Pros:Riffs, riffs, riffs, riffs...
Cons:Bewildering tracklisting, some classics missing, great records under-represented
The Bottom Line: The hits, the riffs, the itchs, (almost) everything you have to know about BLACK SABBATH (before buying all their records!)
Once upon a time
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The motherfXXXXX of all guitar riffs, Tony Iommi. The madman of them all, Ozzy Osbourne. A torture chamber of morbid bass slaps, Geezer Butler. A pandemonium on drums Bill Ward.
These Metal Gods gathered their deranged capabilities to convey BLACK SABBATH the ultimate Heavy Metal experience.
Nobody could cope with their raw assault, neither their ingratiating approach to songwrittings dynamics (snails pace, bar none). Nobody could take their apocriphal lyrics seriously, even during those dunderheaded 70s.
Nonetheless (or, Morover), Metal masses converged in thousands of thousands, loving this bad karma to death, bringing their releases up from Hell to reach the stratospheric heights of Popular Music charts. Eventually, a whole new world of shadows was disinfranchised befora the very blue-eyed artificial daydreams of the me generation.
And then, The Metal Gods made hits, all in a row. All of them are present here, after Niagara Falls of cheap wine and Himalaias of coke. They sold their souls for you, Rock NRoll fanatic. Trust them. Even though not all classics are here and some stinkers, on the contrary, were contemplated. What about Sympton of the Universe? Wheels of Confusion? Lord of This World? Sabbra Cadabra? Supernaut? Etc etc etc
Black Sabbath, the track, opens the record encapsulating all this bands unique chemistry in the most effective (and haunting) of ways. It begins with the sound of rain, followed by the toll of distant bells. Could have they projected a better Gothic picture in our minds eye? Then what follows is a cathartic experience. I had mine when, at the tender age of 17 and eager to buy a METALLICA record, I walked to my favorite CD store and found this record and let it play. An Earth-shaking guitar riff like no other I had heard to that point in my life (I still cant find anything comparable). Simply said, a knock in my ears. No, a row of punches by Iommi, every time Geezer returned with his manic bass it was even harsher. And it sounded cool! THIS is what Heavy Metal is about. Unnecessary to say I completely forgot METALLICA and anything other than SABBATH for months
All the reverb knocking ended in fadeout
just for malevolent Ozzy to came and describe a witchs Sabbath gathering, with the Devil himself putting an end to the gathering towards the final section of the song. BLACK SABBATH has always been accused of being a Satanist band (without much reason I think, their lyrics have always been sarcastic and ironic ones - the whole 1971s Master of Reality is about that). This song is no exception - everyone running away from the Sabbath when the Devil comes is a good metaphor not only for real Satanists, but makes fun of their alleged Devilish worship. The music on this final section is as adequate as their irony - the band increases the pace from their typical slow walk to a tense, fast rhythm as people run away. OH NO PLEASE GOD HELP ME, Ozzy screams.
In other words, the greatest Heavy Metal tune ever carved.
The Wizard builds a mysterious ambiance from its start, with the dissonant notes of Ozzys harmonica. Then a rude wall of sound follows, as if the riff of previous track had been played two or three times harder in every instrument. Where Black Sabbath was spacey and ethereal, here we have rawness and mammoth-like rhythm. And lyrics of pure fantasy manage to be uplifting, not depressive! Great number showing once again they knew how to surprise listeners! Theres more than meets the eye
Following we have the legend, the myth, Paranoid. A constant presence in best-riff-of-all-times lists (yes, even better than War Pigs). Reportedly, it was written in five minutes, just to complete the album and recorded in a first-take! Geezer lyrics perfectly describe Ozzy Osbourne, the romantic anguished madman (who once even threatened his wifes life, under booze effects). Two and a half minutes of sparking mastery, propelling Heavy Metal still fresh today. So simple, so straightforward its haunting like any classic is. Every single band of this world shall have carved their Paranoid a track that reaches the highest echelon in Rock music, side by side with My Generation, Satisfaction, Smoke On The Water, Whole Lotta Love, Born to Be Wild etc. Needless to say it was their greatest hit single (and it charted many times since its 1970 release). So strong a hit the band ceased to release them for years. This band was not interest in lip-synching in Top of The Pops before crowds of bopping teens.
