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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.