Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

Black Sabbath

Warner Brothers Records, 1973

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Any time a band changes their style even a little bit, they run the risk of being accused of "selling out." This is especially true of heavy metal bands. Metallica has been (correctly) accused, as has (though unjustly) Megadeth.

Back in 1974, Black Sabbath probably heard the same cries in reaction to their release Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Egads, string arrangements? Acoustic guitar pieces? This had to be blasphemy, even for such a band whose very name, song titles and lyrics ("Would you like to see the pope on the end of a rope / Do you think he's a fool" from "After Forever") struck fear in the religious right.

Fear not, kids - Tony Iommi and crew knew exactly what they were doing - and in the process they were able to top even Paranoid, their magnum opus to that point.

The opening title track sets the pace for the album. Ozzy Osbourne's vocals have never sounded more focused, and were definitely taking shape into the slightly whining drone that has become his trademark. Iommi's guitar work is simply incredible - his use of acoustic guitar to create a mood is subtle but powerful. Even the slight tempo shifts add to the mystique of the song.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But just when you think you'll be fighting Excedrin headache number 17 from slamming your head into the desk/wall/dashboard, the shift in style begins. "A National Acrobat" shows the band more interested in actually crafting a song than writing a heavy metal song. And while this lags a little bit, especially after the power of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," it is a decent enough track.

Iommi occasionally has experimented with tracks written to revolve around the guitar, but he has rarely been better than on "Fluff." His acoustic work is remarkable - even more so when you realize he lost the tips of two fingers on his fretting hand as a youngster. Even more surprising is the sparing use of electric guitar, which is even more gentle than the acousitc! Remarkable!

It is on the second half of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath that the band's style change is the most evident. Once again, Sabbath focuses on writing a true song on "Killing Yourself To Live," and this time they succeed with flying colors. The band has never sounded so solid and tight as on songs like this. The very next track, "Who Are You," has the band experimenting with synthesizers - an interesting move, fortunately enhanced by some darker lyrics.

The climaxing songs are the masterpieces that draw the album together. "Looking For Today" is a powerful song that merges both hard rock and pop without bastardizing either. The closing track, "Spiral Architect," was the best song this band ever put out - a mostly acoustic guitar-based piece with some of the best vocals Osbourne has ever delivered. The use of strings here adds to the power of the track, and shouldn't be seen as a turning away from the band's roots.

This experimentation did not just result in Black Sabbath's best album, it resulted in their last great work. After this, the band would still put out some good tracks, but they never equalled this one. Fans shouldn't worry about Black Sabbath "selling out" - they should have been worried about a band about to "hit the wall."

Rating: A

User Rating: B-



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.