Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

A musician friend of mine (a guitarist in the Cleveland-based band Ottawa) told me this is his favorite Black Sabbath album.

While it's not my favorite (that honor belongs to Master of Reality), Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is undoubtedly Sabbath's most accomplished work, finding the boys pushing their sound to the limits of heavy metal and experimenting with new instrumental and production techniques. Simply put, it's the band's most sophisticated and ambitious album.

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath opens with its title track, the riff that's been credited with saving the band. Suffering from writer's block and creative exhaustion, the group rented space in a reportedly haunted castle for inspiration, and as a result, Tony Iommi gives us one of his most complex and darkest songs. It is progressive heavy metal, filled with aggressive driving riffs, chugging refrains, acoustic interludes, foreboding atmosphere, and several tempo chances while Ozzy Osbourne gives one of his best performances.

"Where can you run to?
What more can you do?
No more tomorrow.
Life is killing you.
Dreams turn to nightmares
Heaven turns to Hell."

The opening song is an angry track from the lords of gloom and doom, but they vary the emotions elsewhere. "A National Acrobat" slows down with an almost funky bass and "Spiral Architect" builds to its climax with a backing string section, but the abstract imagery of their lyrics (about conception and DNA respectively) and their progressive styles wouldn't be out of place on Vol. 4.

"Fluff" is a tender, beautiful piano-driven instrumental. Meanwhile, "Sabbra Cadabra" plays like a heavy jazz piece, full of swing and bounce (plus Rick Wakeman of Yes on keyboards!). Its keyboards are downright boogie, and the lyrics could fit on a pop song.

"Feel so good, I feel so fine.
Lovely little lady always on my mind
She gives me lovin' every night and day.
Never gonna leave her. Never going away."

For the early part of its run, Sabbath was a meat-and-potatoes heavy metal band: four guys, a guitar, a bass, and drums. Sure, "Changes" had a piano on it, but that was an outlier. Their production was raw (behind-the-scenes stories reveal they recorded  those early albums in a couple of days or less), but here, the instrumentation is heavily layered and filled with multiple, overlapping parts, giving the album a rich, rounded sound.

Sabbath uses instruments not normally used for the genre, including the piano on "Fluff," the keyboard on "Sabbra Cadabra," the synthesizers on "Who Are You?" the flute on "Looking for Today," and the strings "Spiral Architect." They even mix acoustic guitars with the distorted electrics, creating a nice texture. Impressively, these unorthodox choices don't feel out of place.

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is firmly entrenched in heavily metal, but the boys show just how varied in effect the genre can be. The album still sounds like Black Sabbath, even as they chart new territory.

Standout Tracks
"Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" - A monster opening that's both heavy and complex.
"A National Acrobat" - Heavy and moody but dreamy.
"Sabbra Cadabra" - Sabbath rocks and swings.

Favorite Moment
The breakdown of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" (4 minutes and 40 seconds into the song). It's one of my favorite licks by Iommi.

Album Cover
Naked demons, a rat, and a snake ravish a man on a Satanic bed in reddish tint color. Perhaps the band's most evil album cover.

Song Order
1) Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
2) A National Acrobat
3) Fluff
4) Sabbra Cadabra
5) Killing Yourself to Live
6) Who are You?
7) Looking for Today
8) Spiral Architect

Ozzy Osbourne - Vocals
Tony Iommi  - Guitar, Piano, Synthesizer, Harpsichord, Organ, Flute, Handclaps, Bagpipes
Geezer Butler - Bass, Synthesizer, Mellotron, Handclaps, Nose Flute
Bill Ward - Drums, Bongos, Timpani, Handclaps 
And a guest spot by Rick Wakeman

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