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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)