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Black Sabbath had released five amazing albums from 1970-1973. The band took a well-deserved break from writing and recording new music after a blazing start to their musical career. The Birmingham-based rockers had started out as a heavy blues band with their self-titled debut album and 'Paranoid', then went on to play more straight-forward (and down-tuned) heavy metal with 'Master of Reality' and 'Vol. 4', and the band continued to explore new territories within the heavy music scene by releasing 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath', which wasn't only heavy, but also combined some soothing, and almost cheerful, progressive rock/metal elements with brilliantly executed acoustic guitars and keyboards.
Black Sabbath would build on what they created on 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' and released the even more experimental and progressive 'Sabotage' in 1975. While not as sophisticated (and in my opinion; amazing) as 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath', 'Sabotage' has got some of the band's finest moments in terms of evolving and just pure musical enjoyment.
'Sabotage' starts off in a ferocious manner with "Hole in the Sky"; a song that has a very heavy and memorable riff and some of Ozzy's finest vocals. It's a relatively straight-forward track, if you compare it with the more technical and progressive semi-epics that are also on this album. The same can be said about a song like "Symptom of the Universe", which has a very fast, and almost proto-thrashy main-riff, but then breaks into an acoustic section that is perfectly executed and doesn't interfere with the mean heaviness otherwise heard on this track. "Thrill of it All" is another song that is fairly straight-forward and driven by the might riff of Iommi, and is probably the best pure "metal track" on 'Sabotage'.
The more progressive elements are exercised to the fullest on the almost ten minute epic "Megalomania". It's got pretty much everything that later prog rock/metal bands would later exercise and further build upon. A quite complex song structure, tempo changes, mood changes... it goes from slow, dark and melancholic to a fast, up-beat song and the song just feels shorter than it really is. "The Writ", the album's closing track, can also be considered a semi-epic clocking in at almost nine minutes and shares a similar progressive nature to "Megalomania", though, not as impressive in terms of complexity. The keys/synth is also utilized more on 'Sabotage' than ever before on "Am I Going Insane (Radio)" and the impressive instrumental "Supertzar".
Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill are all in great shape too as far as musical talent goes. Ozzy's voice is stronger than ever, Tony's guitar-work is more progressive-orientated, as well as technical and virtuoso-like, than ever before, but still flexes his straight-forward heavy rocking riffs too, and rhythm section Geezer and Bill are as solid and bad-ass as always.
There is really nothing wrong with 'Sabotage'. I prefer 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' by an inch or so, but 'Sabotage' is well and truly a masterpiece in its own right and deserves the highest praise from all metal fans, since it covers pretty much everything that is metal today (except the extreme black and death metal, but you get the point).
It would be near impossible to overstate the influence of Black Sabbath. How many bands can claim that they not only created a genre, but perfected it almost from the get-go? Only the mighty Sabbath, and yet, with the creation of a rapidly growing genre and five classic albums already under their belt, they still weren't ready to rest on their laurels. Sabotage wasn't created by a band that had anything left to prove, but you wouldn't be able to tell just by listening to it. It's truly admirable that a band as massively acclaimed and respected as Sabbath was in the year 1975 was still really firing on all cylinders. So, in terms of the music itself, why is Sabotage such a respectable effort?
Well, for starters, going through the six essential Sabbath albums in order, you really notice how their composition skills got stronger and stronger progressively, with Sabotage being the apex. With the exception of some sections of Megalomaniac, there's very little dead air on this album. It all feels very purposeful, and whenever a musical motif starts to wear thin, the song fluidly transitions into a completely new one. For example, the song Symptom of the Universe-it starts out with an ultra-heavy, chugging riff, and after a quick verse-chorus-verse, goes into what is perhaps Tony Iommi's finest guitar solo, which then transitions into an absolutely radiant reggae-tinged acoustic outro. None of it is predictable, yet at the same time none of it is forced.
On top of that, Ozzy has really found a niche with his vocal style. Ozzy isn't a great singer, and he seems to know it. So, to make up for his decidedly un-pretty voice, he focuses on what he's good at-being as imposing and intimidating as possible, to the significant benefit of songs like Hole in the Sky or Thrill of it All. He does get a little sidetracked on the overly melodic Am I Going Insane, easily the album's weakest track, but more than makes up for it on every other track.
The instrumentation, big shocker, is also great. Bill Ward's drumming is probably at its best ever, particularly with the furious fills on the track Symptom of the Universe. Tony Iommi still has yet to run out of great riffs (and with the success of 13 28 years later, one wonders if Tony Iommi actually did sell his soul for his talent). With the exception of Symptom of the Universe, he focuses less on solos here and more on double-tracked, layered riffs akin to the style of Rush's Alex Lifeson. Geezer's bass playing on Sabotageis a little slack compared to the frenetic, busy basslines he lived for on Paranoid or Vol. 4, but in terms of keeping the rhythm incredibly tight, he more than does his job.
The production here is stellar. Every instrument sounds crystal clear, and every song sounds massive and arena-ready. Producing an album like this would have been a Herculean task as well, considering how frequently the atmosphere shifts gears. To tweak the sound perfectly so that the outro to Symptom can fit like a glove on the same album as a dark, heavy track like Superztar is an incredible feat, so props to Mike Butcher (who I admittedly was not familiar with before looking up his name just now) for handling it gracefully and tactfully.
Ultimately, an album like Sabotage stands as a testament to how great Black Sabbath really is. It distinctly carries their stylistic mark, yet sounds quite different from anything they had put out before. And on top of that, for all I've gushed about this album, I'd still put it on the lower end of a ranked list of classic-era Sabbath albums. To a Sabbath beginner, I'd say start with the first four LP's, then get this and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath later, but that's not to say either LP is any less rewarding. Sabotage is an absolutely essential album.
