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Underappreciated, Though Sometimes Rightfully So - 67%

DawnoftheShred, November 20th, 2006

In the beginning, there was nothing.

And then there was Black Sabbath. Four humble Englishmen brought heavy metal out of the shapeless void (aka heavy blues and European folk) and into corporeal existence. Who then proceeded to expand and develop it with each successive album. This is why the first six Black Sabbath albums, despite a few characteristic blemishes, are basically above criticism: they were basically inventing the shit that we listen to today. But by the time their seventh album Technical Ecstasy was released, metal was out of its formative stages and its bands were beginning to release some truly amazing stuff (Judas Priest’s albums of the late 70’s). Compared to the albums that preceded it, Technical Ecstasy was not particularly impressive. With its mind-boggling cover (brought to life from the mind of Geezer Butler by Hipgnosis, the studio that would famously work with various progressive rock bands like Pink Floyd and Yes), its frequent keyboard reliance, and its subdued, predictable sound, the album seemed to be sounding the funeral knell for Sabbath, thus leading to its 30+ years of being consistently underrated. But it’s definitely underrated, because even with its crappier moments and different sound, it still has more than its fair share of Sab classics.

First of these is album opener “Back Street Kids.” With its upbeat riffs and perfect groove, it’s a wonder people don’t like this song. Ozzy’s voice still carries those distinct melodies and the band still operates as an effective heavy metal machine. Though they’ve stepped back from the ambitious epics of Sabotage into more comfortable territory (“All Moving Parts (Stand Still),” “Gypsy”), it’s still Black Sabbath as we’ve always known them. Ward, Butler, and Iommi perform excellently, even on filler like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor,” a saloon-worthy number complete with honky-tonk piano.

But it’s not all straightforward rocking numbers. The mysticism of Sabbath past (“Spiral Architect,” “The Writ”) is not completely abandoned on Technical Ecstasy, as evidenced by “You Won’t Change Me,” and “She’s Gone.” The former utilizes keyboards to a more potent effect than on the album’s other tracks to create a much-needed darker tone, as much of the album tends to lean toward the major keys. The latter is the most pristine ballad the band would ever compose, easily ousting “Changes” and the slew of fluff from their later career. Consisting of only Ozzy’s voice and Tony’s incredibly sad-sounding guitar backed by a string arrangement, it is remarkably moving for a Sabbath piece. “Dirty Women” is the album’s closer and longest track and, despite not being as profound a piece as say “Megalomania,” is the closest that Technical Ecstasy comes to recalling the doom and gloom of their earliest material. The fact that it’s still pretty upbeat (however grimily so) just goes to show how different this album is from the material that precedes it.

Oh, there is also the little matter of “It’s Alright,” the Bill Ward composed ballad that he sung as well. A better title might have been “It’s Filler Alright,” as aside from a little Iommi guitar wizardry it’s worthless. And keep that man away from the microphone, ugh.

But aside from the handful of weak tracks, it’s a pretty good album that I enjoy listening to. It’s just not a particularly good Black Sabbath album and I believe that that is what keeps it low in peoples’ affection.