Friday, May 24, 2013

Black Sabbath: The 70's

Post #244
[Poll Winner: Favorite Metal Band from the '70s]
When it comes to the origins of modern heavy metal music, there are some bands that are always in the conversation. Black Sabbath is one such band. Trying to imagine how metal would have evolved if Tony Iommi had never suggested to his band-mates, "You know, we should write music that's scary" is a hypothetical statement that may cause many fans of metal to worry. Thankfully, he did, and Black Sabbath became the cornerstone for countless other bands to be inspired by. Their focus on the darker side of things set them apart from any of their contemporaries. Many of their early albums from the 1970's remain essential influences for the majority of heavy metal bands starting out today.

Black Sabbath ('70)
A debut album like no other in the history of heavy metal music. Many even go so far as to say that this is where real metal music began! Distinguishing themselves from any other blues-rock band or psychedelic-hippie band with their dark, demonic, heavy tones and ominously haunting lyrics of doom and destruction, Black Sabbath became an instant novelty in the world of heavy rock music. This first album sold way beyond the record company's expectations, and set the stage for a new era of music...

Essential tracks:
-Black Sabbath
-The Wizard
-Wicked World

Paranoid ('70)
Black Sabbath's second album, Paranoid, has remained a true classic among classics. You would be hard pressed to find a more influential album in heavy metal music. Every track is exceptional, and over half the album is included in almost every Sabbath concert set-list or compilation album. Most Black Sabbath songs retained on hard rock radio play-lists are from this album. This is Black Sabbath's best. From a time in their career where they had confidence from the success of their debut, many songs in their repertoire from constant gigging, and as clear a state of mind as they ever had, this album is where the planets aligned for Black Sabbath. Even when they needed one more song because the record was too short, they improvised the title track 'Paranoid' in a matter of minutes- and it has proven to be their best known hit to this day.

Every track on Paranoid is worth listening to. Here they are:
-War Pigs/Luke's Wall
-Planet Caravan (An atypically soft and mellow song, but still loved by many Sabbath fans)
-Iron Man
-Electric Funeral
-Hand of Doom
-Rat Salad (A drum solo by Bill Ward is the prominent segment of this song.)
-Jack the Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots

Master of Reality ('71)
While Paranoid may be the 'best' Black Sabbath album when consulting the majority of fans, Master of Reality has always been my personal favorite. In many ways it is very similar to Paranoid. It has the same amount of low-end heavy tones, lyrics full of cautionary tales of near-future catastrophes, and some of Tony Iommi's most classic metal riffs.

This album, together with the previous two, represents the end of Sabbath's initial phase of creativity. As their career would progress from here, the band quickly got more and more heavily into drug and alcohol abuse. Simultaneously they would begin to experiment with their sound and style, both in terms of composition and recording techniques. For many fans, these first 3 albums are an era of Black Sabbath that is priceless in its originality, and can perhaps never be equaled again.

Check out my top picks from Master of Reality:
-Sweet Leaf
-After Forever
-Children of the Grave (Perhaps my all-time favorite Sabbath song!)
-Into the Void (A post-apocalyptic cautionary tale of life after a nuclear holocaust, when mankind must venture into outer space to find a new habitable planet.)

Volume 4 ('72)
By the time Sabbath got to Vol.4 they had been introduced to the drug culture and international touring. Although some of these experiences led to some high-energy music, they also began to add stress to the cohesiveness of the band. If signs of the band's eventual break up could have been seen early, they probably began to manifest shortly after this album.

Musically, they began experimenting with different sounds and recording techniques with Vol.4. They would take this experimental approach to music much further in the years ahead, with varying degrees of success. In some cases it became another point of tension between band members. However, at this early stage on Vol.4, they were still simply having fun and making music.

Recommended tracks:
-Changes (A very different kind of ballad from Black Sabbath, and a title apropos to their direction at this stage of their career.)
-Under the Sun/ Every Day Comes and Goes

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath ('73)
The last 'great' album from the original Sabbath? It may very well be Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. It contains many concert set-list staples, including the title track and 'Spiral Architect'. Metallica included a cover of 'Sabra Cadabra' on their '98 album of cover tunes: Garage Inc. This album shows Black Sabbath balancing their elements of doom and gloom with their more psychedelic elements in better harmony than on any other album. In the years to come, they would drift a bit further away from their trademark sound, and both their album sales and popularity would fade as a consequence.

Selections from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath:
-Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
-A National Acrobat
-Sabra Cadabra
-Killing Yourself to Live
-Spiral Architect

Sabotage ('75)
This album may not be as good as Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but it is very similar to it. Aside from the first 3 albums, Sabotage slips in to make my personal 'top-5' list of albums from the original Black Sabbath. Like its predecessor, it contains a balance of some expected heaviness mixed with some of Sabbath's experimental elements.

My recommended tracks from Sabotage:
-Hole in the Sky
-Symptom of the Universe
-Meglomania (This song is a 9-minute-plus epic that starts with a head-trippy, psychedelic verse. Shortly after, it transitions to an intense and heavy tune, powered by a riff that once again shows why Iommi is always in the conversation when it comes to the best writers of metal riffs.)
-Am I Going Insane? (Radio) (More of a mainstream feel for this song. It was successful for Sabbath at the time, but it has not remained a favorite of long-time Sabbath fans.)

Technical Ecstasy ('76)
Although this album is generally accepted to be the 'worst' album by the original Black Sabbath, I would like to take a minute to point out some songs from it that may still be worth listening to. I might also say that an open-minded music fan would still appreciate this album a great deal. Some of the aspects that some would call 'bad', are simply instances where Sabbath were brave enough to try something new: the essential struggle of any professional musician.

Recommended songs:
-Back Street Kids (For what it's worth, this does does have a nice, high-tempo riff, coming close to Sabbath's glory days...)
-You Won't Change Me (A little doomy, a little trippy, this song almost sounds like Black Sabbath trying to be Deep Purple, but it's not bad.)
-Dirty Women (This song was resurrected back in '98 for their double-live Reunion album. Hearing it performed live, you can tell that it really is a pretty good song, built upon another classic Iommi riff)

Never Say Die! ('78)
This album was Ozzy's swan-song  with Black Sabbath (at least until the 1998 reunion, then later in 2011 until present.) The band's cohesion had been deteriorating slowly over the previous years, and things came to a head at some point between Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die! In fact, the album was almost recorded with a different lead singer, but for better or for worse, they recorded and released it shortly prior to the band's official dismissal of Ozzy as their vocalist. In hindsight, the split proved beneficial to both Ozzy's career and Sabbath's.

A couple good tunes from this final recording of the original Black Sabbath:
-Never Say Die!
-Johnny Blade (Synthesizer intro, but then it becomes a heavy tune with lyrics that provide social commentary on violent crime and life on the streets.)
-Shock Wave
-Swinging the Chain (Features lead vocals by drummer Bill Ward.)

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