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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.