Like most great bands, Black Sabbath have tweaked and changed their sound gradually, maintaining a distinctive core sound, but experimenting with the way they choose to approach it. Everything since "Master of Reality" witnessed Sabbath moving ever closer to a more mellowed, progressive sound. While I felt invigorated as a listener to hear the band transform their heavy riffs into something refined and sophisticated, I could not help but miss the grit and ugliness that made the band's first two releases so great. By the point of their fifth album "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", I could have sworn that the godfathers of heavy metal had distanced themselves from metal permanently.
Of course, a masterpiece like "Sabotage" was enough to change my mind.
I had heard alot of great things about Sabbath's sixth album before finally giving it a listen. Many fans of the band would even go as far as to tell me it was their favourite Sabbath album. Although the winning streak of excellent albums would allegedly end after this, "Sabotage" is a glorious return to the heavy metal crunch, all the way keeping their more recent prog sensibilities in mind. Although the idea of a 'return to roots' intrinsically means to take steps back and regress, the progress Black Sabbath made with sophisticated rock arrangements has not been lost. Here, the synths are subdued in exchange for a rekindled devotion to Iommi's almighty riff.
Although Ozzy Osbourne and his vocal melodies still reach for the high notes (as was the case for "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath") his vocals feel more accustomed for it. I have never considered Ozzy to be the most technically proficient vocalist, but his dynamic performance on "Sabotage" demonstrates he is capable of much more than his solo career lets on. The incredible closer and highlight "The Writ" has his vocals fit whatever mold the music warrants. The song is first filled with some classic Iommi riffage, and Osbourne's performance matches it with an intense, belting voice. Keeping in line with their progressive side however, the song then breaks into a soft, unsettling moment where Ozzy sounds almost like some of Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters' more psychotic moments on "The Wall".
"Hole In The Sky", "Symptom of the Universe" and "Thrill of it All" are all powerful, rock-oriented songs driven by Iommi's thick riff mastery. At ten minutes long, "Megalomania" is a step above most hard rock in terms of its sophistication, fitting in crunchy guitars with piano and eerie soft spots. Although less than a minute long, "Don't Start (Too Late)" is an ample demonstration of Tony Iommi's skill with acoustic guitars, a haunting piece that sounds like a rendition of something Igor Stravinsky would do. "Am I Going Insane" is the obvious choice for a radio single here, despite being led with prog-canon moogs. Ozzy's vocals are schizoid and quirky, making it one of the catchiest tracks in Sabbath's discography.
Geezer Butler once said that "Sabotage" was so titled because the band felt that they as a band were being sabotaged by other people 'ripping them off'. Perhaps this concept may be seen as a heavy metal equivalent to Floyd's cynical dissection of the music industry in "Wish You Were Here". Although it's well-known that Black Sabbath weren't getting along too well at this point, "Sabotage" is among Sabbath's best work, perhaps rivaled only with "Paranoid" as their crowning statement. It's unfortunate that things would go downhill from here for the godfathers of metal, but I can't think of a better way for Black Sabbath to wrap up their classic era.
This album is nothing short of a heavy metal masterpiece, in my humble opinion. Sabbath really redefined their sound and peaked with both this and their previous release, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. One can hear layered guitars galore and a production that gives the entire album an "otherworldly" sound (and transports the listener entirely somewhere else indeed!).
The album comes out swinging with "Hole in the Sky" which showcases all four members at the top of their craft. A classic riff by Tony along with a wonderfully dissonant double-tracked harmony guitar lead, a soaring and melodic vocal line by Ozzy, an incredibly fluid and contrasting bass line coupled with finely crafted lyrical imagery by Geezer, and thundering drumming by Bill Ward all combine to make an incredible whole that is DEFINITELY more than the sum of its parts (and this is only the FIRST TRACK!). A short, classically inspired and dissonant acoustic guitar piece by Tony follows and segues into the classic and bone crunching "Symptom of the Universe" which includes a beautiful acoustic layered and melodic outro that is just as lovely as anything the classic prog-rock bands ever did (i.e. ELP, Yes, Tull, etc). This hard/soft formula works so well for Sabbath on this album that they continue to employ it with several of the upcoming tracks. "Megalomania" takes it and reverses the order, starting out with an ambient arrangement that can only be described as "haunting". Midway through the song, the tempo changes and Sabbath pounds it home like only they can with possibly the most classic and ne'er heard riff of their career and definitely some of the most sinister vocals ever heard on tape before or since.
(Here comes side two, for all of you who first discovered this gem on VINYL.)
Just when you think it can't possibly get any better, "The Thrill of it All" comes in with an incredible start/stop riff that leaves you drooling on your fretboard! The "hard/soft" formula is again employed and the outro section is every bit as exquisite as the ones that preceded it, if not more so. Next, the Sabs take it up another notch with the awesome "Supertzar", which is an instrumental piece that uses a full choir to sing the phonetic and inspiring vocal lines. GEEZ! If only to give us a break, the next track, "Am I Going Insane (Radio)", is the "single" on the album (if there really ever was such a thing on a Sab release). Lesser in total track time, but no less weird, the protagonist of the song continually asks the listener about the state of his mental health over rhythm tracks that race probably as fast as the poor man's thoughts and sound equally dissonant as his cognitive processes. At the end, one can hear bizarre screams of agony over careless laughter which only slightly prepares you for the magnum opus which is to come. "The Writ" starts out innocuously enough with a fluid bass line that only slightly hints at the massive wall of sound to follow. Lyrically, the piece seems to lash out at the horrible management situation the Sabs had just crawled out from under. Sonically, the song is no less poignant. As if stating that the previous efforts did not quite meet their own great expectations, they go again into a melodic outro that seals this masterpiece in the annals of heaviness.
As if at this point the quivering puddle of what was once the listener on the floor really cares...
