Black Sabbath

Picture of Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath ©1970 Warner Bros.
1. Black Sabbath
2. The Wizard
3. Wasp/Behind The Wall Of Sleep/Basically/N.I.B.
4. A Bit Of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning
5. Wicked World

A friend lent me this, once. I hadn't heard much metal at the time, then. I didn't even feel like putting it on; it came without sleeves or a case. I was like that at the time.

"What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black that points at me
Turn around quick and start to run
Find out I'm the chosen one
Oh no!"

Anyway, I put it on at around midnight - out of boredom - and it scared the crap out of me. The title track, on first, first off, is really, really creepy. Brooding, lethargic, almost. Ominous! Heavy! With Ozzy singing "This is the end my friend/Satan's coming 'round the bend." "What's he saying? Crazy man!" the me with eyes wide open and goose bumps all over wondered. Well, there aren't many moments in metal better than that one. The bass (sound and playing) on this one is exceptional. Iommi's solo is short, fitting, with the delay between the left and the right channel providing some tricky harmony for the listener to sort out. One of Black Sabbath's best tracks, the best one on this album.

"Big black shape with eyes of fire
Telling people their desire
Satan's sitting there he's smiling
Watches those flames higher and higher
Oh no no please god help me!"

"The Wizard": mid-paced, harmonica-guitar duet with a darker feel than you might expect. 1969, and they're doing riffs like these. Then the long, schizophrenic track: "Wasp", to start off. Heavy blues, not of the "oh my baby!" kind, though. Good composition, mad lyrics. I don't know what "Behind the Wall" is. That little silent period? "Basically" is a bizarre bass solo. A deep timbre and progressive arrangement can produce some strange sounds, it seems. It's only about a minute long (they should've made it longer). Then we get "N.I.B.", the catchy "radio friendly" track. Unfairly taken by many to be the best song on the album, this is very good nevertheless.

Track four begins with a segment which seems absent: "A Bit of Finger" is...not there. "Sleeping Village" fills in, instead, in the typical leisurely Black Sabbath style. "Warning", though, the Dunbar cover, is where the album peaks again. What great emotion! Ozzy's second best vocal performance, this (after Black Sabbath, of course). This sad, depressing little anthem of unrequited love is recorded in two blocks, separated by a meandering solo from Iommi. Brilliantly nostalgic here, absolutely uninspired there, this is an essential listen/lesson in blues. "Wicked World" is the weakest track on this record. Nothing terrible, but never rising above decent. A convincing social commentary, though.

There's no understating this album's importance: this basically started heavy metal, and it's one bludgeoningly heavy record for the genre to start with. Maiden, Priest, all sound like pop bands compared to this monster. It's nowhere near as simplistic as people accuse it of being! The rhythm section is amazingly prominent: I have no idea how they could get this kind of a bass sound back then. Every note is distinct, and the bass drum pounds like Ward's kit is crawling up your ear. One of my favourite albums in all genres, you simply cannot be "into" metal without owning this. Not merely as an "antique curiosity" but as a genuine work of genius.

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Review #2:

What we have here is arguably the world's first proper heavy metal album. And what a wonderful start it is. The album opens with the sound of falling rain, a bell chiming in the distance, and thunders cracking ever so closely. Suddenly, almost like a lightning-bolt striking you, the first riff attacks. And good grief, what a killer riff it is. It's so powerful, yet melancholic, that it's hard not to immediately get sucked in by it.

I think my biggest surprise when I first heard this album was the actual quality of it. I always heard people talk about "Paranoid," but never a word about this album. First off, the music on this album is amongst the most gloomy and atmospheric ever recorded, yet it still retains a certain optimistic attitude that comes to the forefront during certain well-placed upbeat sections. This gives the palette a light touch of color, and keeps the album from being too one-sided. In fact, the music almost sounds like the albumcover looks. Open, somewhat grainy, natural and with a sense of doom lurking over it.

The music actually has a strong likeness to that of the band Cream, except 'Sabbath bring a much harder edge, and an overall more downbeat aura. As you might guess by that comparison, the blues is a huge inspiration to this album. This is, however, definitely a new entity in it's own right. The songs are all dominated by two things in particular: some truly great riffs, delivered by Tony Iommi, and the haunting vocals of Ozzy Osbourne, who already here gives what I consider to be his career's best performance. In fact, I'd even say that the opening track, "Black Sabbath", has one of my favorite vocal-performances of all time. He constantly builds up the tension in his voice, from the mild anxiety of the opening, to the utter fear in his cries for help towards the end. And just as you think the climax has been reached, Iommi breaks in with one of his most maniacal guitar solos ever, perfectly portraying the dismay of Ozzy's character.