War Pigs unleashes the SABBATH beast showing more dynamics than the creepy snails pace of their debut. Iommi always displayed his blessed riff-making but here he surpasses any expectations one of the most extraordinary in all Rock NRoll, period. Ozzy rallies with his merciless anti-war anthem. Geezer steals the show with his surrounding sinister bass ramblings. Ward brings down the house with tons of focused knocks on his drumset. The impeding doom just builds over and over until Iommi delves into one of his (rare) prime solos. Theres no final release, no lift-off just impious conclusions about the fate of war-prone politicians. Still eloquent until today uh?
After many great riffs and steady instrumental passages, BLACK SABBATH broke down all the remaining barricades with another masterpiece, Iron Man. Never a Rock band was so masterful in designing a genuine symphony of riffs, incessant, relentlessly calculated to sound the heaviest once creeping Ozzy (vocoded) yells opens the gate. Impeccable riff on impeccable riff, great choruses, an intriguing story predating Arnold Schwarzeneggers Terminator by 15 years, the band gears on to reckless speed (for SABBATH standards, of course). And then
Listen, thats what I say, words cant describe this wonder of minimalist, bold dynamics. The pinnacle of BLACK SABBATH, Iommi in special. Unsurpassable version.
Tomorrows Dream is quite conventional in comparison and brings SABBATH ambitions to mundane matters. Its a folksy rumination on sentimental departure (maybe, too schmaltzy to this band) is carried through bread-and-butter good SABBATH riff-and-stick. Only the sedated production escalates the mood to something comparable to the opening number. Not bad by any standard just not that good.
Then, Fairies Wear Boots, a funny homage to a gang of skinheads responsible for stealing SABBATHs first equipment back in Birmingham days (maybe, the pioneer reference to the rivalry between headbangers and punks, nowadays a commonsensical idea). Fairies
is a good-humored number and has its fans, but none could think of it as a classic. It oozes from the sonic background of previous tracks, lazy as a lizard, almost self-parody until Ozzy speaks feverishly on gnomes, fairies and dope in impossibly funny terms. It is said Ronnie James Dio in his SABBATH days hated the whole thing so much he would leave stage if any fan asked for it (even though he is a confessed fan of 1972s Paranoid album). Poor Ronnie
The romantic discomfort continues with the surprising piano-laden ballad Changes, the unlikeliest of hit singles for BLACK SABBATH. Don Airey (a future SABBATH member on weak 1978s Never Say Die) takes unaccredited piano duties and leads Ozzy in one of his shallowest lyrics to date (but, arguably, one of his prettiest vocal performances), saved from sappiness only by the virtue of distant, alien strings. Almost on par with melancholic Astronomy (by BLUE OYSTER CULT), nonetheless an exotic item in the SABBATH agenda.
Then, an abrupt turn to a daring pro-drug statement, Sweet Leaf (obviously, a Marijuana anthem). Iommi chokes (!) for a few seconds and a vicious rhythmic pattern and subdued riffing is established for Ozzy to praise his favorite candy. The lyrics are pretty much similar in tone to the ones THE BEATLES used to glorify the same leaves in Revolvers Got To Get You Into My Life. Soon drugs would take their toll on SABBATH and they would change their mind towards the issue (check out their number Megalomania on 1975s Sabotage. This track is not one of my favorites, as well as the chosen issue but fans loved to death, it remains one of the perennial live favorites of the SABBATH canon and its by many considered to be a classic! As long as I can say, its the best T-REX booze anthem Marc Bolan never had the guts to record.
