3 of the founding original members of metal legends Black Sabbath are currently on tour supporting the most recent offering. 13 is a brilliant slab of pure heavy metal from 3 of the greatest talents in the genre. A brilliant metal record is long overdue. It has put so much of the newer material from newer bands to shame, pounding unoriginal rubbish into dust as a reminder that these professors of perfect metal can still crush anyone and everyone.
Side Note – I also believe Motorhead’s recent offering “Aftershock” is another great metal record that came out at a great time to teach younger bands a lesson in how it gets done.
As a new generation of younger fans begin to discover this music there is the hope from hardcore fans like myself that the complete history of the band is read and researched. The music has influenced generations and will live to influence generations into infinity. Black Sabbath will be looked at as the band that perfected a genre which gave birth to several sub-genres.
While I would submit that the roots of heavy metal would begin with Blue Cheer it was not defined until Black Sabbath’s first record. The self-titled masterpiece remains my favourite record of all time and is a staple in every metal fan’s collection.
The Ozzy Osbourne era Sabbath remains the most recognized and revered of the entire Black Sabbath catalog. Everyone who has listened to a classic rock radio station anywhere in the world has probably heard “Paranoid” more than any other song in music history. It remains impressive to me that the band’s first two records which were released so close together would have such an incredible impact on so many. The lyrical subject matter crossed into so many dark places and the music was meant to match all of it. Drugs, religion, and the occult would just barely scratch the surface of the lyrical themes they would explore.
Musically, Black Sabbath had something incredible happening with the masterful riffing of guitarist Tony Iommi. Tony is widely considered to be an absolute master of compositional guitar playing. Most would agree that to this day Iommi had set the bar to such a level that it is unreachable by anyone. Even when you cross into the eras of Sabbath where record sales were lower and the albums were ignored by many fans Iommi’s riffs were still considered strong.
Iommi’s playing was always tremendously supported with the bass work of Geezer Butler and thunderous drumming of Bill Ward. It all seemed to fit just perfectly.
Fans owe it to themselves to look at each of the Ozzy-era albums and see the great progression of this first lineup. Even the least popular albums of this era do actually bring a handful of heavy moments. I still overall find “Technical Ecstasy” and “Never Say Die” difficult albums to listen to perhaps even more so now then when I was younger. As a fan I’ve become more musically aware of where the difficulties did lie in those records and the seemingly poppy direction they had taken. Even so I still enjoy each of the records.
Even though the first record remains my favourite album of all-time, the era of vocalist Ronnie James Dio was my introduction to the band. As I gradually accumulated the entire Black Sabbath catalog I began to really see this era of the music for how incredible it is. Ronnie James Dio remains my favourite metal vocalist.
Even though the first record remains tops for me, the albums Ronnie James Dio did with Black Sabbath even through to the final “Heaven and Hell” record, are my absolute favourite of the Sabbath discography. I’ve never really pinned down a single reason as to why but looking at each of the albums you can hear something unique. Heaven and Hell showed that there was a fresh approach to the writing process and it allowed guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler to explore more textural concepts in the way songs were structured. While drummer Bill Ward would leave partway through the Heaven and Hell tour and claim to this day he has no memory of making the record due to his substance abuse problems, he turns in great powerful drum performances which really served the complexity of this new musical direction.
The Mob Rules would feature a ton of crushing riffs while still leaving open some spaces for more guitar work that was almost symphonic in nature. I also believe this record showcases the interplay of Iommi and Butler at their very best. The magnificently under-rated “Slipping Away” features a trade-off of guitar and bass leads that still stands up as among the best soloing ever recorded in metal.
Dio in my opinion has been unfairly criticized for the way he sand the Ozzy era songs. I believe he brought a significant flair of drama to those lyrics and put his own personality into the performances. “Live Evil” is still a great record to listen to and brings the listener back to concert performances from The Mob Rules tours.
When The Mob Rules lineup (which featured drummer Vinny Appice) would reunite for Dehumanizer, fans were treated to an album that would be among the heaviest Black Sabbath offerings ever recorded. It is significantly more straight-forward of a record than the first two studio albums from that era.
When this same lineup would do “The Devil You Know” under the band name of Heaven and Hell it would bring another glorious return to form for all 4 musicians. The subsequent tour that would follow would be tragically cut short due to Ronnie Dio’s passing. It reflects one of the reasons that Dio was such an amazing vocalist. He could still deliver such mad passion with his voice and really take the audience with him while belting it out.
Black Sabbath’s history is a lengthy one and contains some interesting music beyond the Ozzy and Dio eras. I will try to visit this at a later date within these pages.
What Black Sabbath record from these two eras is the most important to you and why? What albums do you like the least. Is there anything in particular that stands out?