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The phenomena of the greatest hits compilation has always been an issue for the core metal fan, the reasons for this are many. The primary one is that such compilations are usually devoid of the more musically ambitious material, particularly the long-winded epics and jam sessions that occupied all 6 of the albums represented on here. Therefore I think it is necessary to point out that, contrary to what the pedestrian metal fans says, this album is defined more by what it leaves out rather than what is included in it.
You have some longer songs on here, such as “War Pigs”, “NIB”, and “Black Sabbath”, but for the most part we see that most of the really long ones that occurred on the latter 3 albums have not been included. There are two reasons for this, the first being that the structures of those songs (Megalomania, The Writ, Wheels of Confusion, Into the Void, et cetera) have highly experimental structures, the second being that many of these other songs have lyrical subjects that contradict the dark/occult theme of this compilation.
Most people who listen to music casually can’t stand it when that chorus doesn’t come back right away or when there is a complete change in feel within the same tune. Mainstream bands usually pander to this fear of change and keep their songs a bit too simple as a result, and if one were to go only by this compilation one would be getting a very narrow view of Black Sabbath’s musical career and assume them to be ones to cater to some sort of mainstream. Even in the longer songs there is a general consistency and a similarity between the varying sections.
As to the rather cliché theme of occultism that is present in the title of this compilation, this defines about maybe 1/3 of their music at best. The drug use and other dark themes probably take it up to about perhaps half of their music up to this point, but still not a full picture of all the amazing things going on in their music. Sometimes I wonder if this so-called Satan worship stuff that this band often gets pegged with is a consequence of the widespread success of this compilation.
However, despite this compilation being only about half the story of Sabbath, it does function well as a gateway into their earlier music. The only thing I would suggest is to be prepared to get some music that will not conform to the tone set on here if you choose to purchase their full length albums, particularly “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and “Sabotage”.
In conclusion, this album is recommended mostly to those who have never heard Sabbath other than what they probably hear on the radio. People who have the money and want a really great listening experience are advised to go straight to the full length studio releases. I bought this album right after purchasing “Paranoid”, and I eventually ended up getting every Sabbath album ever released. Consequently this album does not enjoy any play time in my CD player, which is why I did not give it a higher score. Core fans of metal buy entire albums and listen to them all the way through, only pedestrian metal fans settle for a compilation of a band such as this