Black Sabbath Black Sabbath- 1970
RMR Album Rating- 6
Would heavy metal exist without Black Sabbath? Absolutely. Many other bands were experimenting with a similar harder edged sound at the same time, but Black Sabbath’s debut album absolutely gets the credit for being the first true heavy metal album, and the lead track on the album (“Black Sabbath”) also gets the credit for being the first true heavy metal song.
So, let’s start there. “Black Sabbath” (the song) is where it all began for heavy metal. It is the lead track on the album, and it is the best song on the album. It starts out with the sound of raining and bells, which create this element of horror and evil before the song even starts, and then the main guitar riff kicks in, and it is without question one of the most sinister riffs ever recorded. It’s also important to point out that “Black Sabbath” is really a pretty slow song in terms of pacing, whereas today’s heavy metal is often judged by speed. “Black Sabbath” (the song) takes its time, and its brooding pace really makes it heavier than if it had of been played faster. The lyrics are heavy and evil as well, and the song climaxes as Ozzy screams “oh, no no/ please god help me”. From there, the pace does pick up slightly with a nice tempo change, and then the original sinister riff continues with even more emphasis. It is an absolutely fantastic opening track for the album and for metal as a genre (Click here to listen to Black Sabbath).
As for the sound of the rest of the album, it really sounds like a combination of what Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull where doing at the time, but with an injection of horror and evil put into the playing and the lyrics. The Zeppelin and Tull similarities make sense in that Zeppelin was certainly the heaviest band around before Sabbath hit the scene, and Tony Iommi did a brief stint in Jethro Tull before joining Sabbath.
In terms of songs, the remaining songs on side-1 are great. “The Wizard” starts off slow with a harmonica intro that sounds like it could easily be a Tull song, but then the song kicks in and gets much heavier as Ozzy starts singing. Next is “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” which is easily my second favorite cut from the album. It is heavy all the way through, and Ozzy’s chorus of “take your body to a corpse” is great and certainly a bit unconventional for 1970. (Click here to listen to Behind the Wall of Sleep). Lastly on side-1, you have “N.I.B.,” which has come to stand for “Nativity in Black,” but when writing the song, it was actually just a nick name that Ozzy gave to Bill Ward’s goatee because it looked like a pen tip (or pen nib). “N.I.B.” has a killer bass intro and the song sounds very much like a Zeppelin song, but the lyrics are much darker, as the song tells the story of Satan falling in love with a woman; it’s certainly not your typical love song.
So, the first half of the album is great and revolutionary, and it basically laid the blue print for heavy metal across the board. Unfortunately, side-2 is not nearly as good as the first. It is shorter, and it is dominated by covers. Both “Evil Woman” and “The Warning” are covers, and they both tend to drag (especially “The Warning,” which is over 10-minutes long). Both songs are pretty typical late 60’s bluesy songs about women, and they don’t really fit the context of the album. “Sleeping Village” is the only original track on the second half of the album, and while it’s not bad, there’s nothing really groundbreaking about it either, and it could easily be an early Zeppelin song. (click here to listen to Sleeping Village)
All in all, “Black Sabbath” is obviously a must own for metal fans because it is the first and the original heavy metal album, but other than the opening track— and to a lesser extent, the songs on side-1, don’t expect to be completely blown away. Sabbath would get much stronger with their subsequent releases, and their golden era really starts with “Paranoid,” which was released just a year after this one.
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