- Randy Michaud (TrogDawn)
Apparently, this album was Black Sabbath's attempt at a straight rock album. That's news to me because Sabotage has some of the band's heaviest moments. When it was all finished, it still ended up sounding like the evil heavy metal they were known for. Unfettered, the goal to record a more traditional hard rock sound was tried even harder for the following two albums-and they succeeded but to awful results. But why? I can kind of understand the band's intent with Sabotage. If heavy metal was its own genre in 1975, it would have been mostly recognized to be populated with not only Black Sabbath but bands like Kiss, BOC, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple or Nazareth. But we can more or less all agree that the genre proper would not begin until about 1979-ish when magazines were dedicated to promoting Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and the rest of the NWOBHM hordes along with Sabbath. But before that, Black Sabbath was an island..a brand unto themselves: they were metal and metal was them. There would be those who rebut with "don't forget Pentagram!" but let's be serious, as good as they were/are, Pentagram at that time was just a bar band who trucked from dive to dive playing a sound that can best be described as a cocktail of a little Black Sabbath and alot of Blue Cheer. So if there were any other "trues", they were just glorified tribute bands and even with those you had to be very fortunate to run into them unlike now where you can access 83,000 plus bands (and counting) via search engine. We tend to forget that fact so easily. So, if you were old enough in the early to mid 1970's and you wanted to listen to music about death, war, drugs and other destruction with a sound that actually backed it up, Black Sabbath was the option. Take it or leave it.
Okay, so the question stands: Why did Black Sabbath seemingly want to make Sabotage more in the vein of an "accessible" hard rock album? Respectability? Please. Creem and Rolling Stone had long since dismissed this band with scathing reviews on every album during their heyday. And self-respecting rockers hated them too. No, I'm afraid the answer to the question really is quite more simple than that but very clever in design. After all, this Brummie bunch were of the goofy sort that managed to be more down-to-earth yet eccentric in sound than the average decadent rock wanker. The keyword in the first sentence of this paragraph is 'seemingly'. You see, the running gag is that by trying to intentionally create a more "hard rock" sound, Black Sabbath only established themselves as far heavier still than everyone else and therefore managed to prove that no matter what, they were playing something much different than hard rock even when they were trying to be more rock-ish; something not yet defined but burgeoning into as yet something to be determined to be what would later be known as the metal genre. Of course, this was already true for them with their previous albums but by diversifying their sound they reinforced this notion to an even greater extent essentially becoming the Lily Munster of the hard rock scene; claiming and shown to be lovingly part of a motley group but standing out like a sore thumb and "uglier" than their peers when in actuality they are really beautiful. This time though, Black Sabbath decided to play up and expound on the joke even further.
The screetch of feedback disturbingly introduces A Hole In The Sky creating a thundering live atmosphere that leads into a classic display of earsplitting doom. Sabotage may contain a more proggy essence of album rock but don't think Black Sabbath isn't done telling the truth about the direction mankind is heading in. Saigon fell and while every other rock listener in '75 just wanted to run away from it all by listening to Born to Run, this band would desist from anything less than a sound that said they were the last bastion of born to be blunt as this song is so forceful and menacing with Ozzy's hysterical wails describing how WMDs will perforate our ozone. And how can anyone mistake Bill's washed out drum sound as they lay down the fire of bombardment in this aural assault? Don't Start(Too Late) is a typical Fluff like acoustic guitar break that Tony Iommi is known for. I've always enjoyed most of these moments on Sabb albums but here it seems more purposeful and aptly titled to the preceding song about earthly destruction.
If every survey that asked "Which is Black Sabbath's best song?" didn't have Symptom of the Universe among the top five, then there should be a formal inquest. Actually, if this song didn't at least appear at the five hole on a "Best Heavy Metal Song Of All Time", there should be a formal inquisition ultimately leading to someone being shanghaied to Birmingham, held before a hookah smoking executioner magistrate asking "DO.YOU. CONFESS?" with song in question blaring loudly in the background. Yes, this song is that great! It justifies the awesomeness of Sabbath even if today they will have Bullet For My Valentine as an opening act rather than other heavy/doom bands. It justifies Speak of the Devil. It justifies Ozzy wearing a women's dress and my mom's platform shoes on the front cover of Sabotage. It justifies buying every needless compilation that the song appears. Yes, all that and because of songs like this, Black fucking Sabbath will always get a pass. Here on this song, there is a mind blowing crunch of a riff that chugs along at an almost thrash metal-ish vibe. Recording more of a a straight rock album,eh? Oh, how you jest, you japing geniuses! Symptom of the Universe sounds like a symphony of psychedelia gone so horribly wrong and gets the celebration of rancour so deliciously right. This is arguably Ozzy's greatest vocal achievement. His energy again coupled with those violent drum beats are so palpable you can almost feel The Hand of Judgement giving sway of approval whilst displaying the devil horns. If the band doesn't play this track at every show, then they damn well should because it was made to be performed live. I can still visualize the band back in the day on stage with Ozzy belting it out crazily in his white buckskins with Tony playing along in a satin cape. And no other incarnation of Black Sabbath(or any other band) than the original should ever play it and that means you, Sepultura.
Megalomania is a long track that begins like a brooding ballad protesting the unsafe combo of depression, insanity and delusion emphasizing 'mania' when the song breaks out of stupor in the second half into a euphoria of speed riffs and yells(Ozzy screams "Suck me!"). The engineering job on this song is pretty impressive as the cavernous echos of the distortion and overdubs spell out the sheer devastating power on the track. Everything but the kitchen sink is fed to the mix including Geezer's doom-y bass dance and a mellotron.
Thrill Of It All is a song I really, really like. This is probably the one song that would pass as the most traditionally rock and roll sounding but once again, it simultaneously demonstrates how good this band is at showcasing their very identity as the one true heavy metal band. As its title suggests, it's quite upbeat and full of nostalgia as it makes me visualize the band performing it with one of those blotchy, spastic light shows in the background as Ozzy claps his hands while singing the chorus. Wonderful. Trippy. And headbanging-able. This track sounds like a companion piece to A National Acrobat-the song that ended the previous full-length. What I also appreciate about it are how well worded the lyrics are relative to Ozzy's delivery of them during the song. They are done with a simple and direct prose with disregard for traditional meter i.e. "Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it...".."Dontcha think I know my own mind?..Oh yeah..oh yeah". This is why the legendary singer was so perfect for this band. Every beat and progression keeps on keeping on and it sounds so natural.
