Okay, there’s this guy, who’s a bit aloof, a bit know-it-all and he comes to you and asks you: “In your opinion, which is the true-blue, bona fide, first real heavy metal record?”. Well, you know he’s a pissant, so you look ‘im in the eye and, with a steely voice, you tell him: “Well, even nimrods like you should know that this is Black Sabbath’s first, self titled record”. So, the asshole starts telling you something like: “But, you know, many people consider Led Zeppelin’s first…”. WHACK! You hit ‘im –HARD- in the mouth. And, WHACK!, once again, for good measure. The asshole’s obviously shocked. So, with the same steely voice, you tell ‘im: “Listen up, you twerp. There’s no Led Zeppelins, no Deep Purples, no Uriah Heeps, no Iron Butterflies, no nothing. When one –even as stoopid as you- talks about the first heavy metal record, one should know that the Sabs’ first record is the one. Now, fuck off, back to what shit you were listening, before deciding to annoy me and make a fool of yourself”.
Yes, folks, forty years ago our favorite music was being born, after a one-day recording session, in a studio in London. A fucking tritone interval played real slow, two blues covers, a funky-ass number with a harmonica solo and three LSD-informed, satanic-imagery-laden originals and, here it was, heavy metal, in all its ugly glory. As the great journalists used to say, “The rest is history”.
9. I really don’t have a fucking clue about what those four Brummies were aiming for, when they started recording this epochal monument of a record. All I know is that, while clearly influenced and informed by da blooz, the noise emanating from this recording didn’t/couldn’t have any points of reference back in 1969-1970, when the band finalized its sound. It’s not just the almost palpable heaviness which permeates the whole thing; it’s the suffocating malevolent ambience that’s created by seemingly known sounds and styles. It’s the perversion of the blues, their turning into something so menacing, so unrecognizable, so evil.
It’s the full-blown satanic imagery. It’s the downtuned ugliness of the guitar, which sounded like nothing else back then. It’s Ozzy’s rasp, as he tries and generally succeeds in conveying true horror about “the figure in black which points at me”. It’s the fact that, even funky-ass “The Wizard”, or a meandering blues jam like “The warning” turn into something much darker and dangerous within the context of the record. Put simply, the whole is a lot bigger, nastier and uglier than its component parts. Also, this being revolutionary music, it was derided and laughed upon by the media when it came out. Little did these assholes know; the record sold like fresh bread upon its release in England and paved the way for Sabs conquering USA a few months later.
8,5. Picture-perfect production by Rodger Bain: murky as a death-swamp, suffocating as a wet blanket on a hot summer night, sick like malaria. The echoing drums, the snarling bass, the drenched-in-molasses guitar sound, Ozzy’s low-pitch howl, everything here is captured in a way that transcends the –obviously meager- means the band had at its disposal. Also, the band’s idea of editing the songs into five long “suites” accentuates the evil nature of the recording, as riff upon malignant riff melts into one another to create an even more disturbing ambience.
10. C’mon, now, you want me to talk about Iommi? Don’t you know him and his style? Okay, then, just a few words. He invented the thick “wall of sound” guitar technique that still characterizes metal. His soloing was clear and evocative –still is. His downtuned riffing has been ripped off by more bands that’s healthy to mention. Even here, with his blues influences more obvious, he instills the record with his impeccable and wholly personal style. He’s a guitar god and a riff-sensei. What else can I say? He’s TONY FUCKING IOMMI!!! Now, shuddup and listen.
9. This is the grade I shall give to all the Ozzy-Sabbath records I’m going to review, so, if you don’t agree with me you can kindly fuck off. Actually, as I said before, here the Ozzer sounds a bit lower-pitched than in any other Sabs record he participated. Look, objectively, Ozzy’s not a great singer. I really doubt that, when they kicked Di’ Anno outta the band, Iron Maiden would have chosen him, instead of Bruce, for his replacement. But the mofo fits perfectly into the early Sabbath sound and his evocative vocals add a lot of menace and character into the songs. Also, he was one of the few rock frontmen who were ready to go where nobody in his right mind went and do what nobody in his right mind did. Oh, and he played a mean harmonica, too. All hail to the Ozzer, then.
9,5. Geezer was a real force when it came to composing and he was a really versatile bass player. Instead of just keeping the rhythm and playing root notes, the Geezer was all over the place, augmenting the heaviness created by the guitar, playing these phunky-ass note runs and generally showing to the public that a good and imaginative bass player can do wonders for a band.
9,5. I think I’ve read somewhere that Bill Ward tuned his drums in a way, so as to sound more hollow and spectral. Don’t rightly know if that’s true. All I know is that Bill knows his shit like Hell and cannons (thanx, Floody!). Whether playing slowly and creating atmospherics with his toms, or galloping away, along with the guitar and bass, Bill Ward is, in my opinion, the archetypal metal drummer: strong, powerful, versatile and dependable.
8. “ Big black shape with eyes of fire/Telling people their desire/Satan’s sitting there, he’s smiling/Watches those flames get higher and higher”. Okay, next.
10. One of the most iconic and evocative covers of all time. Dark, hallucinogenic, menacing,… EVIL, MAN! THE FIGURE IS SATAN, MAN!!! THEM BLACK SABBATH ARE GOSHDARNEDSATANISTS, MAN!!!
6. Just the band’s name in a quasi-psychedelic font.
-. Vinyl in plastic. Plastic in folded carton. Ergo, no booklet.
How can one describe Black Sabbath’s first record without falling into hyperbole? I cannot, so I’ll make this as brief and to the point as possible. If you’re reading this and you didn’t just happened on GD, then, most probably, you listen to metal. If you listen to metal, you CANNOT not have this record. It’s not a matter of taste, really. Not a matter of preference. Not a matter of opinion. Not a matter of liking or disliking Sabbath, or Ozzy, or Ozzy-Sabbath. You just have to have it and hold it closely to your heart. Remember, without this here record, there’s a pretty good chance that you wouldn’t be listening to what you listen now. A classic, if there ever was one.