Hell breaks loose when the steady, gigantic leaps from Butlers bass turn into the monster riff that ignites the immortal Children of The Grave. Since its birth, SABBATHs most beloved live powerhouse, this track simply trends anything in its way and in your mind out of the water, as if there were no room to debate. And they have a message for you and youth in general dont let the world be spoiled by war, or well get an early grave. Once again they take fun out of their infamous horror imagery apart from the lyrics, what could you expect from such a title unless rotting MICHAEL JACKSONs companions in Thriller? A classic among classics in what regards SABBATH, with exuberant performances from everyone involved.
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, the impressive, quasi-Prog effort, was the track that saved this bands (half)life back in 1973, when Iommi and Geezer experienced writers block, whereas Ozzy and Ward experimented all kinds of available substances. Iommi penned the Gargantuan riff during his last attempt before the band called it quits. Rick Wakeman (YES) was brought to the SABBATH ranks to warm their dynamics and maybe, to increase their commercial potential. His keyboard work here is beyond belief (no, no egotrips). Ozzy brought his most sinister persona in and then, another endless rifferama is everything you have to know the world about.
Things were going so well BLACK SABBATH decided to attempted at Pop Crossover, in a similar vein of its previous hit Changes. I thought something like that happened during the recordings: we can do no wrong, we have even crafted a Classical gem, why don't we carve a monster of a hit to be loved by everyone?. Even the band not being used to work on strictly Pop terms was no problem - lots of Progressive keyboads were popular in mid-70s, so why not trying to release a keyboard-laden number with less weight and no fury at all? In 1973s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath they tried once with Ozzy-penned Who Are You, that flopped. This time...they flopped again. Am I Going Insane (Radio) , the attempt to soften the borders of SABBATH sound while keeping their paranoid lyrics, ended being an awkward number so abnormal it presents almost no resemblance to any other BLACK SABBATH number. No, this is no Supertzar, it doesn't contain a single great riff! Instead it has lots of embarrassingly pretty keyboards - something as if Rick Wakeman played for THE MONKEES. This track simply is dragged into oblivion. It's not even remotely regular - it's plainly BAD! Maybe they intended to mock songs that gained major airplay at the time (in this sense it is a great reproduction - as today, radio plays many simply BAD songs). Unfortunately, I believe, in further albums BLACK SABBATH still wanted to have a hit single...
Snowblind is another exercise in morose-paced drug-fueled paranoia. Blatant references to cocaine (one of the initial choruses was COKE) have convinced Warner Bros. to change the albums name. The track is a beloved live item for fans, but I hardly would agree with them placing it into the classics, it is leagues removed from (missing) Supernaut and Wheels of Confusion. Great, not exceptional. Curiously, we have a very HENDRIXian solo here, untypical of Iommis minimalist prowess, as well as eerie keyboards towards the end.
In the end? N.I.B. starts with a superb bass solo by Geezer, his musical signature. Then what follows is another massive thunderous demonstration of minimalism. This time even harder than previous numbers! A great solo, the best on the record and a landmark for Iommi. Ozzy is so ironic and careless - of course, lyrics deal with the Devil again, this time dating a woman. Another classic SABBATH number!
Time to get
Into the BLACK
01 (* * * * *) Black Sabbath
02 (* * * * ½) The Wizard
03 (* * * * *) Paranoid
04 (* * * * *) War Pigs
05 (* * * * *) Iron Man
06 (* * * *) Tomorrows Dream
07 (* * * *) Fairies Wear Boots
08 (* * * * ½) Changes
09 (* * * * ½) Sweet Leaf
10 (* * * * *) Children of the Grave
11 (* * * * *) Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
12 (* * ½) Am I Going Insane (Radio)
13 (* * * *) Snowblind
14 (* * * * *) N.I.B.
Following information on the best Heavy Metal even made on Earth, Heaven or Hell:
1970s Black Sabbath
1971s Master of Reality
1972s Black Sabbath, Volume 4
1980s Heaven and Hell (with Ronnie James Dio)
1998s Reunion (Live)
2000s Iommi (solo recording from the Master of All Riffs)
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