If you were reading this review for the first time and the score was not shown, you would assume thus far that Sabotage was well on its way to getting a damn near perfect score by me. But it's the bottom half where the record really starts to slope downwards. Supertzar-an instrumental- while interesting at first pass, is ultimately rubbish. Tony must have been either high or bored when writing it. Probably both. Am I Going Insane (Radio) is a song that I like less and less each time I hear it and yet I have no real explanation as to why except that it passes as pure filler. Maybe it's because the band hasn't had many filler songs up to this point in their career and so when such a track did come, it was all the more contemptible. It also suffers from tiring repetition as well as being an all too literal reference to insanity when Megalomania hit on that theme with far more devastation and better delivery. And that jack-in-the-box laugh at the end..could they get any more juvenile?
The Writ starts out decently enough with that soaring riff and Ozzy's shouts but the song goes to shit in the last three and a half minutes. It's a song that's structured as complex as the other tracks on the album but The Writ sounds forced and inferior in heaviness than the first five cuts.
Discussing where this album ranks among the Black Sabbath discography is up for debate. It's certainly "up there" when you take in consideration how long they kept going. As I said, it does contain a few of their best songs and it's one of their most well produced in the Mk. 1 era but the album doesn't finish very strong. Ozzy was once quoted as saying "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was the last real Black Sabbath album as far as I'm concerned." What he should have said (if I were him) was that Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and the first five songs from Sabotage were.
An awkward, transitional album from Sabbath with the prog-metal tendencies of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath competing with two conflicting visions of the band's future. Songs such as the pounding, energetic opener Hole In the Sky or the upbeat, almost funky The Thrill of It All showcase Sabbath as an accessible, down to earth heavy rock band. Conversely, compositions like Megalomania and the closing couplet of Am I Going Insane (Radio) and The Writ find the band becoming increasingly submerged in experimentalism and studio wizardry.
In particular, Am I Going Insane lacks lead guitar entirely and substitutes in keyboard riffs, an experiment unheard-of for Sabbath at the time, whilst The Writ alternates pounding, heavier sections with synthesizer-laden acoustic segments. All the ingredients which would come together in the critically-derided Technical Ecstasy are laid out here for all to see - the increasing abandonment of the doomy sound the band built its reputation on, the growing love affair with studio gimmicks, and internal discord within the band as to exactly what a Black Sabbath album should sound like.
It's a good, listenable album, but it isn't much better than "good". And when you have five Sabbath albums leading up to this one which each consistently knock the ball out of the park, just "good" isn't enough. Sabbath fans will doubtless sooner or later find this one in their collections, but I suspect most will find it gets much less rotation than the band's first five classic albums - or their celebrated early 1980s material with Dio.
After releasing a string of great albums, yet changing and shifting within each year, Black Sabbath continued to grow as musicians and expand on their creation that is heavy metal. Sabotage in an album that proved that Black Sabbath were some of the most innovative musicians in history. On a personal note, this author's taste in music was rooted very early on with many songs on this album.
Sabbath, being a band known for putting the "heavy" and/or "doom" in metal, certainly did that on this album. But, as per usual, the approach had some twists on this album as it did on every album they've done up to this (and even beyond today). The album kicks off with the more upbeat "Hole in the Sky". Right away, this song gives you the goods, and delivers one of the most CLASSIC Sabbath riffs ever. Along with riff-father Tony Iommi, Geezer Buttler pounds away with groovy bass line that keeps the song in motion. Bill Ward plays in an interesting way with Bill Ward, as he follows but puts his own spin on things. And of course, Ozzy delivers his classic nasal performance but it works with Sabbath's evil persona.
So it's pretty obvious that the riffs here rule already after the first song. If that's not enough, "Symptom of the Universe" is the third track on this album, and delivers one of the quickest Sabbath riffs to date that proves to be absolutely crushing and proves to be a prototype idea for many bands to follow within the years. And just when you think you understand this song, the dynamic group that is Black Sabbath switches into completely different gears and some how manages to make it there logically. Whether it be from drugs, genius, or a combination, they certainly pulled it off flawlessly.
Driven to delusions, "Megalomia" hynotises the listener with it's behemoth like pace, as well as in magnitude. This song gets a lot more up beat later on which concludes itself well. Next anthem like "The Thrill of it All", which delivers more extraordinary riffs. Not only are the riffs great, but the leads pulled off are brilliant as they are mesmerising. Tony Iommi plays better than most guys with four fingers despite the fact two of his are partly prosthetic. It's truly an awe to hear.
the cleverly named "Supertzar" sounds mythical with it's chants and eeir atmosphere. The riffs certainly sound pretty evil for 1975. It's pretty clear by now that each song has it's own well defined moments that make each song memorable, and thus, something that is timeless. Following the instrumental, a spacey "Am I Going Insane (Radio)". This proves to be the weakest point on the album personally, but is still an interesting tracks.
A deep and pulsing bass line leads us to the last track, "The Writ", that soon explodes with a mid-paced riff. This song already has the words "THIS IS LONG" written all over it, but it's Black Sabbath doing it, so it's guaranteed that it'll be heavy as hell, full of dynamics while still making sense structurally. Subtleties come forth on this song, like demonic sounding vocals that are faintly singing along with Ozzy, that proves to be an enjoyable combination. This song ends of the album quite nicely with it's dark riff that leads us out of the track.
