Black Sabbath

I’m part-way through reading Iron Man, the autobiography of Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, which I had as a Christmas present. A fascinating read so far, with tales of rock and roll excess mixed with the stories behind some of the songs, beginning with Iommi growing up in a working-class part of Birmingham. The description of Iommi’s industrial accident, which is not for the squeamish, out to server as a reminder as to why all that health and safety legislation some people want to abolish is there for.

It’s prompted me to dig out a lot of old Ozzy-era Black Sabbath albums, many of which I’ve not played for years, and it’s reminded me just how consistently good they were. Also it’s remarkable just how well-mixed and mastered the albums are, especially when you consider how little time they took recording their earliest ones.

I’d say all the first six albums deserve to be in any self-respecting rock and metal fan’s record collection. It starts with their debut, when they were in transition from the blues band Earth, and blues-rock workouts sit alongside the doomladen distorted tritones with which they made their name, and the quality is consistent right the way through to the metal juggernaut of “Sabotage“, with the face-melting centrepiece “Symptom of the Universe

Black Sabbath, despite some of their Hammer Horror imagery, were never really the Satanic band portrayed in some sections of the media. When you know that main lyricist Geezer Butler was an Irish Catholic, a song like “After Forever“, with it’s infamous line “Do you want to see The Pope on the end of rope” is clearly all about sectarian bigotry.

As an aside, playing seventh album “Technical Ecstacy” and Led Zeppelin’s “Presence” back-to-back makes me think the often maligned and in my opinion somewhat underrated Sabbath album is the one of the pair that’s aged the best. Take away the obvious classics “Achilles Last Stand” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” from Presence, and you’re left with rather a lot of filler.

The best album of the lot has to be “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath“. The monumental title track has to be one of the best songs about being totally pissed-off with life, the universe and everything ever written; “Bog blast all of you” is a great line. But the whole of the rest of the album is pretty much flawless, and displays a far greater musical sophistication than anything they’d done before, whether it’s the keyboard-led “Who Are You”, or the ambitious multi-layered closing “Spiral Architect”.

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5 Responses to Black Sabbath

  1. Steve says:

    I would agree that SBS is the best of the Ozzy era albums, but my favourite Sabbath album by some distance is Heaven & Hell. There are a lot of melodic passages throughout the album and I like the way the songs come across as a blend of both Sabbath and early Rainbow. A different sounding album to what had gone before and a collection of very high quality songs. None more so than the title track itself. Always been a regular in the CD player.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    And I’d have to agree with that!

    For me, at least, Heaven and Hell is the definitive Black Sabbath record for all the reasons you say. Absolutely no filler, and several absolute classics (I’d add “Neon Knights” and “Children of the Sea” to that list). Yes, it’s as much the follow-up to Rainbow’s “Long Live Rock and Roll” as it is a traditional Black Sabbath album, and it’s none the worse for that.

    Ronnie Dio (RIP) is still the greatest hard rock/metal singer of all time.

  3. Steve says:

    Children Of The Sea is the most Rainbowish song on the album, both lyrically and musically. Sounds more Rainbow than Sabbath and could easily have fitted nicely on the Long Live Rock n Roll album. For me, it pushes the title track closest along with Lonely Is The Word. Neon Knights? Great song. I used to have it on a 45 as well. Just checked my hit singles book, and it reached a high of 22 in the charts in July 1980. How times have changed!

    I really like Tony Iommi’s style of lead guitar throughout the album and I agree with your comment about RJD. Ozzy’s voice suited the style of the early albums, but RJD is different gravy. The kind of medieval imagery he conjures up has always appealed to me.

  4. Tim

    “Black Sabbath, despite some of their Hammer Horror imagery, were never really the Satanic band portrayed in some sections of the media. ”

    BUT they were a very heavy band compared to the remainder of the College circuit of 1971-2, with its mixture of prog, folk, and blues. At Essex Uni they appeared in a room with a ceiling no higher than Fibbers, and not much bigger – an experience few of you “youngsters” could hope to experience. Stood only about 5 yards from the band they certainly left a lasting impression – and this was intentional and a certain amount of “Hammer horror” appears to have been intentional – remembering Hammer also didn’t take themselves seriously!
    See you May 12?
    Best wishes

  5. Tim Hall says:

    I’m at the age where I take “you youngsters” as a compliment :)

    Now, where did I put the “No Kettles” t-shirt?