Sunday, May 7, 2017

Black Sabbath

Witness the birth of heavy metal.

From the opening toll of a distant bell as a ominous thunder rolls in, Black Sabbath, the eponymous debut album of the genre's most important and influential band, draws us with a dark, foreboding dread. The haunting tritone of Tony Iommi's guitar, the rumbling blare of Geezer Butler's bass, and the heartbeat tolling of Bill Ward's massive drums rise from the darkness, paving the way for the haunting wail of Ozzy Osbourne on the opening title track.

"What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black which points at me.
Turn round quick and start to run.
Find out I'm the chosen one.
Oh no."

At a time when popular music celebrated peace and love, the quartet from Birmingham, England offered a counterpoint of gloom and doom. Their songs were not about peace or love but the occult, the Devil, the end of the world, losing your soul, and the dark side of humanity. It is a dark, bleak album.

Black Sabbath began as a blues act, and their first album is very much in the tradition of the blues sound. Songs such as "The Wizard" and "N.I.B." have a swinging rhythm while later tracks "Warning" and "Wicked World" sound like extended jam sessions. The difference between is the, well, wicked tone. Iommi and Butler heavily distort their instruments, creating the distinctive, powerful crunch that would serve as a crucial building block in heavy metal.

"Now I have you with me, under my power.
Our love grows stronger now with every hour.
Look into my eyes, you'll see who I am.
My name is Lucifer, please take my hand."

In the decades since, heavy metal would get faster (especially as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and American Thrash started taking influence from the punk movement), but Black Sabbath here in no rush to impress. The sludge-like tempo feels appropriate, a gradual building atmosphere of fear and evil taking over. You can't stop it, and you can't misdirect it; it's all encompassing, and it's taking over. It's a very assured, confident sound, and in it's own way, it's exquisite.

The first several tracks - the title song, "The Wizard," "Behind the Wall of Sleep," and "N.I.B." - are as perfect as heavy metal can be. The subsequent songs aren't as strong. They're still solid and well played, but they aren't the masterpieces the first four are and feel a bit directionless, depriving the album of an epic climax worthy of the opening songs. Still, the album remains the most important release in heavy metal and any fan of the genre must hear it.

"Now from darkness there springs light
Wall of Sleep is cool and bright
Wall of Sleep is lying broken
Sun shines in you have awoken"

Standout Songs
"Black Sabbath" - The first song in the history of heavy metal initiates us to a world of doom and gloom.
"The Wizard" - Ozzy plays the harmonica and is still heavy as hell.
"N.I.B." - This remains one of the band's darkest and catchiest songs.

Favorite Moment
Geezer Butler has a killer bass solo leading into "N.I.B." called "Basically."

Album Cover
A strange woman in black stands outside a watermill. Gothic, oddly medieval, and creepy as hell.

Track Order
1) Black Sabbath
2) The Wizard
3) Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep/Basically/N.I.B.
4) Wicked World
5) A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning

Ozzy Osboune - Vocals
Tony Iommi - Guitar
Geezer Butler - Bass
Bill Ward - Drums

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