The production here proves to be a great mix as Tony Iommi's playing sounds distorted with a certain clearness to it that allows listeners to hear each note, and this just shows how flawless of a player he is. The bass is given plenty of room in the production as it proves that the bass has just as much room to move around in the songs in a rhythmic but soulful manner. Each cymbal on Ward's kit sounds warm and resonate well, and the bass and toms all have a great thump. It sounds classic but it sounds so huge at once. Certainly subtleties can come forth in the music too such as keyboards in the background.
This album proves to be one of Black Sabbath's greatest with Ozzy, and thus one of their greatest in their large discography. It's a stand out record that was as heavy as it was dynamic. This deserves all the praise it gets, and perhaps then some.
Black Sabbath were in a bad way by 1975. Years of drug and alcohol abuse had obviously taken their toll, and the stress of constant touring throughout the early years of the decade had also worn down the cohesiveness of the group considerably. This is most apparent on the last two releases from this lineup, the dire Technical Ecstasy and the equally odious Never Say Die, but for one final moment Sabbath were prepared to outshine everyone else in the scene in their full glory.
The album opens with "Hole In The Sky", and it's readily apparent that something is different this time: the guitars sound thicker and fatter than on any preceding Sabbath album, with much more 'crunch' to their tone; the tempo of the song is faster than almost anything in the rest of the Sabbath discography; and the feeling of sublime mania has been replaced with an aggressiveness not yet seen in heavy metal. Gone too are the flirtations with progressive rock displayed on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath; this is a pure mid-paced heavy metal anthem decrying the greed of the modern age.
"Don't Start (Too Late)" follows on from "Hole In The Sky", serving as nothing more than a beautiful acoustic flourish intro into "Symptom of the Universe". A word must be said about "Symptom...", namely that this is probably the first thrash metal song ever recorded and one which wouldn't sound at all out of place on a later album like Dehumanizer. Osbourne's howls are as chilling as ever, effectively elevating the simple-yet-heavy riff and hard-thrashing drumline into the upper stratosphere. One of Iommi's best solos in his career comes careening through the song near the four-minute mark, before slowing down into a strangely placed instrumental piece vaguely Latin in nature. This might confuse the listen upon first hearing this track, but I've never found it at all out of place, and consider it an admirable attempt to progress the trademark Sabbath sound without relying on pop-music staples.
"Meglomania" is next, and it is, for me, the absolute highlight of the album. Opening with a wondrous, darkly alluring orchestral piece over which Osbourne utilizes his nasally vocals to great effect, this song really kicks into gear about two and a half minutes into the piece, revealing a monumentally doomish riff which only accentuates Ozzy's misery, effectively creating the template from which doom and goth metal bands would draw to this very day. Following a short piano piece, however, the song really catches fire, breaking lose with a riff which can only be called triumphant as Osbourne shrieks in rebellion against the sorrows which have so plagued his life. Like the previous track, this song displays Sabbath's unique ability to completely alter the mood of a song without making it disconcerting in the slightest.
"Thrill of it All" proceeds "Megalomania", opening with a slow yet catchy riff before breaking out into another splendid solo. This track has a groovier feel to it than anything else on this album, and possesses a certain defiant attitude unmatched on anything else in the Sabbath discography. This is another 'upbeat' Sabbath track, which dispels firmly the old myth that the band, and heavy metal itself, is nothing more than angst-ridden whining. The following track, "Supertzar", opens with a riff which could have been utilized more effectively (in an actual song) and a lovely choral backing, but unfortunately fails to amount to anything more than another in a long line of Sabbathian instrumental experimentations.
"Am I Going Insane" picks up the pace, opening with a siren-like squeal before disintegrating into an almost joyous semi-rock song which sounds more like something The Beatles would have written than anything relevant to heavy metal. "The Writ", however, really saves the last third of the record, serving as the closing epic to both this album and the most productive period in Sabbath's long, illustrious and infamous career.
Save for two plodding cuts which could have been left out without sacrificing anything on the record, this album is a pinnacle in the Sabbath discography. I prefer Sabbath Bloody Sabbath both for its mood and its structuring, but the production values displayed on this record completely outshine anything the band had previously attempted. This would, of course, work to the detriment of the succeeding two records, but that's for another review.
The greatness of Sabotage is how different it is from any other Sabbath album with Ozzy, it's heavy like the others but what makes it great is the attack and effort on it. Starting with Volume 4, Sabbath began to experiment, however on Volume 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath(which both are great albums) some of the experimenting lacked something. Whereas on Sabotage everything they did worked, and not only worked but worked to perfection, it's pure magic to the ears.
From the spell-binding bone crushing riff of Hole In The Sky to the last blissful yet heavy notes of The Writ, everything here deserves praise. But the one thing that sets this album aside from the rest is not Tony Iommi's guitar work, or Bill Ward's heavy-hitting percussion or Geezer's thumping bass work and bizarre lyrics. No in fact it is something you do not commonly praise for being timeless or even classic, it's Ozzy's voice. Never again would Ozzy sound so hard and emotional in his vocals as he does here, sometimes coming across like a completely different man. Captured here in a still youthful age of only twenty-eight Ozzy gives a performance of a lifetime, and considering how he was the only aspect holding Sabbath back on the previous five albums, with him singing great it's no surprise why this album kicks so much ass.
The most prevalent objection against this record seems to be the production, often regarded as spiritually stagnant, drab and dreary and mundane, none of which are true. However, looking at the album title reminds us what the sound is intended for, malevolent bitterness is not what these songs depict but rather a central structure for the feelings of the protagonist in his tragic aftermath of wretchedness. Therefore, the aural presentation appropriately mirrors the anguish captured in the lyrical themes.
We begin this atrocious journey into the mind of Geezer Butler with the song Hole In The Sky, which is one of the heaviest songs not only by Sabbath's standards but for the time period. There was nothing more bleak and aggressive in 1975, casting forth touches of thrash metal, which would copied by countless bands ever since. This first track is carried by a wavy guitar line that is strengthened by Ozzy's woeful voice, while the chorus is perhaps the most stunning vocals ever put on record by Ozzy, mixing ruthless rage with sorrowful laments towards heaven. After a short classical piece, which abruptly stops HITS, we are given a riff bound to shake the earth.
