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Brilliant! A milestone in heavy music - 89%

UltraBoris, March 14th, 2004

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.