaneously fun and crunching riff from Iommi. Eventually the guitars fade out as the piano becomes more prominent. This shows a side of Black Sabbath that I feel goes unappreciated. They weren't always doing spooky, gloomy, doomy metal; these guys had range! Killing Yourself To Live also tends to switch between fun blues inspired stuff, crunchy heaviness, and synthesized stuff that's a bit more abstract. This one's already pretty solid, and then they drop that awesome random tempo change on you. ***, this part's so sick and groovy. "Smoke it! Get high!
" They really pick up the pace at the end of this one!
Who Are You, a synth composition from Ozzy that doesn't really feature Iommi's riffwork, isn't as good as any of the songs before it, although the mellow interval featuring a string section is cool. Looking For Today is for the most part pretty fun and not really heavy, featuring a flute in the prechorus (I think that's what those are?) sections. The main draws of this song are said flute-heavy acoustic parts and the ultra-memorable refrain. "Looking for todaaaaaaay?" It's ultimately another weaker track, though. The excellent Spiral Architect blows the last two songs away, though. This one isn't an interlude of some kind, while also not really featuring an ounce of the heaviness is known for. This is probably the best example of their most progressive side. The acoustic guitar parts are arguably more important and memorable than the electric guitar parts here, which really only serve as transitions. Ozzy excellently shows his less raw and more melodic side when performing Geezer's excellent lyrics here. "Child of god sitting in the sun/Giving peace of miiiiind! Fictional seduction/On a black snow skyyyy!" The string section in this song really help build a fantasy atmosphere. They also drive the final verse and carry the song's triumphant ending. An excellent Black Sabbath classic, even if it's not essential to the development of heavy metal.
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath features two consecutive weak tracks, and the melodic instrumental (This album's equivalent to Laguna Sunrise) disappoints. But in spite of these flaws, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is worthy of being under the Black Sabbath name. It's very musically diverse, and showed that they weren't just a one-trick pony. Sure, there was stuff like Laguna Sunrise, Planet Caravan, St. Vitus Dance, and Solitude that showed that they were hardly afraid of some experimentation. But Sabbath Bloody Sabbath showed that Black Sabbath could write quality stuff without being a super important metal band. Here, the experimentation is expertly woven into the songs themselves. Ozzy has said that this is his favorite of Black Sabbath's earliest works. I think that there are certainly better albums by Black Sabbath (their next album in particular is unjustly underrated), but Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is still fantastic. I'm going to give it a 4/5, if only because there's a bit of inconsistency here.