Symptom Of The Universe is the natural progression from Hole In The Sky, even more simplistic yet so brilliantly constructed that you can ignore the apparent lack of originality by the reminder that Sabbath single-handedly start all of this. The next fact to shoot down the idea that this song is not the benchmark of it's class is the crushing riff gallop that comes in at 3:36, before Iommi takes off in a piece of guitar wizardry that sets you up for... ...disaster. Not that the song gets bad, but it is the last thing you ever saw coming. From hard thrash to a beautiful acoustic track that sounds almost southern rock song, where Ozzy is still giving a grand performance.
The next song is summed up perfectly with it's odd title, Megalomania, dark and gloomy in every sense, it is here when the production takes that turn for sonically dreariness. The utter sadness in the words, cast forth by Ozzy's tearful voice brings about the pain, while his aggression in the chorus is a simple, solid rejection to what was believed to be a twisted illusion. Supported all the way up by a haze of delicate guitar lines and atmosphere, Ozzy soars, hitting all sad notes with unfathomable clarity amongst the sharp, piercing clash of ivory keys leading directly up to…Metal. A tinker bell begins what will be another six minutes of all out humbling brutality delivered with a keen sense of melody, while Ozzy takes his aggressive vocals to new heights. In the end, ten minutes of strenuously eloquent rising action resulting in a empyrean combustion of cataclysmic dimensions.
Thrill Of It All has the unfortunate fate of following the unbelievable predecessor, so it comes across as a let down, but it is in no way 'filler'. The riffs are crunchy and heavy, the solos destroy and have tons of power, and Ozzy develops his evil vocals while still defying the barriers of possibility with his voice. And the fact that this was recorded in 1975(when it was still ok to be part metal, part undefined) just makes it better. Ozzy's voice at 2:12 is the best yet, only bested by his performance on the Writ.
After aggression and ruthless brutality, to sheer depression masked with aggression, to personal story-telling, which is as dark as a story can descend comes a song that is as depressing as it is spiritual. Supertzar is the strangest but most haunting piece of music I think Sabbath has ever laid down, sounding like nothing before or after. It begins with a pseudo-heavy riff that rises and builds with a choir harmonizing beautifully with it, then comes that heavy quasi pentatonic scale at 1:17, but falls short of greatness. The song carries and is believed to get annoying while it portrays the depths of sadness, but at 2:08 that scale returns and this time delivers what it's meant to. The screams and mournful wails is one of the greatest climatic wordless vocals ever sung, simply put this is one of Sabbath's greatest instrumentals and is very underrated.
Am I Going Insane is where the album slowly dips, not from the goofy music. No, the problem rests in the very odd gaping hole and the inability to maintain momentum between the past two points of destination. The mournful lament here ends on such a sad state of stillness that it even brings down the swift 'cheerful' guitar solo, luckily, this instance would be Sabbath's only exception here, as they would entirely redeem themselves on the epic closer... Low and behold, the deranged wails tower over the repeated chorus:
Arise the memorable bass riff and an identity starts to take shape, darkness is about swarm over the cell in which the protagonist sits still laughing and screaming from madness at the same time. Then the main riff blasts out of nowhere and we are finally given the reason for this characters fall into the depths of hell, which is saturated in a tale of misery and hate, born from frustration. It is here where Ozzy proves once and for all that he truly can sing, as he vocalizes the poetic lines with a different array of emotions that demand your attention. Rather it be tearful lines of monetary negligence or abuse told with the first few lines or the rageful lines of bitterness and animosity with lines like 'The anger I once had has came to a curse on you' and 'you're gonna get what is coming to you'. It is easy to see where this hopeless character's anger is directed at. Yet when it seems that the character is ready to break the chains and escape his cold bitter Hell he retreats to his now self-inflicted depravity, never able to tell the difference from the world outside his torture cell or the one he's in. This ending is undeniably one you wish would last forever but a disheartened growl, desperate cries of denial, resounding shrieks and a progressive riff later, one of Metal’s most greatest songs and albums has resolved.
I'm hard pushed to find many albums that flow as well as this one does, and even more pressed to find many albums that are as obviously underrated as this one is. It upped the game of heavy metal music in so many ways- production quality, greater musicianship and the vocal style, which you would not hear again by Ozzy until his 1983 solo album Bark At The Moon. This is a true classic album that still sounds truly brilliant to this day, and as such has received the highest rating possible. I highly recommend this to any sane person who likes good music, not just metal....
By the year 1975 the rock music community was beginning to take serious notice of the new phenomena known as heavy metal, which was then still defined as an ultra-hard kind of rock with some rather blatant progressive elements. In the following 36 years legions of bands specialized in certain specific areas of the pioneer work of Black Sabbath. The traditional metal crowd looked to the guitar driven early albums that were the debut and Paranoid, while thrash and speed metal groups looked to the harder edged sound of Master of Reality and Vol. 4. For Power Metal fans such as me Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was the grand source of inspiration, though what I choose to focus on with that album is taken differently from the vast community of Progressive Metal outfits.
The influence of Sabbath did not waver with the end of 80s metal, as a series of other bands would naturally look to them for similar inspiration, most notably the more metal-like bands in the grunge movement, the ones whose only characteristic tying them to that scene was their image. Every genre of metal and the various other sounds associated with it are defined both by what elements of Sabbath are utilized, and what elements are not emphasized. Out of all these genres, the Progressive Metal scene has stayed closest to the spirit that defined Sabbath’s actual mission, which was the pursuit of destroying musical boundaries, of creating something new and great without being tied down to an unnecessary box of arbitrary rules.
