Before Black Sabbath, there were plenty of heavy rock groups: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin. However, the music that Sabbath created in the early 70’s was heavier and darker than anything that came before them, and it would prove fundamental to the band’s success and the industry itself.
Many claim Black Sabbath as the fathers of heavy metal and one of the most influential bands of all time.
Black Sabbath was formed in Birmingham in 1969. The four band members – guitarist Tony Iommi, singer Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward – had been playing together for a year previously, first as Polka Tulk, then as Earth. “When we started out,” Iommi says, “we were a blues rock band.” But one day in ’69, they wrote a song that changed the course of the band and heavy metal itself.
This song, titled Black Sabbath after a horror movie starring Boris Karloff, was based on an Iommi riff that incorporated the tri-tone, known as ‘The Devil’s Interval.’
Most of Sabbath’s mythical reputation rests on the first six albums recorded by the original and classic line-up. “It was a completely original sound,” Rick Rubin says. “Riffs as powerful as they come, Ozzy’s one-of-a-kind vocal delivery, cool words, great rhythmic interplay.”
However, in a recording career that covered 43 years, a total of 23 Black Sabbath albums were released. Some of them great, some of them average, and some just shameful.
At Number 5 we put “Never Say Die.” This album was almost a weak attempt to correct the band’s sound back to its predecessor. Ozzy has temporarily left the band, so it was up to Sabbath and Dave Walker to come up with the lyrics. Coincidentally, right before the band started recording, Ozzy showed up and was back in. All things considered, ‘Never Say Die’ produced better tracks than ‘Technical Ecstasy.’
At Number 4 is “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.” At this point, Iommi was burned out and suffering writer’s block. Then the band relocated to Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire where they believed they saw ghosts. Clearwell Castle is where Iommi regained his inspiration. The castle’s creepy aura drew him to write the first song for the album: its title track, featuring not one but two of his greatest riffs. The finished album was even more adventurous than Vol.4. The alluring Spiral Architect utilized a string section. Sabbra Cadabra – later covered by Metallica – had Rick Wakeman playing piano. He was later paid for his contribution in beer. “For me,” Iommi says, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was the pinnacle.”
At Number 3 we have “Master of Reality.” After the huge success of Paranoid, Sabbath didn’t botch trying to write another hit. Instead they produced what many hold as the heaviest of all Sabbath albums. “Master Of Reality was an experiment,” Iommi says. “On songs like Children Of The Grave and Into The Void, we tuned down three semitones for a bigger sound, with more depth.” The result Sabbath came up with was an album that set the precedents for stoner rock, sludge, and doom metal. Sweet Leaf is the ultimate pothead anthem, beginning with the sound of Iommi choking on a joint. In disparity is the beautiful ease of Solitude, called by the guitarist as “the first love song we ever did.”
Of course, at number 2 we have “Heaven and Hell.” For many Sabbath purists, the band isn’t the same without Ozzy. But according to Geezer Butler, Heaven And Hell, the band’s first album with former Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio, is as good (if not better) as the first five created with Ozzy. And he’s not wrong. Unphased by the responsibility of replacing the legendary voice of Ozzy, Dio reignited a band that had been in decline for five years. His strong, melodic voice and poetic lyrics added a new dimension to Sabbath’s music. This was obviously illustrated by the album’s colossal title track and the mysteriously climatic Children Of The Sea. And on Neon Knights, one of the heaviest songs Sabbath ever recorded, Dio proved himself the greatest metal singer of them all.
And at number 1 we have… “Paraniod!” Released only seven months after their debut, Sabbath’s second album is held as their masterpiece. Three of the eight tracks are legendary heavy metal classics. Let’s take a trip down memory lane: War Pigs, a catastrophic protest song that resonated powerfully in the Vietnam era, Iron Man, a sci-fi fantasy forced by an earthshaking riff, and of course, Paranoid itself, which was thrown together in 25 minutes! Paranoid went on to become Black Sabbath’s most famous song, hitting the UK Top 5 and sending the album to number one. From a clear-cut metal band, this is the conclusive metal album.