Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
There can be perhaps no more significant calling for a metal critic than to embark to “criticise” the debut album of metal titans Black Sabbath. I consider this such a necessary exercise that this is probably the fourth or fifth time I have done so (For those that want to kick around and find my old blog, one such example is there, and happens to be the review that got me the first offer to write here at Black Wind Metal). 42 years later, this album can be examined, and must be understood on three essential levels. Firstly, the music itself, as I said in my previous thoughts on this album: Raw. What can be said about Sabbath’s debut that hasn’t been said a million times? That it took the blues, distorted it past recognition, and played the most evil riffs mankind had ever heard? Sure, there had been some heavy blues in 1968 and 1969, and even some distorted psychedelic music, but nothing like the brand of metal that Black Sabbath was about to unleash on the world.
On a historical level, this shift cannot be understood. While the album may not have immediate resonance to some modern audiences, to do what was done on this record was completely unprecedented, and its impact was immediate. Within a year, metal bands were already cropping up in various forms of heavily distorted blues rock, and horror elements working their way into previously established and successful bands.
To understand this album and its impact, I would propose to examine two songs: the first track (conveniently titled “Black Sabbath”), and the fourth (“N.I.B.”). To say the least, these two tracks represent the dawn of metal, and the outrageous talent that all four members of the band put into the work. Perhaps no song can be so romantically metal as the title track, which starts with a thunderstorm in the background and the ominous church bells, before launching into a three note riff that is at its core, completely unsettling and haunting. Ozzy wails over the track of a man deeply distressed by Satan’s pursuit of him, and as the song builds in tension, it eventually explodes into a high octane finish. Ozzy screams for his life, “No, No, please no”, and Tony Iommi unleashes something on his guitar that can only be described as downright unholy. Remember that this is no imitation, no caricature of previously established tropes, or imitation of anything that had been done in rock music before.
The second major point of interest, “N.I.B.”, opens with an extended bass solo, leading into the kind of heavy, simplistic, and domination riff that would define Black Sabbath’s career, and establish Tony Iommi as the greatest riff-writer of all time. Rhythmically, the band is solid, and all is in perfect order. Outside of these, there are great songs like “The Wizard”, which is a minor showcase for Bill Ward’s drumming, and the 10 minute “Warning”, which in some respects is an Anysley Dunbar cover (Notable for losing the opportunity to be the drummer for Jimi Hendrix on a coin flip), but much more serves as 6 minutes of unrelenting Tony Iommi guitar solo. The reaction to these elements and the horror oriented nature of the lyrics established a precedent that would be fully realised on the band’s next release, and would go on to define more than four decades of musical development.
Truthfully, this album is not one that needs to have its merits affirmed, this is the birth of heavy metal, and to not be familiar with it is a shame on so many levels. Though I am not particularly comfortable assigning this a score, site policies are site policies, and for all the romanticism, this is not Black Sabbath’s best work by a long shot.
Dagg’s Rating: 4.25 out of 5