Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath

Warner Brothers Records, 1970

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


You can argue all you want about which band first introduced "heavy metal" music; the three names I hear batted around the most are Steppenwolf, Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath. And while I'd rather stand clear of any potential brouhaha over that subject, there is one fact that is clear to me: If Black Sabbath didn't invent heavy metal, they at least popularized it.

In 1970, who would have thought that a quartet from Birmingham, England would release an album that not only would define a genre (as well as a band), but would also still be revered nearly 30 years after its release? And while Black Sabbath shows a little rust on it these days, it still features some great performances that are pleasing audiences even to this day.

Guitarist Tony Iommi (who, many people might not know, lost the tips of two fingers when he was younger in an industral accident), vocalist John "Ozzy" Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward probably didn't form Black Sabbath in the hopes of becoming the forefathers of heavy metal. They probably didn't form to appear as any kind of a promotion for black magic or the occult (although rumors of members' dabblings have persisted for years). I think what they set out to do was just create music that was from their souls, full of the energy and the angst of the time.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The gloom-and-doom feel to Black Sabbath is spelled out in the opening moments of the title track, from the sound of falling rain to the tolling bell -- all punctuated by the band's entrance into the picture. About halfway through, the tempo shifts a little more towards the upbeat, all without losing a gloomy feel to the music. (Iommi's rhythm guitar riffs in this portion of the song still perplex me; I know how to play it, but not how to maintain playing it without losing my fingering.)

The whole first half of Black Sabbath contains musical moments that have not been forgotten. From the harmonica-drenched "The Wizard" to the incredible musical workout that is "N.I.B.", Black Sabbath successfully create monster riff after monster riff and level an unsuspecting listener with them. Even now, after I've listened to this album dozens of times, I'm still flattened by the intensity of these songs.

Where Black Sabbath tends to weaken is in their attempts to become a jam-based band. The free-form moments of Iommi's guitar playing -- often without any other musical accompaniment -- on "Wicked World" and "Warning" all get to be a little self-indulgent after a while. (I've said before that Iommi's strengths were more as a rhythm guitarist -- not meant to be a knock against him.) However, the guitar work on "Sleeping Village" makes up for some of the indulgences.

What also has to be noted is Osbourne's vocals, ringing clear and making their ominous messages heard loudly. (To Osbourne's defense, what I've heard of Reunion so far also has him sounding great, but hearing him in the prime of his youth seals the emotional deal for me.)

Oh, sure, you could just pick up We Sold Our Souls For Rock And Roll and get the best-known numbers from this album. But Black Sabbath, warts and all, is an album that must be experienced on its own merits. In the end, even flawed, it remains a great album, as well as a solid birth cry for both the band and for heavy metal's popularity.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A-



© 1999 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.