Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Black Sabbath - ST (classic album review)


While many bands and 'groovy people' still had their 'heads on the ground and their feet in the clouds' of psychedelic fantasy, four lads roamed the tough streets of Aston under bleak industry-choked skies grasping for a way out of their ever-present reality.

It's hard to imagine a world without Black Sabbath, probably an impossible task for metal fans.  At the time of 'Black Sabbath''s release there was nothing really like it in the world of music, outside of some of the darker moods of classical instrumental music: "Night on Bald Mountain" by Mussorgsky perhaps, "Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta" by Bartok for sure, "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" by Penderecki & the percussive rhythms of Holst's "Mars the Bringer of War".  Bits and pieces of pre-Sabbath-like music could be found spread throughout the more rat infested corners of the underground rock world, but nothing and not nobody sounded like Black Sabbath.  However, Sabbath was not born in a vacuum.  They were just one of a giant second wave of British Blues Boom bands that flooded the record buying public in the waning days of the sixties and into the burgeoning seventies.

Sabbath made their debut foray into music history with their very Deep Purpelian reading of "Evil Woman" backed with a conspicuously jazz proggy early group composition, "Wicked World", touching on themes that would come to full flower on "War Pigs".  The song didn't become a hit but the ensuing LP did, despite a vocal majority of disapproving critics.  How could this have been?

One thing that separated Black Sabbath from the pack was the distinctive voice of formerly unknown vocalist John "Ozzy" Osbourne.  His high-toned screaming-with-a-mouthful-of-marbles style put an individualistic stamp on a band that was being lumped in by the press erroneously with tabloid headline-makers Black Widow as a satanic farce and spectacle.  Compared with Bakerloo, Ten Years After, Chicken Shack, Taste, Free, Black Cat Bones, Spooky Tooth, Savoy Brown, Blodwyn Pig, Killing Floor (I could go on and on and on) and any number of terrific second wave bands, Black Sabbath were clearly different, a cut above, but imagine swapping out singers with any one of these bands with Sabbath and one wonders whether they would have been the legendary band they are which spawned an entire industry of followers.

Take the title song for example.  The song "Black Sabbath" established a new standard for heaviness in heavy blues based rock music.  To a man, Iommi, Butler, Ward and Osbourne claim the song as their magnum opus.  And which Black Sabbath fan doesn't live to hear the devil's third and Iommi's trademark hammer-ons?  But would the song have had the power to chill and enrapture generations of listeners without Ozzy's singular, tortured performance on vocals?  I'd like to posit the notion that the song would have gone down in underground lore, passed down from brother to brother, adventurous friend to adventurous friend as "the heaviest song ever" but in the underground only.

But this isn't an apologia for Ozzy Osbourne.  Anybody who has heard the demo "The Rebel" understands that Ozzy wouldn't have done it without the band and the sound they achieved.  No other band suited his style and no other singer would have suited the band.  After all, a pop star he ain't.  Famously when Ozzy called around the Butler household a family member called out to Geezer that "there's something at the door for you."  Ozzy fed off those dark and heavy tones and it seems the heavier and lower the tone, the more he shone through, there's more to it than just contrast.  No one else could have put the feeling into "Black Sabbath" that he did.

Each of the first four tracks on 'Black Sabbath' are one hundred percent classics.  When I was a young man, "N.I.B." was re-recorded by Ozzy backed by Primus for the Nativity in Black II tribute album and the song became a huge radio hit.  I felt ashamed because I wasn't as familiar with the song as others like "Black Sabbath", "Behind the Wall of Sleep", "Lord of This World", "Children of the Grave" and the entire Paranoid album.  Since then, all of THE (first) SIX (sabbath albums) have been my one constant throughout all my musical forays and explorations.  I imagine, if you're reading this blog, chances are Sabbath is as much a way of life for you as it is for me.  Really, there's not too much else to say to add to that statement other than, it all started here.  Heavy Metal started here, Doom Metal started here and while Metallica used to say, "No life 'til leather", I'd change that to, "No life 'til Sabbath".  This is where it all started.

Somehow this band hit on a magic formula that would allow their songs to live on endlessly, remaining accessible, immediate and relevant 43 years on.

Highlights include: "Black Sabbath" and "Behind the Wall of Sleep / N.I.B."

Rating: 4/5

1. Black Sabbath (6:17)
2. The Wizard (4:21)
3. Behind the Wall of Sleep (3:37)
4. N.I.B. (6:04)
5. Evil Woman [Don't You Play Your Games With Me] (3:22)
6. Sleeping Village (3:46)
7. Warning (10:28)
Total Run Time: 38:06

From: Aston, Birmingham, England

Genre: Doom, Blues, Hard Rock, Progressive Rock

Reminds me of: Deep Purple, East of Eden, High Tide, Sir Lord Baltimore, Velvett Fogg

Release Date: February 13, 1970

Suggested listening activity for fellow non-stoners: Purging your brain of all music files, then re-starting from here.

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