Speaking of which, Iommi gets quite a lot of room for his guitar solos on this album. Since his roots are in the blues, he goes for tasteful solos, instead of just shredding through some nonsensical notes. Arguably he might be a bit simple, by sticking mostly to the pentatonic scale, but he usually complements the songs perfectly.

Although the album has some real classics, there are moments that aren't quite so good. The biggest problem is that some of the songs just aren't able to keep up too well with the high standard set by the title-track. There are no bad songs on here, except perhaps "Evil Woman," which isn't a real albumt rack, but added as a bonus on certain editions. There are, however, certain moments where things get a bit dull. The overly long guitarsolos in "The Warning" come to mind.

Still, there's no questioning both the historical significance and the quality of the music presented on this album. This is one everyone should acquaint themselves with, whether you're a fan of Heavy Metal or not. This isn't just an album to own because it kickstarted the genre, but also because it's a genuinely enjoyable listen through-and-through. There are unfortunately several editions of this album on the market. I'd recommend the Castle remaster. The soundquality is excellent, not to mention very heavy, and the packaging is very nice, with a good introductory text about the band. The release also includes Black Sabbath's first single, "Evil Woman." Although the song is not up to the album's standards, it's still a worthwhile bonus.

Review by Řystein H-O

Review date: 10/2000

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Heaven And Hell

Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell ©1980 Warner Bros
1. Neon Knights
2. Children of the Sea
3. Lady Evil
4. Heaven and Hell
5. Wishing Well
6. Die Young
7. Walk Away
8. Lonely Is the Word

Most any heavy metal fan knows the story of Black Sabbath through the 70s. Their first four albums are considered genre defining masterpieces and if you go switch on VH-1 right now, either Scott Ian or Henry Rollins will be waxing fondly about how much they love those groundbreaking releases. Unfortunately for Black Sabbath, as the 70s wore on and the hubris of being bigtime arena rockstars painfully falling out of touch with reality, their shine wore off, particularly by 1978's Never Say Die!, which I suspect has not been discussed so enthusiastically by Mr. Ian or Mr. Rollins. And as everyone know, original singer Ozzy Osbourne had been dismissed from the band, resulting in the eventual hiring of a certain Ronnie James Dio. The leadup to the recording of this album is soaked in the excesses of drinking and drug problems. Geezer Butler briefly left the band to deal with personal issues back in England while Bill Ward can't even remember his own participation in the recording of Heaven and Hell. Perhaps his liver remembers the sessions.

But despite the massive upheaval within the lineup, the various outside distractions (because it's tough work being an internationally known rock star), Heaven And Hell turned out to be one of those albums that rekindled fan interest in Black Sabbath as well as garnering critical acclaim. Why, the curmudgeons over at gave this a 90% in their reviews and they're a rather grumpy bunch.

Since I've never been a huge Black Sabbath fan (to be honest, Ozzy's voice grates on me), I've never actually sat down to listen to the entirety of Heaven And Hell in one sitting. My lack of experience with the late 70s Sabbath releases means I don't even have the comparison against Never Say Die! or Technical Esctasy to utilize. So as a result, my listening experience is somewhat orphaned in the grand scheme of things, except perhaps against other releases I've heard from the year 1980. Without a doubt, there's several good songs on Heaven And Hell. "Neon Knights" is an extremely catchy number, for instance. Dio's style fits well within the backdrop of the Sabbath veterans and he doesn't dive too much into that over the top approach that often soured me a bit on his later solo records. He does veer towards it on the title track a bit, which tends to get a little overly dramatic. The interesting thing about listening to this record over three decades after its release is how ear friendly and tame it sounds, which is obviously the result of my own experience listening to far more extreme music in the time since. Heaven And Hell's material would fit solidly in the confines of most classic rock radio. That is fitting since obviously it is classic rock.

Although Black Sabbath would spend the rest of their existence going through a dizzying array of lineup changes after Heaven And Hell was released, this studio album does stand out as one of their finer moments. I'm not sure if Henry Rollins agrees, but if someone were to cherry pick the studio albums to own by Black Sabbath, this likely should be one of them.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2013

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