Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)
A sallow, sunken face with pitch-black eyes stares out from underneath the hood of a black robe. A grainy, Halloween landscape surrounds the figure: the ominous gray farmhouse in the distance, the gnarled and dying woods streaked with deep red, the white-gray dread of the blanket of clouds. It’s a truly eerie picture that seems more appropriate for a horror movie poster than an album cover.
But record buyers who were not repulsed by this cover but rather were drawn to it would discover the original heavy metal blueprint. Although there are only 5 songs on the record, each one had a hand in establishing Black Sabbath’s cult following, especially in the English Midlands.
1. Black Sabbath
2. The Wizard
3. Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep/Bassically/NIB
4. Wicked World
5. A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning
The title track is considered by some to be Sabbath’s signature song. By working the “flatted-fifth” tri-tone note on the blues scale for a horrific atmosphere, “Black Sabbath” scared many out of their seats, including yours truly. It is like the slow build-up to the final climactic scene in a horror film, like venturing down into a dark tunnel underneath a graveyard. The shift from doom-laden slowness into the chugging overdrive a few minutes into the song became one of Sabbath’s trademarks.
In addition to the title track there are two more normal-length songs and two longer (10-minute plus) “suites” consisting of multiple sections. Sabbath had played these on the road for many months before entering the studio to put them down on vinyl. Although they would record many more excellent tracks together, Sabbath never revisited this style of multiple-song suites on any of their subsequent albums, making them a unique sight on this first LP.
The first of these suites comes on the heels of “The Wizard,” which may be the only instance of harmonica in a heavy metal song (that I know of, at least).
The “Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep” section fades into drummer Bill Ward authoritatively keeping time, the reverb from his kit establishing a very “live improvisation in a small pub” atmosphere. He then turns it over to bassist Geezer Butler, who navigates his bass for a bit before finding his mark with the lurching main riff of “NIB,” another Sabbath classic.
Ward picks up a jazzy hi-hat rhythm for “Wicked World,” which also features an extended break for lead guitarist Tony Iommi to show that his famed industrial accident, during which he lost two fingers, has not dulled his virtuosity. He takes an even longer solo spot during the final track. A 14-minute suite, “A Bit of Finger” starts with some somber, “scary early morning” atmospheric picking, and eases into a blues-based second half to finish off the record.
With its then-unheard-of, bluesy horror-film atmosphere, “Black Sabbath” became a Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. And of course, this album is largely considered the official kick-off point for all things metal-related. If you’re looking for an introduction to heavy metal music, there are still (more than 40 years later!) few better places to start than right here–with the original quartet spreading its hopeful wings and launching the ship of the greatest music on earth.
5 / 5
Written by Matt P