Released 1970 on Warner/Vertigo.
Number 241 on the Rolling Stone Top 500. Bastards.
Ozzy Osbourne - vocals, harmonica
Tony Iommi - guitars
Geezer Butler - bass
Bill Ward - drums
What is this that stands before me?
Do I even need to give background here? Few enough artists have achieved this kind of level of fame. Hendrix, Elvis, The Beatles, Miles Davis, maybe a few others. Everyone and their dog at least knows of Black Sabbath.
Still, I suppose a little background can't hurt, in case there are music newbies reading this. Originally called a few things, including Earth, Black Sabbath hail from sunny Birmingham, England, recorded this, their debut album, in something like 12 hours and with �600, and invented heavy metal. That's right, invented it; no matter how many people argue the case for Deep Purple, the heavy metal blueprint arrived with Black Sabbath - the band, the album, and the song.
Ah, the song. I know there are 7 other tracks here for me to be discussing, but to be honest, I'd like to spend the entire review talking about just that one. Even now, it's the quintessential heavy metal track - everything about it is iconic, from the thunderstorm and tolling bell at the beginning, through the slow, simple and yet oh-so-ominous guitar of Iommi and the sporadic drumming which seems to be all that's driving such a song along, to Ozzy's awesome vocal performance. Now, Ozzy clearly isn't the most talented singer out there (he won't be winning awards for skill), but could anyone else have fit this song so well? Could anyone else have managed to sound just this side of terrified, and yet remain cool? And could anyone else have pulled off overly dramatic lines like "Oh, no, no, please God help me!" without sounding ridiculous? Hell no. What his voice lacks in technique, it more than makes up in being memorable and characterful, the latter in particular being something that many otherwise great vocalists lack. He has imperfections - for example, when he attempts a note that is really too low for him to be comfortable in - but they come to be what you love as much as his good points. It's a strange thing, but it's what I've found, and it's why I think Ozzy really is a good vocalist, despite the disagreement such a statement is bound to bring. Now, can you imagine what this song would have sounded like in 1970? It's pretty much the antithesis of everything the flower power music of the sixties stood for, musically and lyrically, and it's release being when it was, (February 1970 - and a black Friday, if legend is to be believed) could be seen to make it almost prophetic.
Anyway, the rest of the album. Despite the claim (which I still stand by) that this brought about metal, the album itself isn't entirely metal. The band's previous incarnation as Earth, a blues rock group, is still heavily prevalent here. At most, there are probably three real metal songs on the album - the title track, The Wizard
- and even then, with the exception of Black Sabbath
itself, the blues/jam ethos remains at large, in the harmonica and awesome drumming of The Wizard
, and the cooler-than-cool blues guitar intro of N.I.B.
The other five tracks are all basically bluesy hard rock (especially Warning, which is more or less a 10 minute jam), though with a definite metal slant, especially in the lyrics. Wicked World
in particular, with it's lyrics about how "the world today is such a wicked place"; it's a very vague social commentary, but still more than most bands of the preceding decade had said. I actually think Wicked World
is a very underrated Sabbath track; it was originally the B-side to Evil Woman
(which seems to have been written with a single release in mind), and I think it's fairly superior to it, especially Iommi's solo soloing about halfway through.
Bass fans rejoice, by the way - Geezer sounds great (in both tone and playing) throughout the album, and is nicely noticeable in the mix as well (without overpowering the guitars), which is something I like. Bill Ward does a great job on drums too, especially in The Wizard
Most of the progress towards a 5/5 score is made simply because of the historical importance of the release - it pretty much defined the metal sound, and much of it's ethos, including entwining the idea of heavy metal inextricably with Satan. That there's a dam
n fine album on top of that is just a bonus. As an album it isn't perfect, but it isn't really that far off, and the imperfections often end up working similarly to those in Ozzy's voice - maybe it's just me, but listening to the album you get the sound of a young band who are having fun with what they're doing, and really are experimenting (and unwittingly changing history) at the same time.
Has to be Black Sabbath
itself - I spent nearly half the review discussing it - though really there are things to recommend many of the tracks.