Black Sabbath emerged into the sunshiney, rainbow hippie world of the Woodstock Generation, spread their freakish, leathery wings like some kind of giant demonic bat, and plunged their listeners into terrifying shadows. I can’t even imagine how parents felt about these records at the time, but if a teenager wanted to act all rebellious and goth before goth even became a thing, then bringing home Black Sabbath would certainly do the trick.
Despised by critics (as were most of their rock brethren who debuted around the same time, including Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad), Black Sabbath still sold millions of records to kids who didn’t want to listen to their older siblings’ Beatles and Crosby, Stills & Nash records (see also, Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad). While singer/songwriters and glam rockers grabbed the headlines and the spotlight, Sabbath merely invented half a dozen genres of metal. Critics eventually about-faced.
Alright, then. Let’s quickly address the cloven-hoofed elephant in the room. Black Sabbath have never – no, really – worshipped at the altar of Lucifer, the morning star, son of the dawn, he that carries a pitchfork and sports a pointy beard. As a matter of fact, early in their career, Sabbath declined to play a concert for a bunch of English Satanists, who, in a fit of pique, placed a hex on the band. Terrified, lead singer Ozzy Osbourne ran to daddy, who fashioned giant aluminum crosses for each member as protection from the curse. And they’ve worn them ever since.
More influenced by horror movies than by the Unspeakable One, Black Sabbath were really just a bunch of pussycats. Albeit pussycats who dwelled in all-consuming darkness.
So follow me now and you will not regret leaving the life you led before we met. Here’s the least you need to know:
Black Sabbath (1970) The opening salvo. A bleak, atmospheric mix of blues-rock, jazz-rock, and the beginnings of something metallic. Recorded in one day for about £800 and released on Friday the 13th. Spooky! And, like all Sabbath albums, probably kept hidden under the bed so your parents wouldn’t find it.
Paranoid (1970) Sabbath truly finds their sound, launching a pummeling attack of sonic heavy-osity, an avalanche of electric sludge. Wisely stepping back from most of the faux-Satanism, the lyrics instead focus on the cheerier themes of war and isolation. Here lies the essence of the band, and the origin of heavy metal.
Heaven And Hell (1980) Ozzy’s gone and into the void steps Ronnie James Dio, inventor of the devil horns hand gesture seen at all metal concerts. Reinvigorated and ready to rock, the band finds a spark seemingly lost years before.
If you really find yourself digging hard rock and metal, or the history thereof, then the first six Sabbath albums, all with Ozzy Osbourne on lead vocals, are indispensable. The band’s influence on the metal genre, and all the subsections within, remains incalculable.