Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Black Sabbath
You sorta knew we were gonna get here, didn’t you? Today we sail into heavy metal seas with our friends Black Sabbath and their 1975 release Sabotage. Believe it or not, when Black Sabbath first appeared in 1970 they were universally recognized as one of the better imitators of peers Led Zeppelin. But after their debut Sabbath went in a completely different direction, and along the way invented heavy metal.
Sabotage came at an interesting juncture for Ozzy Osbourne and Co. Sabbath had already become world famous (thanks to Paranoid and “Iron Man”), they experimented with progressive rock (Vol. 4) and became recognized riff-meisters (thanks to guitarist Tony Iommi’s work on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath). So on Sabotage, their sixth album, the newly evolved Black Sabbath retrenched a bit to their meat-and-potatoes headbanging with killer riffs and (slightly) more mature lyrics.
Osbourne has never been much of a singer, but he presides over everything here with his trademark earnestness. That goofy cluelessness is just a put-on – Ozzy’s actually a pretty shrewd showman. “Thrill Of It All” is a perfect place to jump in on Black Sabbath: it has one killer riff after another, and just enough extra filigree (subtle synth shading) to make it sound up to date (for 1975). Iommi’s solos aren’t too far removed from Jimmy Page’s, and he helps himself out by providing some fine rhythm guitar backing.
“Megalomania” is also pretty decent, despite its nearly 10-minute length. Here drummer Bill Ward shines – and when you get to the multi-tracked guitar assault from Iommi toward song’s end you realize this is the beginning of the path that would eventually lead us to Metallica and Megadeth. Likewise with “Symptom Of The Universe” – but you don’t have to wait eight minutes to get those crunching riffs. Iommi begins “Symptom” with a volley of warning shots that’s only a harbinger of the fun to come. Actually, I think Ozzy turns in one of his best-ever vocals on this song.
Then there’s “Superztar,” which is the only dud here. Iommi riffs over a gothic choir to try and set up some kind of eerie atmosphere, but it completely fails. This song will scare only the trick-or-treaters, and the really young ones at that. Happily, the rest of Sabotage is more killer than filler. “Am I Going Insane” is the most mainstream track, and it may not fit with the rest of the songs but it works for me. Then “The Writ” shuts down the proceedings with an edgy note, perhaps alluding to the fact that legal woes may prevent Sabbath from going any further.
Unfortunately they did – 1976’s Technical Ecstasy found Black Sabbath getting all experimental again, and it’s obvious the band was in decline. Ozzy was in even greater decline, and after 1978’s Never Say Die, he’d be fired. I must say I like Ronnie James Dio a lot, and his work with the old and new Black Sabbath (that would be the 1980 album Heaven and Hell as well as the band with the same name) is pretty enjoyable.