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What Is This...!? - 84%

westknife, July 23rd, 2004

What is this that stands before me? It can't be four guys in hippie clothes playing rock music... The opening song on this album is simply immense. There is no other word to describe it. Well, maybe I can think of some more. MONSTROUS. STUPEFYING... You get the idea. Nowhere else has so much been hidden within 3 notes (2 of which are the same note, an octave apart). Amazing. Glorious. Bill Ward clunking away at those drums, no faster than a cancerous snail, Geezer Butler tempting those soothing slow notes out of his bass. Tony Iommi roaring on his guitar, and of course... Ozzy Osbourne. "Ohhh no, no, no! Please, God help me!..." Aah, what a line. That has got to be my favorite lyric in any song, ever. When the song picks up and gets faster, it still rocks my socks. "No, no, no, please no!" leads into Tony's solo, which makes you think "The pentatonic scale has never sounded so good!" Topping it all off with a syncopated stop-start ending, and oh man! A metal classic.

The rest of the album is not up to the standards of that first song, but "The Wizard" comes close. Harmonica? Yeah that's right, harmonica, bitch. You better believe it. This song opens with some superb riffing from Iommi and Butler, and the verse section has some great drumming from Ward. And yes, he has a cowbell. You got a problem with that? The lyrics are classic Sabbath: about a wizard who has magic powers... that's pretty much it. There isn't much detail, but that's what makes it so damn awesome. Basically, Ozzy becomes the wizard with his demonic voice. Also, this song has a sick guitar solo, followed by a well, less impressive harmonica solo.

"Behind the Wall of Sleep" starts out real good, with a great atmospheric beginning in *gasp* 3/4 time! Breaking down into a sort-of-funky riff, this is classic Sabbath goodness. Ozzy, as usual, delivers his lyrics where you can't understand half of them. And even the ones you can understand, you don't actually understand. But oh man, he sounds so awesome! After another superb solo from Iommi, the verse is repeated, and yada yada yada. Unfortunately, the song starts to decompose at this point. About 30 seconds are given over to a rather boring bass solo. Now, here comes "N.I.B.", one of the most overrated Sabbath songs (or... part of a song). It starts out allright, nothing special, but they repeat it about 506 times more than they need to. Yeah I guess the story is pretty cool, about the devil seducing a woman, but whatever. Basically, I would probably like this song a hell of a lot more if it were a hell of a lot shorter. And the guitar riff? Come on. The main hook of the riff (the first 4 notes) are the same as "Sunshine of Your Love" by Cream, and well, that song was really really famous at the time. So... Black Sabbath isn't perfect, apparently. Who knew?

And then the mystery of "Wicked World." It wasn't included in the original British LP, but we Americans get to enjoy this shitty B-side instead the single at the time "Evil Woman." Instead of hearing one of the songs that made Sabbath famous, we get this bore-fest. First of all, it was obviously recorded at a different time, possibly in a different studio. Or maybe in a closet, because the sound quality sucks. Ozzy's vocals were recorded at too high an input level, or something, because they crackle. There is an interesting little guitar interlude in the middle of the song which captures Iommi at some of his best playing at this early stage of Sabbath's career. But still, this song is pretty boring. "A woman goes to work every day of the day (or something) she goes to work just to earn her pay..." I mean, COME ON.

Someone please clarify this for me... what is "A Bit of Finger"??? I don't think this song actually exists, they just put it on the label to psych us out. But anyway, "Sleeping Village" is pretty cool, going from a creepy acoustic thing to a full onslaught. I am now reminded of why I love this album so much after listening to "Wicked World." The usual awesome riffing combined with awesome drumming, well... you know. That's what Sabbath does. A couple of minutes into the song there is a cool double guitar solo that rocks my world. "Warning" gets a little boring, though. I don't think Black Sabbath can do blues. No matter what they think they are, no matter how they started out, they can't do blues. So, "Warning" gets a thumbs-down in my book. Yeah I guess the guitar work is okay, but it seriously goes on for way too long. I'm not normally one to say that a guitar solo is "too long", but this song has too many extended solo parts. Iommi was good, but not *THAT* good. I mean, there is soloing from about 8 minutes to about 13 minutes into the song. That's five god damn minutes of pentatonic scale. Remember when that scale sounded so good? Well it doesn't anymore. Also, a good chunk of this solo is unaccompanied (that's right folks, no other instruments are playing). Then at the end of the song, the band goes back into that same blues figure, which I didn't really like the first time, and 15 minutes later, I still don't really like it.

Oh well, it's a shame to end on such a bad note, because there is some pretty strong stuff on this record, not to mention that it is probably the first true "heavy metal" album (if you don't count Led Zepplin I). Most of the first 3 songs are a superbly rockin' experience, and so maybe there's some filler. They created heavy metal! I'll cut them some slack.