Saturday, February 13, 2010

Satan's Coming 'Round the Bend: Black Sabbath’s debut album turns 40

Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath
Rating: ****
The end of the 1960’s saw bands making music about peace, love, and happiness. There was never a bad moment. It was make love, not war. However somewhere in England, a new rock group was surfacing on the scene. They were different from other bands as their music was dark and heavy. That band was Black Sabbath and 40 years ago, their debut album was released. The album was ignored and panned by critics alike when it was released on February 13, 1970 (which happened to be Friday the 13th ). Now four decades later, Black Sabbath are seen as one of the first heavy metal bands.

Black Sabbath was originally formed as Earth in 1968. The band consisted of singer John “Ozzy” Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Terence “Geezer” Butler, and drummer Bill Ward. The band got their name from the 1964 horror movie of the same name. The band’s dark music was inspired by what they were reading and seeing at the time. One night, the band read the Tibetian Book of the Dead and was creeped out. The next day, Butler described about a nightmare he had where he saw this black figure. As he described it, the band wrote a song about it. That song, “Black Sabbath”, was added to the band’s setlist. As the band remembers, the hippies in the crowd would run away every time they played the song. The band figured that scary music sells. The band’s career was put on hold after Iommi got injured in a freak accident. Iommi was working at a place where they made guitars. Accidently, Iommi’s fingertips were cut off from a blade. Doctors told Iommi his career as a guitarist was over. They were wrong. Iommi came up with an idea to place caps on his fingers while he played. He made these caps by ironing caps from soda bottles until they were a rubbery substance that could be place over his fingers. As a result, the band’s sound became heavier. Eventually, the band was signed to Vertigo Records in 1970 and recored their debut album.

Before this, the term of “heavy metal” was being used to describe heavier bands. The term was first used in Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild”. The first time the term was used was in an issue of Rolling Stone Magazine, which was in a negative review on Humble Pie’s debut album. Led Zeppelin were also being dubbed “heavy metal” at the time. People weren’t ready for Black Sabbath at all…

All you can hear is the sound of rain on the self-titled track of the debut album. After hearing a church bell ring, the music starts and plays this evil music. Osbourne’s vocals sound as if he’s scared, especially when he cries “Oh no! Please God help me!” The lyrics for “Black Sabbath” are clever and well written. “Is this the end, my friend?” sings Osbourne. “Satan’s coming ‘round the bend”. “The Wizard” is musically a departure from “Black Sabbath” but still, the lyrics deal with supernatural elements. Believe it or not, there’s some harmonica playing on the song. The next track is actually four songs in one (“Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep/ Basically/ N.I.B.). Of them, “N.I.B.” is probably the best. The main riff is very metal and very heavy. The lyrics, once again, explore dark themes (“My name is Lucifer/Please take my hand”). “Wicked World” is probably the blusiest sounding on the album. Iommi’s rapid guitar playing is impressive. “A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/ Warning” is a fitting closer that contains three different songs. Osbourne’s vocals are great and the album comes to a rocking finish.

Black Sabbath’s debut album was the first of many albums. The band’s second album, Paranoid, was released later that year in 1970 (the review for this album will be up later this year). Paranoid is seen as the stronger album as the song actually had a hit single with the self-titled track. Today, Black Sabbath are still performing. The original line-up is taking a break for now but the line-up containing singer Ronnie James Dio and drummer Vinny Appice tour under the name Heaven & Hell. Meanwhile, Ozzy Osbourne has recently released an autobiography. Back in 2009, Osbourne filed a lawsuit against his bandmates in Black Sabbath over song royalites.

The release of Black Sabbath stands out as one of the important events in the history of heavy metal. It didn’t create the genre nor did it destroy the genre. It did start the career of Black Sabbath and influenced other people to go form their own heavy metal bands. Without this album, almost half of the heavy metal out today wouldn’t be out. It should be celebrated for that reason alone.

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