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Where it all began - 94%

radiohater, January 16th, 2004

This is the culmination of the work of four motley young men from Birmingham England. The lead singer was a dyslexic who had spent some time in jail for breaking and entering with a thin banshee-esque wail. The guitarist had lost the ends of two of his fingers, using thimbles made from a melted plastic bottle and leather straps. The bass player had switched from rhythm guitar upon hearing the music of Cream, and the drummer was apparently incapable (on his own admission) of playing a basic 4/4 rhythm. These four young men seemed not to have a hope in hell. Their initial lineup was formed from the ashes of two local bands, Mythology and Rare Breed, becoming the six-man entity The Polka Tulk Blues Band. After shedding two members, they re-named themselves Earth, and after some time when their new style started to take shape, the group rechristened themselves Black Sabbath, and promptly got a record deal, recording a single (a cover of Crow's Evil Woman) before being fobbed off onto a smaller label. The recording of this album supposedly took place in its entirety on November 11 1969. On February 13 1970, Black Sabbath's first effort was released and the world would be changed forever.

The record was something completely different to what had previously been heard anywhere. There had been numerous experiments in Hard Rock, the most notable being Cream, The Who, Deep Purple and Blue Cheer, but this was an entity unto itself. This was something even darker, heavier and more intimidating, although it had a rather loose and jammy feel to it. This album gave birth to heavy metal, with the title track itself spawning a subgenre, doom metal. Predictably showing how out of touch they were with music at the time, the critics quickly panned the album, with The Village Voice even going so far as to refer to it as "the worst of the counterculture on a plastic platter." However, the fans knew they liked it, and the album ended up going
straight into the UK Top 10, peaking atnumber 8.

The Cast

John "Ozzy" Osbourne (vocals, harmonica) - Ozzy's vocal performance here isn't at all pretty. He shows here a lack of range and a throaty wail. What makes this performance so good though is the way he uses his voice to convey emotion. On the title track, he sounds genuinely fearful for his life. He also shows quite an impressive ear, being responsible for the rather catchy vocal melodies on the album. Perhaps one of the finest performances of his rather lengthy career.

Frank "Tony" Iommi (guitar) - Tony's guitar style here is metal in it's purest form, laying down riff after riff with considerable power. Most of the riffs here are quite simple, but extremely effective. His lead style is a more focused structured one, mostly centered around catchy motifs. Another one of his trademarks, double-tracked leads to give the illusion of two lead guitars, also appears here, most notably on N.I.B.

Terence "Geezer" Butler (bass) - Building on the work of fellow bassists Jack Bruce (Cream) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Geezer plays a rather loose pattern adding in fills, rather than just playing basic root notes. He also shows some of his talents in the small bass intro to N.I.B. (also known as Bassically). He has since become one of the most influential bass players in metal, from Steve Harris to Jason Newsted.

Bill Ward (drums) - By his own admission, Bill Ward cannot play a straight rhythm or keep time, a problem that would usually be disastrous in a band setting. However, Bill solves this problem by being fill happy, using his drums to complement Iommi's riffing. The result is an emphasis on the loose and jammy feel of the album.

Production was handled by Roger Bain, and is mixed well. The drums are evenly mixed, and the bass is quite prominent in the mix as well (given that it's Geezer, that's pretty much required). The most notable aspect is that the guitar sound is full and heavy, providing most of the power for the band (as opposed to other bands where the drums were the main power). The way that the guitar was mixed on this album is unique to almost any other band around that time. Ozzy's vocals are mixed to the front, as is his harmonica.

Choice Cuts

Black Sabbath - Quite a few metalheads have memories of putting this song on late at night for the first time and promptly being scared shitless by it. This track opens with the sound of rain and church bells ringing, before diving straight into one of the most ominous riffs ever put to record. The song quiets down a little, punctuated by tom fills from Ward, then Ozzy chips in with a rather melancholy and fearful delivery. Truly fearful stuff. Around 4:36, the song picks up with Ozzy getting more and more frightened, before he screams "NO, NO, PLEASE NO!" After that the solo section kicks in, featuring an equally scary solo from Iommi until the song ends violently. Truly hair-raising stuff.

N.I.B. - This is a cut that got them into trouble, due to the line "My name is Lucifer, please take my hand." This starts off with an impressive bass solo from Geezer, before going into a signature Iommi riff. A signature aspect of early Sabbath comes to the fore during Iommi's solo, in which Geezer and Ward are also doing something different, playing plenty of fills. This sort of thing seems totally nonsensical, but somehow it makes total sense. This also features one of Iommi's signature double-tracked leads.

Wicked World - The final cut on this album (apparently not on all versions of the originals), it opens with a hihat figure modeled on Gene Krupa (betraying Ward's jazz influence), going into a jazzy section ending with some punishing fills from Ward. The song then goes into a slow riff, then into palm-muted chugging under Ozzy's vocal lines. Ozzy's voice sounds strange on this track, sounding a lot more piercing here. That part of the song fades out, leading to a finger-picked open string figure from Iommi supported by Geezer. This leads into an a capella guitar solo a la Heartbreaker. The song then
reprises the verse before ending with the jazzy section that it started with. An excellent and varied song from Black Sabbath.

Off Cuts

The Warning - This one, built around a 12-bar blues figure, seems to meander on quite aimlessly for 10 minutes, making for a rather uninteresting listen.

Closing Comments

This is where it all began. It is not a perfect album (nothing is ever perfect the first time around), but this album is still revered far and wide, and is required listening for any metalhead.