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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....