Black Sabbath… The name itself could make a few of you running away thinking this blog has been hijacked by a bunch of metal fetishists. But no, please stay. I must say I had the same cliché in mind before I discovered the beauty of this band a few years ago. There are actually two bands in their history : the first one with the classic line-up and Ozzy Osbourne as the lead singer and …other ones with different musicians and singers which frankly I do not know at all but seems to be much less interesting (of course, you will always find people telling you they prefer early Beatles or late-period Roxy Music but they must be good liars or a bunch of morons). So here we are in 2014, the year after the classic Sabbath line-up reformed, recorded a quite good LP with Rick Rubin (“13”) and has toured the world…No better time then to revisit their first six albums which are not only metal but simply rock classics.
“Black Sabbath” (1970) : A 7-track album to start with, beginning with the sound of thunder and rain and a quite scary cover ; this is black metal! Except that this is more a blues band than anything else. So, yes for sure, one can find the pseudo-Satanic feel one can expect to meet in a metal album but this is frankly more funny than scary stuff. And the tracks are immense : long but structured jams lead sometimes by Ozzy Osbourne’s almost soulful (!) voice but mainly by Tony Iommi’s heavy weighted guitar riffs which are really upfront in the mix. Not bad for a guy who only has eight valid fingers (read story if interested). A very good album to begin Sabbath’s discovery for any rock fans with open ears (8/10). Top tracks: “Black Sabbath”, “N.I.B.” and “The Warning”.
“Paranoid” (1970) : Second album just a few months after the first one and within the first year of recordings. This might probably be their most famous and accessible LP. Songs are (sometimes) more concise and the band are much more mature in their sound, doubling melodies very often with voice and guitar. That makes it an album that everyone can whistle along but which keeps its great metal/blues sounding with an inch of psychedelia (cf. “Planet Caravan”). And even if still short in number of songs (not a criticism here), it does contain the great anti-Vietnam song “War Pigs” on which generation of fathers and sons have been competing on the late Guitar Hero video game! (9/10). Top tracks: “War Pigs”, “Paranoid” and “Iron Man”.
“Master Of Reality” (1971) : Sabbath’s third album went out quickly as well after the previous one. We were at a time when Marketing departments were more naive and when bands were putting out records when songs were available. Same formula, i.e. eight songs out of which two instrumentals and six long tracks. This album is a grower due to the fact that melodies are less easy to find out but the mood of the songs is really nice with slow and peaceful moments mixed with more punchy and bluesy ones. Once more, listen to this album and your clichés about Black Sabbath being a hard rock band will vanish (8.5/10). Top tracks: “Sweet Leaf”, “Children of the Grave” and “Lord of this World”.
“Black Sabbath, Vol.4” (1972) : This fourth LP was not that different sound-wise from the previous one, alternating pure heavy rock songs, ballads and a couple of interesting instrumentals. The real difference lies however in the way this album had been recorded as the band were super coke and drugs consumers at that time, hitting the best clichés of “Spinal Tap“. This does not appear though while listening to this album as the band were still on top of their game (8/10). Top tracks: “Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener”, “Changes” and “Snowblind”.
“Sabbath bloody Sabbath” (1973) : … or how to (slightly) lose the plot… Although the tracks when good were really good, this is an album which does not have the same quality level in all songs. This is probably due to the fact that rumours of internal tension were growing every day, coming from still strong dependency from drugs and unsatisfied egos. Add up on top of this the will to experiment a bit awkwardly with strings, synthesizers or more complex arrangement and you find yourself with a partially very good LP (7.5/10). Top tracks: “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, “Sabbra Cadabra” and “Killing Yourself To Live”.
“Sabotage” (1975) : Probably the last album of interest before the 2013 reunion, “Sabotage” is at the same time considered as the last of Black Sabbath magnificent six without being that well-known. It is true that its songs are not the most famous ones but the album has a great atmosphere throughout, mixing up new sounds (Spanish guitar!) with the band being on “classic rock” form. There is however an overall feeling that this LP marks the end of an era which makes difficult for the listener to be as enthusiastic as with the first LP’s (7.5/10). Top tracks: “Symptom of the Universe”, “Megalomania” and “The Writ”.