Black Sabbath is for the most part, considered to be the first metal band. Simply because the metal genre is a vague one. There is little doubt though, of the influence Black Sabbath has held (and still holds) over metal’s minions. I would describe Black Sabbath
as not the towering spire of a castle that people gaze up at with wonder. Rather the deepest darkest dungeons in which the castle is built upon. Only truly being appreciated by the learned castle historians. So in order to see this dilapidated dungeon for it’s worth, you must journey into the minds of madmen.
formed more out of convenience than design, two local Birmingham quartets split in half. Ozzy and Geezer from The Rare Breed
. Tony and Bill from Myhtology
. This newly formed cover band, struggled to set themselves apart in their local scene. When what can only be described as a revelation occurred one night. Tony sleeping alone in his one room apartment, awoke to find a phantasm standing over the foot of his bed. The apparition told him surprisingly, “To pledge allegiance, or piss off.” The next day before a gig Tony spoke of this revelation to his mates. They were intrigued (Ozzy not the least among them). Ozzy used Tony’s nightmare as fuel for a vocal improvisation, over a jam by the band. The audience completely amazed at what they had witnessed, stood aghast. Then suddenly, the audience blazed forth with approval. It was at this gig, that Black Sabbath (as we know it) was born, and the foundation for the castle (metal) was laid.
That Improvisation was later dubbed Black Sabbath
(later becoming the bands mantra). Ozzy’s voice in Black Sabbath
is nasal and uncouth. A perfect conductor of emotion. It is this emotional connection that is vital to Sabbath’s success. The climax of Black Sabbath
is Tony Iommi’s guitar solo over Geezer Butler’s frightening bass effect. Nativity in Black (NIB
) is a love song between the devil and a mere mortal. NIB
was Black Sabbath
’s backlash from the puppy love driven radio rock at the time (see Fleetwood Mac
). The Wizard is much like it’s predecessors, only it contains more metaphorical content. It personifies drug use in the form of a Wizard, that goes around turning tears into joy.
Lord of this World
is a sludge filled metal pre-cursor. It has a very potent doom feel to it. Children of the Grave
is another example of a protometal icon. With Bill Ward’s trash can style drumming underneath Tony’s down tuned heaviness. In addition to this progression of sound, Children of the Grave
demonstrates Sabbath’s growing social conscience, with lyrics like:
So you children of the world, listen to what I say
If you want a better place to live in, spread the words today
Show the world that love is still alive you must be brave
or you children of today will become children of the grave
Another of Sabbath’s more obviously politically aware songs is the timeless, War Pigs
. It describes a dream world where politicians are actually held accountable for their actions (strange I know, but stay with me). God punishes the world’s leaders for their petty wars that have left the world in ruins. This sludge filled classic is metal minimalism at it’s best. Whether it’s Bill Ward’s less than complex, ‘tich tich ta-tich’ high-end drumming. Or Geezer’s now rumbling, now stumbling bass line that eludes to the march of a war machine. Or whether it’s Tony’s two power chords in between Ozzy’s storytelling. This song has got to drive death metal bands crazy, with it’s simplicity. During Tony’s last solo you can almost visualize justice being hammered down. Epic to say the least.
Clarke Kent’s alter ego is Superman, Ozzy Osbournes alter ego is what happens when superman is kicked by the wayside and left for dead. Musically Iron Man
is a slumbering volcano. The first sign that this menace is awakening would be the opening growl of feedback from Tony’s wandering finger. After the initial glory of Tony’s riff, Ozzy slips into his alter ego. Dispatching revenge with an Iron conscience on those he previously helped. While Ozzy is balancing the universe, the volcano steams (Tony’s licks) and shakes (Ward’s off color fills). The volcano finally erupting (Tony’s solo), leaving the villagers covered in smoke (pull offs), ash (bends), and fire (rakes). Between a psychopath super hero and a natural disaster, Iron Man
leaves little left. Except maybe the all out blitz Paranoid
(ironically, originally written as a filler track). Paranoid
’s opening riff, in my opinion, is Tony’s best. Almost disorienting in it’s hastiness. Ozzy’s emotionally detached vocals, work perfectly with lyrics straight out of a mental patients reality:
Make a joke and I will sigh
And you will laugh and I will cry
Happiness I cannot feel
And love to me is so unreal
The song ends in despair when the character comes to the realization that he cannot find solace in life. Into the Void
describes a doomsday scene where earth has been polluted and filled with evil, and a few would be pilgrims are journeying to find a place “where love and freedom wait.” All of the instruments are audible and on par during this science-fiction thriller.
