When most people hear the name ‘Black Sabbath’, they think about MTV’s awful invention of The Osbournes, Ozzy biting the head off a bat or, for those with a little bit more sense. the opening riffs to ‘Iron Man’ or ‘Paranoid’. There is, however, so, so much more to know and love about Black Sabbath- so much in fact that, that they deserve nothing more than the title of one of the best bands in the world.
This rang true for me in May 2012, when I finally got to see something that (as someone born in 1988) I thought I never would- the reformed original line up of Black Sabbath (unfortunately minus Bill Ward) playing a set list that I could have only dreamed of. (Setlist link at the end of article).
So here I sit, with a bottle of Rofthaus German white beer in hand, ready to indulge myself in a Sabbath marathon, treating you to some of my favourites along the way- a very difficult thing to do, considering the consistency and beauty that comes with every era, every album and every song that Sabbath have created.
Black Sabbath, 1970
An undeniable milestone in the history of heavy metal. This beautifully constructed, the atmospheric album introduced us to the doomy riffs created by the geniuses that are Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward. This album is the reason that so many great heavy metal and traditional doom bands exist (and unfortunately some really awful stoner bands as well). There is no other place to begin than with this self-titled album.
It’s a mysterious, inventive and evocative album created to stimulate your senses. Osbourne’s tuneless but emotional, possessed vocals sink right through you and work so perfectly next to Iommi’s full-on tri-toned guitar, creating an enigmatic doomy sound infused with rock, blues and even jazz. Geezer assists on the doomy, eerie sound as much as Iommi with his steady, deep and galloping bass lines; alongside Bill Ward’s deep and echoey snare fills, light atmospheric crashes and jazz-influenced sounds that Cream’s Ginger Baker would be proud of. There’s no wondering why this album pioneered an entire genre of music…
Volume 4, 1972
Volume 4 is not just an album, it’s a journey. It combines everything that Sabbath’s first 3 releases bring you, but with something more- a more experimental, psychedelic, proggy vibe which still maintains the deep, doom and bluesy feel that Sabbath are well known for. Songs like ‘Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener’ and ‘Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes’ are beautiful examples of just this- 2 tracks which make it impossible to concentrate on anything else; they take you through a journey of doom, melody, groove and psychedelia. Volume 4 certainly does include more perplexing tracks such as ‘FX’, which makes you realise how much Sabbath’s drug consumption really did influence their music, but regardless, the great craftsmanship shines through from beginning to end and really shows what greatness the 4 musicians were truly capable of- high as a kite or not.
Heaven and Hell, 1980
Ah, the Dio era – an age of Black Sabbath which some people consider their best era, whilst others consider it to not be ‘real Sabbath’. Regardless of opinion, Ronnie James Dio, (the master vocals on this album) was a musical genius. This, combined with the brilliance of Tony, Geezer and Bill, could never go wrong.
Heaven and Hell presented a change in sound and style for Black Sabbath, with fast-paced, powerful songs such as ‘Neon Knights’ and ‘Die Young’ and one of the best title tracks ever written. Sab show that they are so capable of creating that perfect, pounding ’80s heavy metal, whilst still keeping Iommi’s trademark sound integral to the album, maintaining that doomy ambience. The album also brings us bluesy harmonic tracks such as ‘Children of the Sea’ and ‘Lonely is the Word’ where you are reminded of the sheer brilliance of Dio’s vocal range- it is wonderful to hear how one man can create both innocence and evil in one breath- an ultimate ear orgasm.
Born Again, 1983
As a Deep Purple fangirl there is no way that I cannot have Born Again in my top Sabbath albums, what with Ian Gillan being on vocals. Gillian’s raw voice on this album rip you to absolute shreds; his vocal melodies with his sharp squeals and screams are the perfect match for Iommi’s extremely distorted and rough guitar sound. Songs like ‘Trashed’ and ‘Digital Bitch’ are rough, raw and dirty with other tracks on the album such as ‘Keep it Warm’ bring a more sexy, smooth and melodic vibe to the album. An extremely underrated album, and definitely an album which all fans of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath should have in their collection.
The Eternal Idol, 1987
The Tony Martin era- another underrated era of Black Sabbath.
With another vocalist ready to join forces with Iommi, The Eternal Idol brings us the ultimate power of ex-Alliance vocalist Tony Martin, his vocals work beautifully with both melodic and heavy ’80s riffs and solos brought to us by the moustached-master, Mr Iommi. If you, like me, are a sucker for the ’80s, soaring solos, bluesy riffs and keyboards, then this album is absolutely for you.
The Eternal Idol brings you a range of styles from powerful, epic heavy metal songs such as ‘The Shining’, fast-paced, fist-pumping tracks such as ‘Hard Life to Love’ and doomy atmospheric songs like ‘The Eternal Idol’. All of which display the tremendous pipes of Martin, pounding drums from Kiss drummer Eric Singer and steady, doomy bass lines from hard rock hero Bob Daisley. Also be sure to check out Tyr and Headless Cross– equally fantastic albums still with Tony Martin on vocals.
Black Sabbath have been through a lot- line-up changes, law-suits, drug and alcohol problems, cancer battles, deaths… but needless to say, they gave more to heavy metal in 1 album than most heavy metal bands have done in their entire career, and they are still going…
So, if you want to see Sabbath, get your arses down to the Saturday of Download Festival this year to watch Tony, Geezer and Ozzy in all their glory, completing their farewell tour. Hopefully, they’ll be bringing us a setlist like the one below- mind-blowing!
Black Sabbath, Birmingham 02 Academy, May 19th, 2012
Into the Void, Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes, Snowblind, War Pigs, Wheels of Confusion, Electric Funeral, Black Sabbath, The Wizard, Behind the Wall of Sleep, N.I.B., Fairies Wear Boots, Tomorrow’s Dream, Sweet Leaf, Drum Solo, Iron Man, Dirty Women, Children of the Grave, Encore: Paranoid