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Much like us as a species, the genre of heavy metal can be traced back to one single ancestor. All metal bands of today and those of the past would not exist without heavy metal's first band: Black Sabbath. This single ancestor found its roots in blues, rock, and even jazz, and all of these interesting types of music and there attributes are present in "The Rebel." A 100% is too low of a score for this band in my opinion, but I will have to remain as factual and unbiased as possible. The influence of 60's bands like Cream and the Yardbirds was definitely present on this recording as well as the Beatles-esque piano, vocal harmonies, and song structure. Although "The Rebel" doesn't sound ahead of its time, it is a formidable opponent against these bands and artists similar to them in terms of its overall sound.
But let's talk about the music itself. Tony Iommi shows his first true colors with his flowing and fuzzy guitar riffs. He is the inventor of this aggressive way of playing, but ironically enough, "The Rebel" is anything but aggressive. It sounds like a ballad. I think that this "calm before the storm" of sorts works well for Black Sabbath fans, as it contradicts the more abrasive sound of Black Sabbath's first full-length album, Black Sabbath. There is even a lick from Iommi's solo in "War Pigs" towards the end of the song. This would foreshadow the changes to come in the band's sound.
We as listeners also hear a more tame sound from Bill Ward on his kit compared to later years. The same loose but driving feel of his drumming is there, but it sounds as if he is holding back from unleashing the fury that would soon come on Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Master of Reality, and so on. I did however enjoy the interesting use of auxiliary instruments by him. The acted as the unnecessary but great things that make a song so complete and enjoyable. Geezer’s playing style wasn’t too different from later albums, but the sound of his bass was. The tone was a clean, "glassy,” and even weaker. This could be due to the older production that didn’t always allow for the sound of the bass to fully resonate. But nevertheless, good ol’ Terrence Butler did his job and did it well. This would also be the first time we hear his mystical and powerful lyrics, which inspired many a lyricist to talk about dark and disturbing subjects. The most powerful line from “The Rebel” can be found in multiple verses: “If your heart lays with the rebel would you cheer the underdog?” It appropriately is a question that asks “What next?” and fits Sabbath’s growing career.
However, the icing on the metal cake, the king of heavy metal himself, John Osbourne, better known as “Ozzy” did not change at all. He is a powerhouse vocalist who never takes the easy way out with his shrill and operatic wails. On this release he weaves together a message to the listener that can sit with them for a very long time. His voice never has changed to much over the years, with the exception of recent times, when he sings live. But our focus is 1969. Ozzy has such a crisp tone on “The Rebel,” and I like it very much. The older recording didn’t allow for his voice to sound very pure and the equipment was overridden by the power of Ozzy’s singing. But that isn’t a problem to me.
As I mentioned above, the production left a little to be desired in terms of clarity and tone quality, but it was 1969, and nothing is perfect. The vibe created by "The Rebel" is pretty docile in contrast to the barrage of sound and heaviness of Black Sabbath and the records to come. Even though the song was written by a man named Norman Haines, this still shows off Black Sabbath's abilities very well. If only Ozzy and Co. knew what was coming next. The heavy metal and music world owe a huge debt to Black Sabbath for pioneering and forging a new breed of music; one with power, emotion, and complete brutality. No matter how obscure of a subgenre you listen to, Black Sabbath will be the ancestor that it can be traced back to.
Nobody really would have seen something like heavy metal coming, but really, this was it. This is what we got right before they turned their bluesy rock into what we all know and love as heavy metal. The only thing that even has a metal sound to it in this is the heavy guitar in the background. That's not even that obvious either, unless you listen closely. Everything else is that '60s blues rock sound. Ozzy's voice is just like it is on their first record, but it's not scary or depressing, it's more content and upbeat.
The intro is very interesting, as it is such a nice little piano piece. It's so interesting to know that this is what it all started out as, opening with a soothing piano. The rest of the instrumentation is just very basic sounding, and there isn't a whole lot more to say. I guess the solo could be a little bit of a standout, as it's a little more technical than the rest of it. There's also some big breaks between where you can hear just the bass, mostly between a guitar part that Tony is playing and when the vocals come in.
One thing I certainly noticed was the high pitched vocals in the background of the chorus. It almost sounds like women, but God knows there's none of them in Black Sabbath. But whatever, I guess the rest of the gang just knows how to do that correctly. For this time, I think it is overall a beautiful song and there's not a thing wrong with it. I mean why should it be technical or heavy? It's way too early for any of that, and is just a really fun song overall. Now go show this to your friends and surprise them by telling them it's Black Sabbath.
This piece should prove very intriguing for those interested in Sabbath's backstory. Recorded in the transitional period that went from Earth to Black Sabbath, this does not sound like the dark, heavy blues that would become the starting point of metal. This track sounds very unlike the Sabbath we have come to know. It feels upbeat, even happy. While the lead guitar work is foreshadowing for what would come, this song has little to do with the doom and gloom Sabbath became famous for.
Regarding the band's 1969 demos, Iommi had this to say: "We didn't write those songs. They were written by a chap named Norman Haines. At the time we were managed by Jim Simpson, who was a local Birmingham guy. He insisted that we record these songs. We just wanted to play, so we recorded them. We wanted to write our own songs and make our own record, but this was just an initial effort. We had never been in a recording studio in our lives before that."
The most surprising element of this recording is Ozzy's voice. The unearthly wails he is known for are nowhere to be seen. The vocals here are pretty much a standard British classic rock affair. They certainly don't sound gloomy; they are not a far cry away from sounding happy, something that the backing vocals only make more blatant. Musically, this also standard classic rock. The somewhat cheesy piano intro makes it know that this will not be a particularly dark song. Besides the bluesy solos, the instrumentation is quite minimal, with the main focus being on the catchy vocals.
Norman Haines, who also played with a band called Locomotive, not only wrote the song, but also performed on it. On the song, he plays organ and piano. A very interesting fact about this track is that it was produced by Gus Dudgeon, who is best known for producing many David Bowie tracks. While this is an early demo, the production doesn't let you know that. While not overproduced, it sounds like a quite reasonably produced classic rock song.
The only foreshadowing of what's to come is found in Iommi's soloing. Much darker than the rest of this song, his solos are not much different than the style he would use on the band's first wave of albums. They are bluesy, imaginative and undeniably catchy, easily becoming the best thing about the song. The rest of the song is catchy classic rock, but Tony's lead guitar mastery really steals the spotlight.
Anyone interested in the history of metal's founding band should give this a listen. While this is certainly not one of the most important Sabbath recordings, it is fascinating to see where the band evolved from. While this is much more poppy than you would expect from them, it is catchy in a very good sort of way. An essential song this is not, but it is good for what it is.
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