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Sabbath's last hurrah - 93%

SirMetalGinger, December 26th, 2013

It would be near impossible to overstate the influence of Black Sabbath. How many bands can claim that they not only created a genre, but perfected it almost from the get-go? Only the mighty Sabbath, and yet, with the creation of a rapidly growing genre and five classic albums already under their belt, they still weren't ready to rest on their laurels. Sabotage wasn't created by a band that had anything left to prove, but you wouldn't be able to tell just by listening to it. It's truly admirable that a band as massively acclaimed and respected as Sabbath was in the year 1975 was still really firing on all cylinders. So, in terms of the music itself, why is Sabotage such a respectable effort?

Well, for starters, going through the six essential Sabbath albums in order, you really notice how their composition skills got stronger and stronger progressively, with Sabotage being the apex. With the exception of some sections of Megalomaniac, there's very little dead air on this album. It all feels very purposeful, and whenever a musical motif starts to wear thin, the song fluidly transitions into a completely new one. For example, the song Symptom of the Universe-it starts out with an ultra-heavy, chugging riff, and after a quick verse-chorus-verse, goes into what is perhaps Tony Iommi's finest guitar solo, which then transitions into an absolutely radiant reggae-tinged acoustic outro. None of it is predictable, yet at the same time none of it is forced.

On top of that, Ozzy has really found a niche with his vocal style. Ozzy isn't a great singer, and he seems to know it. So, to make up for his decidedly un-pretty voice, he focuses on what he's good at-being as imposing and intimidating as possible, to the significant benefit of songs like Hole in the Sky or Thrill of it All. He does get a little sidetracked on the overly melodic Am I Going Insane, easily the album's weakest track, but more than makes up for it on every other track.

The instrumentation, big shocker, is also great. Bill Ward's drumming is probably at its best ever, particularly with the furious fills on the track Symptom of the Universe. Tony Iommi still has yet to run out of great riffs (and with the success of 13 28 years later, one wonders if Tony Iommi actually did sell his soul for his talent). With the exception of Symptom of the Universe, he focuses less on solos here and more on double-tracked, layered riffs akin to the style of Rush's Alex Lifeson. Geezer's bass playing on Sabotageis a little slack compared to the frenetic, busy basslines he lived for on Paranoid or Vol. 4, but in terms of keeping the rhythm incredibly tight, he more than does his job.

The production here is stellar. Every instrument sounds crystal clear, and every song sounds massive and arena-ready. Producing an album like this would have been a Herculean task as well, considering how frequently the atmosphere shifts gears. To tweak the sound perfectly so that the outro to Symptom can fit like a glove on the same album as a dark, heavy track like Superztar is an incredible feat, so props to Mike Butcher (who I admittedly was not familiar with before looking up his name just now) for handling it gracefully and tactfully.

Ultimately, an album like Sabotage stands as a testament to how great Black Sabbath really is. It distinctly carries their stylistic mark, yet sounds quite different from anything they had put out before. And on top of that, for all I've gushed about this album, I'd still put it on the lower end of a ranked list of classic-era Sabbath albums. To a Sabbath beginner, I'd say start with the first four LP's, then get this and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath later, but that's not to say either LP is any less rewarding. Sabotage is an absolutely essential album.