With pounding drums, wailing vocals, thumping bass and epic riffage, ‘Black Sabbath’ didn’t welcome you with open arms.
The flower-power happiness of the Sixties was being replaced by the doom and depression of the 1970’s and Black Sabbath were the perfect role-models. Other bands such as Deep Purple Led Zeppelin and most notably Cream had shown the world what Heavy is and Sabbath came just in time to make it creepy, too.
After signing to Philips Records in December 1969, and releasing their first flopped single, ” through subsidiary Fontana Records the band switched to Vertigo Records and were afforded two days of studio time in late January to record their debut album with producer Rodger Bain. Iommi recalls recording live: ‘We thought ‘We have two days to do it and one of the days is mixing.’ So we played live. Ozzy was singing at the same time, we just put him in a separate booth and off we went. We never had a second run of most of the stuff.’
The eponymous ‘Black Sabbath’ was released on Friday the 13th, February 1970 as per the managers insistent request. It reached number 8 in the UK and following its US release, it reached number 23 on the Billboard 200, where it remained for over a year. While the album was a commercial success, it was widely panned by critics, with legendary bad boy music journalist Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone dismissing the album as ‘discordant jams with bass and guitar reeling like velocitised speedfreaks all over each other’s musical perimeters, yet never quite finding synch’. It has since been certified platinum in both sides of the pond, naturally.
With pounding drums, wailing vocals, thumping bass and the guitar of the riffmaster Tony Iommi. ‘Black Sabbath’ didn’t welcome you with open arms. They just bulldozed into your collective and grabbed you by the balls to introduce you to their world. The title track is a master class in Heavy Metal songwriting. The opening picked riff coupled with Ozzy’s wailing vocals leading to the thundering middle riff must have sent punters running for cover! Heavy and very heavy was Black Sabbath’s message. ‘The Wizard’, complete with harmonica is a glorious number with fantastic lyrics that would later become a trademark of Ozzy’s capabilities. ‘Behind The Wall Of Sleep’ shows their diversity in musical tastes. Not content to play straight down the middle Metal. They introduced awkward time changes, alternating drum fills. These guys could play. The live favourite ‘N.I.B’ needs little introduction save to say that this is one of Iommi’s classic riffs. ‘Evil Woman‘ strays off the Metal path and once again shows us their Jazz and Blues influences with a great bass riff by ‘the quiet one’ Geezer Butler. Another part of their signature monolithic sound is Iommi’s acoustic playing which starts off ‘Sleeping Village‘ then leading to another great riff: slow, brooding then some Jazz-inspired drums from Bill Ward underplayed by a fantastic Butler-bass-run and culminating in some fantastic double-tracked guitar soloing from Iommi. The class of musician on this groundbreaking album is truly remarkable.
Decades later, the album is hailed as the first heavy metal album, and one of rock and roll’s finest. Though perhaps not Black Sabbath’s finest contribution to music -for that we had to wait a few months- while longer, the album excellent, easy to find, and dirt cheap. Both fans of blues influenced hard rock and heavy metal or all sorts should find something they like on the album, be it the creepy title track, the musically superb ‘N.I.B.’, or the excellent solos found on ‘Warning‘ and ‘Wicked World‘.