Sabotage is the last great album in a streak by Black Sabbath's original lineup going back to their debut album. It's heavy as hell and filled with daring musical ideas that showed they were still in progressing their sound. But their subject matter suggests some discord in the camp, and while they funneled that tension into great music here, it eventually tore them apart.
The album opens strong with the apocalyptic yet environmentally conscious "Hole in the Sky." It's heavy, it has a monster riff, and it's one of Sabbath's best. After a brief acoustic interlude, Sabbath, having already forged heavy metal, invent thrash metal with "Symptom of the Universe, and listening to it today, one can hear its influence on everyone from Diamond Head to Metallica to Iron Maiden with its speed, aggression, and multiple parts and time changes.
"Symptom," along with "The Writ," are sometimes considered the anti-Led Zeppelin songs. Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" famously begins slow and quiet, building in intensity and speed, and by the end, it's blazing. Sabbath perform the opposite: starting heavy and angry before easing into a gentle, acoustic exit that peacefully soars out. Anyone who ever doubted Sabbath's technical chops should give these tracks a listen.
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath found the band incorporating a variety of instruments, from flutes and pianos to synthesizers. Here, the band experiments with different song structures. Except for "Hole in the Sky," they avoid the typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo arrangement. The moody "Megalomania" is nearly 10 minutes long but sure doesn't feel like it, and "The Writ" is nearly eight minutes.
"Am I Going Insane (Radio)" does the unthinkable: there's no guitar on it. It's entirely synth-driven. Meanwhile, "Supertzar" is built around a wordless vocal riff that sounds like Hell's gospel choir.
From the subject matter perspective, Sabotage finds Black Sabbath in a dark place. Not dark as in gothic or creepy like their previous works, but dark in the sense the band is finding itself on unstable ground. By 1975, they had achieved massive success, and now they had to cope with it.
The anxieties of success are felt, especially on "The Writ," in which they lash out at a former manager who ripped them off, and "Megalomania" finds them singing about how they feel the "dream of my soul" is poisoned, "fantasies have taken complete control," and "why doesn't everybody leave me alone now."
It's obvious trouble was brewing within the band at this point, and drug use was starting to get out of hand. At least on Sabotage, they showed they still had some creative life left.
"Hole in the Sky" - A heavy, rocking opener.
"Symptom of the Universe" - Sabbath gives birth to thrash.
"The Writ" - Dark, cynical, and elaborate.
In "Symptom of the Universe," Tony Iommi's electric solo erupts with a vengeance and just as easily slides into the mellow acoustic outro.
The band, their backs to a mirror, is matched by reflected doppelgangers. Eerie, perhaps indicating potential self-sabotage.
1) Hole in the Sky
2) Don't Start (Too Late)
3) Symptom of the Universe
5) The Thrill of it All
7) Am I Going Insane (Radio)
8) The Writ
Ozzy Osbourne – Vocals
Tony Iommi – Guitar, Piano, Synthesizer, Organ, Harp
Terry "Geezer" Butler – Bass
Bill Ward – Drums, Percussion