It was on a Friday in February of 1970 that the world was graced with the debut of Black Sabbath. Nothing would ever be the same.
I went on at length about why Soundgarden was a band that did everything right and how tragic it was that the music industry ignored what they taught in lieu of a tsunami of ‘Alice in Pearlvanas’.
What was it that they taught? Never disrespect the riff, firstly. Sabbath is king; Ozzy is dio.
I bring up Soundgarden because Black Sabbath was also a band that did everything right. You often hear the phrase “They were playing in a style no one else was playing” or something along those lines when discussing why Black Sabbath hit it off so well. It gives the impression that, before February 13, 1970, not one artist ever invoked the black arts of Daddy Black himself or based their music around such.
This is completely false. Black Sabbath was not ‘original’ when they hit it off, as the realm of occult rock had already been established by acts such as Black Widow and Coven.
Trivia: In 1969, Coven recorded a song called ‘Black Sabbath’.
More Trivia: The bassist of Coven is named Oz Osborne.
Certainly they were heavier than any other band, right? No one else before them ever thought to play so loud and heav—
What’s that? Couldn’t hear you over the booming sonic explosions of 1968’s Blue Cheer.
But the riffs! Black Sabbath brought the riffs like no one else before, right?
Again, this is erroneous. Black Sabbath was definitely riff-infested, but it’s hard to understand just how riff-infested rock radio was at the time. Psychedelic blues rock was the order of the day, and anyone who’s ever given the Blues Boom or acid rock a listen or two can tell you that you couldn’t be a ‘rock’ band and not have big riffs and electrically fluid solos.
When you dissect the individual aspects of Sabbath, it almost seems like their success was a fluke. But it wasn’t.
Like I said with Soundgarden, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, or some such rubbish.
Black Sabbath made everything work beautifully in a way that definitely sounded like nothing you’d ever heard. All the occult rock bands were certainly dark and Satanic, but if you listen to Coven’s Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls today, they sound like something you’d hear from Sesame Street; if you listen to Black Widow, you get a distinctly pagan feel to their music, but they nevertheless sound so straightforward late-60’s psyche-rock that it’s almost shocking at how jarring of a disconnect there is. And the heavy songs of the day were definitely heavy: Led Zeppelin had given the world ‘Dazed and Confused’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’, which are very much heavy rockin’ tracks. Blue Cheer unleashed the entirety of the album Vincebus Eruptum, and their 1968 rendition of “Summertime Blues” is still lauded as one of the heaviest songs ever.
But Black Sabbath combined both without sacrificing on either end of the spectrum. And they did it with one of the best possible songs.
The gothic imagery combined with the sinister tritone— the diminished fifth— and the heavy-as-hell breakdown and solo to create heavy metal.
But beyond just the titular song, you heard an album full of what sounded to almost be jazz rock played with such heavy distortion that it was nearly deafening.
A lot of people overlook Sabbath’s jazz influences for their heavy blues, and I’m not saying Sabbath isn’t fulla blues. However, it is this distinct jazz swing that Sabbath brought that helped define their early albums so well, whether it be blatant with Wicked World, Fairies Wear Boots, or Sabbra Cadabra or subtle with Behind the Wall of Sleep , Wizard, and Hand of Doom. Take note, Sabbath worshipers: listen to more swing music.
But Sabbath wasn’t all jazzy-blues. They were rock, first and foremost. They were downer, gothy rock.
But they played it so well that they appealed to an extremely wide group of people. You can find fans of electronica, indie punk, technical-progressive melodeath metal, hip hop, and more who have time for Sabbath. Sabbath was famously popular with the notoriously anti-metal hardcore punk scene, and it was this blend of punk and Sabbath that brought the world such genres as grunge, speed metal, sludge metal, and heavy alternative rock. It didn’t matter if you were left of the dial or not, you had time for Sabbath. If you didn’t, you made time for Sabbath.
And yet when we look upon those early albums, we try to figure out just what was that magic spark. Sabbath laid down the foundations for punk and metal alike whilst also pushing hard rock beyond what it had been in the years prior.
Maybe it was because they had a particularly ‘heavy rock’ way of doing things. They combined the best aspects of what would be punk with the best aspects of what would be metal and made it into their own unique sound, a sound many have tried and failed to replicate (‘specially in the stoner/doom genre). One need only look at “Paranoid” to see what I mean.
Coming up next, a post dedicated to Sabbath’s famous 1970 Paris gig.