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”.