Sabotage represents the purest display of Sabbath’s progressive tendencies, much in the same vain that Sabbath Bloody Sabbath did, but with a large focus on building a series of musical epics that give a feeling of triumph and power. Many bands have tried to capture the feeling of this album, such acts as Symphony X, Ayreon, Queensryche, Dream Theatre and Fates Warning are probably the most obvious examples. But it is important to note that the large array of choices present in this album provide for a lot of potential directions, and as anyone who has listened to the bands mentioned will tell you, they all have a highly individualized sound and can easily be told apart. This is ultimately a consequence of the complexity and the power of this album, as the consequence of Sabbath itself was the birth of metal as we know it today.
We kick this album off with the straight-forward rocker “Hole in the Sky”, dominated by a powerful guitar sound that rivals the punch sound that was heard on Vol. 4. The lyrics depict a man loosing his grip on reality, something that it quite prevalent in this album. We then move to the somber acoustic interlude “Don’t Start too late”, which is among a host of acoustic interludes that no doubt influenced more progressive acts such as Fates Warning to write similarly short acoustic compositions. “Symptom of the Universe” is a heavier track with loads of emphasis on the guitar, and some amazing lead work. The main riff is pure evil, almost like a horror variation on Zepplin’s “Communication Breakdown”. We end with an acoustic section, in which Ozzy showcases his newly found high range with flair reminiscent of his surprisingly great vocal work on the last album.
“Megalomania” is one of the more progressive tracks on here, and the most epic one that clocks in at a near 10 minute duration. It has its evil sections, its gloomy sections, and its soothing moments. Nearly every Progressive act that came out of the 80s up to the present have a fair share of songs that most likely take their cues from this one, Symphony X’s “The Odyssey” and “Through the Looking Glass” sound highly similar to this. The guitar has its fair share of action on here, but ironically Ozzy’s vocal performance is the highlight. Plenty of vocal effects on here as well, ranging from echo sounds to some vocal processors to give the background voice track a demonic sound.
“Thrill of it All” is heavily guitar driven, with a highly distinctive opening riff, and a rather brilliant guitar solo to kick the song off. We do get a piano in the middle section for a brief time, just to change the song up and give it a more progressive feel, but it mostly sticks to the guitar as its dominant force. “Supertzar” is, without a doubt, the most amazing instrumental that this band has ever put out. This is the spirit that every Progressive/Power Metal band has shot for whenever writing either an interlude or an intro to an album with a highly epic subject matter to it. This song was definitely ahead of it’s time, having such a regal spirit to it that almost sounds like it could have appeared on a Rhapsody album. Although I am partial to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath as an album, this song has had at least an equal influence on bands like my own as the main riff of that song’s title track.
“Am I going Insane” has a very prominent synthesizer line at its onset, and flows pretty much as a continuation of the progressive spirit already on full display, though in a simpler structure, making it the obvious choice for a single. “The Writ” closes off the album with another strong epic that doesn’t quite go as long as Megalomania, but comes fairly close. We kick it off with a rocking guitar riff and Ozzy doing a rather well done Robert Plant style vocal performance. The lyrics deal mostly with introspection, a topic that is largely explored, though in a more intellectual way, by bands such as Dream Theatre and Aryeon. We have some rather heavily contrasted sections, as the keyboards and the guitar seem to be fighting each other for prominence towards the end.
In conclusion, this is regarded in many fields as the best and most purely metal album that Sabbath has ever released, and there are many good arguments in favor of this. Ultimately which album you gravitate towards the most will determine the genre of music that you will love the most/ will be the most drawn towards as a musician. I gave this album a perfect score because as the most progressive work on here, it embodies the most universal representation of the metal spirit. However, as I am a man who gravitates towards a specific genre more than others, my favorite album is Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. But more important than any individual album, I love this genre of music because of the amazing diversity, the unique manifestations of individuality exhibited by each band in each genre, and it all comes back to 4 men from Birmingham who dared to see a world beyond the old wall of sound.
This is it, my friends, the pinnacle of the Sabbath food triangle. Simply one of the heaviest records of its particular decade (or ever, really), and a wellspring of inspiration to crafters of malevolent music decades hence, Sabotage is the black goat of the Black Sabbath family of music. The vibe, the sound, the oppression of this slab’s sound is Sabbath at their most obscure and isolated. No thought is given to writing pleasing music, so what remains is the sinister soul of the band’s core itself. Breathe deep and say goodbye to your loved ones before entering the cavern of Sabotage…you might be gone for some time…
Blasting off with the swaggering lope of “Hole In The Sky,” we’re in easy view of the band’s chemistry and foul odors here. Ozzy’s voice is detached, the lyrics totally away from any semblance of reality, perhaps only meaningful or indeed profound in the now clandestine collective Sabbath subconscious. A creepy acoustic refrain (“Don’t Start Too Late”) follows before IT. The riff of all riffs, the song of all songs; the Rosemary’s baby of the band’s canon. “Symptom Of The Universe” simply has it all. The heaviest riff ever (no kidding kids, do not attempt writing anything this heavy without adult supervision) some of the most sublimely forlorn lyrics the band ever penned (“Come with me my child of love come step inside my tears, swim the magic ocean I’ve been crying all these years”) with bonus images from the Biblical book of Revelations itself, mind you. And if that wasn’t enough, the acoustic segue that closes the song, complete with impassioned and impressive vocals from the Oz, is perfect as well. Just friggin’ unbelievable. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing this song, and neither should you.
“Megalomania” is up to bat next, perhaps the most harrowing cut ever from the band (damn close to “Black Sabbath” itself actually). It’s actually very scary in a very real sense, the lyrical rant of an addict begging to be permitted to drown in his own world of self-obsessed and perpetuated misery. And that second riff! Meaner vibes are dam hard to find here in this mortal world.
Side two can’t compare in any serious fashion, but it does do it’s best. The totally unexpected Satanic ritual background instrumental “Supertzar” is as unexpected as could be, but an enjoyable piece of music all the same, exactly the kind of tune you’d hear playing in the background of the great old British Hammer horror films. “The Writ” is a long and progressive discussion of the band’s legal troubles, but just doesn’t congeal as well as other similarly expansive Sabbath speeches.
