In terms of Metal there is no way in denying it as the breakthrough album. I have been giving a lot of though about it for some time. As a historian, I resist on such landmarks because there is no such thing. I believe in History as a process, and sometimes there are some facts that escape from the average, and that is the case with Black Sabbath. Let make myself clear. Heavy Metal did not begin in February 13th, 1970, when Black Sabbath was released as some people, specially journalists, believe. It was a process that began some years back in time. By 1965 or 1966, maybe. Very hard to track precisely. There was Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Blue Cheer, Led Zeppelin, and so many least known others. But yeah, Black Sabbath’s Black Sabbath was a staple.
Ouch! What do you mean? Aren’t you talking the same things in a different way?
No, not really. Stephen J. Gould a few years ago proved that Marx and Engels were right in terms of succeeding facts in science, most remarkably in History for them. Things go on a certain pace, and then, suddenly, something happens to break things down. Rock was evolving in different paths, one of them was psychedelic rock which was getting more and more heavy. Sabbath was the top of that evolution. A kind of leap of faith in the process. After them a new name was required to name properly what they were playing, and it was Heavy Metal.
All the bands I quoted before had some characteristics of HM. But not all. Some had the sound, others had some kind of attitude, but none had everything it takes together. Mostly the attitude. And HM is above all attitude as Deena Weinsein says. Black Sabbathhad it all: the sound, the attitude, the clothing, the lyrics, the squeaky voiced singer, the noisy and loud guitarist, the thundering and pounding drummer, the powerstation bassist.
As their peers, and it could not be that different, because there is no such thing as spontaneous generation as Marx says, Black Sabbath followed the blues formula. That is why historical materialism insist on a before. There is always a before. Things do not just come out of the blue. In this very particular case from the blues. But their blues was quite different. More distortion, louder than ever, a funny psycho singer with an uncanny voice for the time, lyrics that put away that peace love stuff and dared to talk about the dark, guitar powerchords. If one were to choose another label to Sabbath, dark blues would fit well. In the beginning there were still some colorful clothing, but note that Tony Iommi has always wore black. Deena Weinstein emphasizes on the attitude towards the songwriting. Soon after did all the band. Evolution reached its peak in Black Sabbath. Hippies’ weirdest and wildest dream, or nightmare. Black Sabbath were the excess of the excess. Too loud, too dark, too weird.
Well, let’s go to the album, shall we?
First of all, it was the first full Black Sabbath’s album that I heard. Until then, I have only heard some compilations. By far, it is the album I like most above Sabbath’s and others. I do love others, but this is special. I still listen to it – as I am doing right now. I confess I got astonished the first time. Though I was already used to heavy music, the first experience with Black Sabbath is really something different. The intense, the power, the songs are really of a certain unearthly compound. I dare anyone who says that did not get frightened when listening to “Black Sabbath” for the first time. The rain, the out-of-this-world laughs, the tritone. It still gives me the chills.
Let me give you a realistic picture of what Black Sabbath meant at their time.
Kiss fans know this oddity better. Picture yourself somewhere in England – or somewhere else – in the beginning of 1970. You are in your late teens, long shaggy haired, a true believer of the dream, a real flower power person. You go to a record store to look for the latest releases, and then you see a record with an strange lady in the cover with the uncanny and unholy name of Black Sabbath. You soon get attracted to it. All of a sudden, you do not know exactly why, you decide to purchase the album. You reach home fast. You cannot dare to wait to play it on. And then the (black) magic begins… Nobody, or nothing can take you apart from Black Sabbath from then on. The flowers disappear, the clothing get black, iron crosses are on your neck, the dream was over… John Lennon was right about the end of the dream, but he was wrong about how it was. If The Beatles were the dream, Black Sabbath were the nightmare. And what an ugly nightmare!
A funny fact about the cover art: some still believe the woman is really Ozzy.
There is more! “Black Sabbath” is based on the unholy tritone. “N.I.B.” talks about evil and Lucifer. No one has dared before. No one has gone so far. “The Wizard” is self-explained. “Wicked World” dares to say that this world is not made of fully happiness, that there is no pot of gold in the end of the rainbow. Flower power are over or not enough to fight evil in this wicked world.
Useless to say that “Black Sabbath” received the worst of the reviews by art criticals. “B horror movies soundtrack,” “a pile of crap,” are the most common opinions at the time for it. Well, about “B horror movies soundtrack” they were absolutely right. Ozzy, in documentary about his life, confessed that in a conversation he, Toni and Geezer had, Toni mentioned why not writing songs that could appeal to horror movies fans. The rest are histories.
The musical breakthrough
Most have been said about “Black Sabbath,” so I will attain myself on the unknow or least known facts.
“Black Sabbath” has two musical faces that would dominate the Sabbath’s musical writing for some time. One is the heavy rock, or HM, face with all its facets: the dark, the dense, the distortion, the evil, the black. “Evil Woman” and “N.I.B.” are the best representatives. The other is the psychedelic rock with the uncanny atmospheres, strange cadences. “Behind The Wall of Sleep” and “Sleeping Village” tell it better. This dual facet will battle in Black Sabbath throughout Ozzy’s era. Some bluesy elements as the harmonica in “The Wizard” will be vanished out completely. In albums like “Technical Extasy” and “Never Say Die,” the psychedelic facet will be overwhelming. In others, the most relevant ones in terms of discography and commercial success, the heavy rock will prevail.
Many do not perceive, but there is no way of talking about Black Sabbath’s music without saying anything about the drumming. Heavy, powerfull, punchy, full of notes as never before. The drumming in Black Sabbath is also an outcome of its time. Drummers as Ginger Baker and Mitch Mitchell were evolving a more flamboyant style of drumming with more notes. That gave them a heavier sound. And as many drummers of the time, Bill Ward was self-instructed, in the drums it means that you punch harder. The harder you punch, the heavier the music gets. Drums in Black Sabbath have the task of giving more power to songs.
The bass playing, as the drumming, follows the evolution of the instrument in rock. In Black Sabbath, the bass plays in important role of playing all the musical conventions with the guitar in order to give more strength. It also leaves the guitar free to fly. Tony Iommi is an improvisation guitarist as he learned through the blues musical school. The bass in Sabbath gives the hint to the followers. It gives the precise notes to reinforce the songs. Moreover, in doing so, songs get heavier.
And Ozzy? Well, Ozzy is Ozzy. As simple as that. There would no Black Sabbath without him. I have no doubt about it.
So this is it. “Black Sabbath” is the quintessential to HM and to rock. All of this to an album that took only one day to be recorded and it was recorded alive, a technique still very well used nowadays.
- Black Sabbath
- The Wizard
- Behind The Wall of Sleep
- Evil Woman
- Sleeping Village
Funny facts about the track listing:
- The intro to “Behind The Wall of Sleep” is called “Wasp.”
- The intro to “N.I.B.” is called “Bassically.”
- The intro to “Sleeping Village” is called “Bit of Finger.”