Black Sabbath has it’s deepest roots in Blues
. The fella’s payed homage to their blues predecessors with the song Warning
. The jest of the song is that a man is desperately in love with a woman who will not return the favor. The highlight of this song is Tony’s seven minute guitar solo that withstands constant mood and tempo changes. The solo ranges from decadent shredding to nothing more than a note, a heart beat. Another example of this Blues
influence is the obscure Fairies Wear Boots
. In it the character smokes and drinks until he finds out that Fairies prefer boots over other types of footwear.
Other than the genre of metal, most people associate Black Sabbath
with drug use. This is not wholly unfounded. With songs like the fun loving ode to La Refer, Sweat Leaf
. In which the band falls in love with the weed and perhaps makes a prophetic statement concerning it’s legalization:
You gave me a new belief
and soon the world will love you Sweat Leaf
Songs like the autobiographical Snowblind
. Chronicle the bands extensive cocain abuse. Unfortunately the drug references become stale by Rock and Roll Doctor
. A throw back to the 50's piano rock, the boys from Birmingham grew up with.
Black Sabbath has always looked at their studio work with a sense of freedom and openness. Laguna Sunrise
is the best example of this, a three minute instrumental that uses a cornucopia of instruments, to try to convey the feeling of waking on a beach beside your favorite groupie. Quite romantic. Fluff
is a classical tune composed and played solely by Tony Iommi. Tony uses simple guitar and piano appregios (low to high back to low), to provide a base for his colorful harpsichord playing. Changes
is a pop song, written in the spirit of introspection (see A Hard Look in the Mirror
). These three light songs provide an escape from the gothic picture Sabbath often paints.
Disk Two has it’s share of heavyweights. The eternal energy of Supernaut (some of Ward’s best drumming), provides you with the image of witches dancing around in sacrilege. Supernaut
’s cousin in energy, Sabbra Caddabra
, but superior in production quality. Shows the band in ideological unison (at least on the surface). Each on top of his instrument, no one reaching for more than anyone else. After forever
a song which was written about the death of god, which ended up becoming a voice against the hypocrisy of the catholic church:
Is your mind so small that you have to fall
In with the pack wherever they run
Will you still sneer when death is near
And say that you may as well worship the sun.
I think it is true it was people like you that crucified Christ
I think it is sad the opinion you had was the only one voiced.
Hole and the Sky
and Symptom of the Universe
are some of Sabbath’s “weightiest” songs (on Disc Two). Symptom of the Universe
displays some of the best song structure of Sabbath’s career. Beginning with the throbbing opening riff through the acoustic break down (which adds quite a bit to the song, believe it or not).
Many find Ozzy’s voice extremely irritating. Reason being that he rarely sings in the right key, in addition to having the most nasally overbearing voices known to man. It is because of this that Ozzy’s voice works so well in Black Sabbath
. His voice coincides perfectly with Tony’s sizzling over-the-top pentatonic solo’s. Geezer’s bass always brings a good rhythmn, but sometimes he can be overshadowed by the ever flamboyant Iommi. Bill Ward on the other hand will beat his kit into a oblivion before his fills go unnoticed by even the most casual fan. As for describing Sabbath’s sound I think Mick Wall put it best, “Impossibly agitated rhythmns [that] sounded like a body being dragged from the river.” All told Black Sabbath
has sold 75 million albums, and listening to this collection it isn’t difficult to tell why.
The Original Black Sabbath
John Michael “Ozzy” Osbourne, vocals
Frank Anthony “Tony” Iommi, guitar
Terrence Michael “Geezer” Butler, Bass
William “Bill” Ward, drums
Why this Greatest hits?
Full color book accompanying the two discs
Greater variety of Sabbath