No worries, though, as the balance of this album is simply untouchable. Black Sabbath would never again make an album this masterful, though they would keep trying for 30+ years to come. If that doesn’t illustrate that Sabotage is a nearly impossible act to follow I don’t know what does. Simply put, my attentive acolytes: if you don’t understand this album’s greatness, you are on the wrong website. Class friggin’ dismissed.
I can't stop listening to this album... beginning to end, no breaks, which is actually sometimes hard to do for Ozzy-era Sabbath. This is just one of those albums that defines Heavy Fucking Metal so clearly that anyone that has no idea about it can be given this album, and no others, and have a reasonably good concept of what the genre is and entails. There are of course several other albums that satisfy this criterion, but this is possibly the first (maybe, maybe, I could make a case for Master of Reality). There were five other LPs before this by Black Sabbath, but this is definitely the first one that bowls you over, beginning to end, with no frills and no distractions.
The historical importance of this one cannot be understated. Black Sabbath introduced us to evil, with its three-note opener, and its sheer massive despair and death. Master of Reality can still be quoted - a verse here, a riff there - as an example of "HEAVY", with the monster riffage of Into the Void being a landmark, 1971 or otherwise. Then, there is this one - as I mentioned before, this is a COMPLETE metal album, that both reaffirms previously established ideals, and breaks new ground too. From the straight-up doom of Hole in the Sky to the absurdly violent proto-thrash of Symptom of the Universe... to even the dynamic component added by bookending it with "Don't Start", and that closing section... then of course the two epics, my favourites on here, Megalomania, and The Writ. Slabs of epic, progressive doom, clocking in at nearly ten, and nearly eight, minutes respectively, without getting boring.
The album opens with Hole in the Sky, and immediately when Tony turns on the distortion and six-string insanity, and Ozzy sings "I'm looking through... a hole in the sky!" you know that this is still Black Sabbath the way it was meant to be. This could have been a track from the Paranoid or Master of Reality era - which of course is a very glorious thing to be, with its classic 70s heavy/doom riffage, and Iommi's particular concept of groove - so abused in the 90s, but so glorious when done right... when the right-minded individuals of the world, in 1975, first got the album the day it came out, I'm sure they were questioning what was happening to Black Sabbath, what with the kinda strange Sabbath Bloody Sabbath from two years before, and the stories of record-label troubles, and of course the endless drugs and debauchery. Well, the riff set right here completely answers all the questions. We are Black FUCKING Sabbath, and we are here to beat you to death.
Megalomania features layers of Ozzy's demented vocals, and here he turns in the performance of a career. Not whiny, not annoying, rather flat out insane... obsessed, obsessed, obsessed... feeling it slipping away... throw in the first three minutes (concluding with the keyboard echoing the riff), and then the remaining seven (starting with that power-metal-esque Iommi masterpiece), first despairing bleak heaviness, and then headbanging, crushing, "congratulations, you have been fucked with a brick" heavy fucking metal. Iommi is the master of riff construction - here, he shows off his work like no other. It's drug-induced warfare - ten minutes of insanity, and over all too fast.
It's followed up by The Thrill of it All, which goes through several moods, each highlighted by a particular riff. Kids, metal is all about riffs... not just kinda having them there, but having them the main backbone of the song. And this song demonstrates how to use riffs to further the message. Even in the "softer" parts, with the keyboards or the acoustic guitar, there is a definite guitar part, and if you isolated just that track, you could still get a good idea of what the song was supposed to mean.
The album closes with the Writ, which is also an excellent riff monster, as it lumbers through its destructive path, with the monster guitars, and then the little subtle things, like the backmasked high-hat... and another great example of Ozzy sounding fiendish. If you ever want to show the MTV kiddies what Mr. Sharon was doing when he wasn't bumbling around, breaking his neck for reality TV, play them THIS. ARE YOU MENTAL, ARE YOU MAD??? Fuck yes, this is some heavy shit.
Symptom of the Universe is probably the most ahead-of-its-time song on here. The others I could picture for 1973, maybe, but this one I just cannot. The simplicity of that opening riff, which just set so many standards for what metal was to become. Judas Priest must have been paying attention, because I doubt it's entirely coincidental that Rocka Rolla transitioned to Sad Wings of Destiny in such an effective manner. The band themselves of course worship Black Sabbath more than properly in every interview, when they are asked about the 1970s - I would not be surprised if THIS particular song really got them especially necroejacuiative. I'm gonna give this album one more point than Sad Wings, just to emphasise this fact.
The oddball track is Am I Going Insane, which is actually a pretty decent song, in and of itself, and is completely within the realms of heavy metal. Soundwise, it sounds like a British Invasion song from the 60s that you hear on the oldies station, but the general atmosphere of evil turns this one inside out and absurd. Like that Destruction cover of My Sharona, sometimes even happy rock can be made into total death. Geezer's bass is most prominent on this song, and provides a constant reminder that this is still Black FUCKING Sabbath, through the many layers of guitar and keyboards. I am totally convinced that Iommi wrote the bass riff, and told Geezer to play it. It is, indeed, borderline metal, but if the WASPs of the world can do songs like Rock and Roll to Death, then Black Sabbath can do this, and get away with it just fine.
The only thing that prevents this from getting a rating in the 90s is Supertzar, which is just a bit on the over-the-top side. It has riffs, and then it has that chorus. Don't confuse it with the far superior Supernaut. It's not a BAD song, but unlike the aforementioned bookends of Symptom, this one just doesn't quite make as much sense. Still, the opening riff is very very enjoyable, so I can't really declare the song a loser.
Supertzar or not, I still declare this album to be brilliant. It's not perfect in the can-do-no-wrong "Priest in the East" sense, but for 1975, its amazingness is beyond question. Completely, wholeheartedly recommended. If you do not own this on LP, you are not metal.