By 1973, Black Sabbath was already a force to be reckoned with in the pop music world of the era. Their records sold hundreds of thousands of copies; their tours were sold out in no time; America –the hardest market for an English “heavy” band- had already embraced them like prophets of a new era; they were making good money; they had the best drugs available; the best groupies; the best booze; and the support of a monstrous label (Warner Bros.) in the USA. They were, in almost one word, “in the cool”.
But there was unease, palling their success; an “invisible worm” that ate at the band members. See, for all their marketability –despite their uncompromising sound- and success, for all the love and devotion the fans rained upon them, the critics still hated and derided them. The reviews of their records presented them as simplistic, dumb and boring and there was a palpable sense of hate and repulsion against them. Some rock historians attribute this trend on the musical climate of the era: coming out of the colorful ‘60s, where every band could easily do anything it wanted, the ‘70s offered the world ponderous progressive bands that combined different musical styles –from classical and jazz to hard rock and blues- and Black Sabbath’s suffocating monolithic heaviness really riled the critics.
Anyway, story has it that the boys decided to show them damn critics that they were capable of writing and playing “serious” music. They went back to L.A. and tried to work there. After some time when the band members wallowed in drugs and depravity, they returned to England, called ex-Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman to help them flesh out some songs with his piano magic and, after some more time, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” saw the sickly light of day… And, it was received AGAIN with lukewarm reaction from the media of the era, which goes to show you that “once hated, always fucking hated”. Even if Black Sabbath recorded the best prog rock L.P. of the era, I’m comfuckingpletely sure that someone would’ve find something wrong with it.
Of course, once again the critics were wrong. They hadn’t been able to grasp the monumental changes that Black Sabbath produced in pop music, so how could the band expect them to comprehend what they were trying to do with their latest record? Anyway, to make a long story short, even though not on par with the previous output, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” is one hell of a worthy addition to the early Black Sabbath canon and one record that, again, displayed the band’s ability to experiment, while retaining its basic heavosity and cojones. And, even though “Sabbath…” seems a bit less monolithic than, say, “Master Of Reality”, it’s still one fuck of a heavy album.
9. Whether one likes it or not, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” is still Black Sabbath. Yes, yes, I know, they’re trying to sound more “proggy” than in their other records. And, yes, I know there are quite a few thingies here that were absent from previous records: more complex arrangements with strings, pianos, horns, digeridoo, mouth harp, banjo, faggotto, clavinet and more. And, yes, Ozzer’s using his helium wail quite a lot.
But, if one shows enough grace to overpass the, ehm, awkwardness of it all, one will basically find the usual Sabs fodder in great abundance. Super-heavy, trudging riffery, smart compositions (let’s face it, early Black Sabbath had a HUUUUGE progressive vein, always going for multi-parted songs, or textural experiments, or whatever…), ace playing and production (although here it’s more “streamlined”) and a sense of doom and gloom that was missing from any other “heavy” band of the era.
See, if one wants to be as truthful as possible, one will admit that, with the exception of the abysmally awful “Who Are You?”, the songs contained here are your basic Sabs tunes, just a bit more textured and tweaked, so as to sound more “progressive” than they already were. Black Sabbath still writes heavy tunes, even when the band goes melodic –as in “Looking For Today”- or tries to sound more “hard rockish” than, y’know, their usual downtuned dementia. So, on this front, you know that, even when it tries, an old and successful dog can’t –and probably shouldn’t- learn new tricks.
9. It’s way better that on “Volume 4”. Some say it lacks on the heaviness quotient, but those guys don’t know shit from Shinola. Basically, the production is more, let’s say, “ornate” than on previous albums. But, it’s still earthy, organic and full, with great separation when needed and a sturm-und-drang heaviness when it’s called for. Also, the complex instrumentation of many tracks comes off pretty convincing, while the different textures of the songs are captured vividly and powerfully. To sum things up, the production is very A-OK and easily comparable with today’s technical feats.
9. Tony is a great guitarist –I think that we’ve already established that. He’s also a pretty versatile guitarist, a trait that really shines here, with our boy going from hammer-on-the-head riffing to more textured and “sensitive” playing with ease and grace. He also displays great compositional skills, writing one of the best heavy metal songs ever (“Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”). Look, it’s getting tiresome… Tony’s great. That’s all you need to know.
9. Ozzy learns –slowly- to sing against the guitar. He’s wailing like a bastard here, but he also displays technicality, range and depth. Let’s say that he’s the archetypal metal singer and get it over with, shall we?…
9. Everything I’ve already said ‘bout Geezer still stands. This time around, what with the songs being more, umm, catchy and listener-friendly, he gets to shine even more than on “Volume 4”. He also dabbles with keys and synths and whatnot –with questionable results, I might add…-, but all in all he’s still the Geezer we all know and love: steady, cock-sure, original, phunky-ass, heavy and nasty.
9. Please, refer to my previous Black Sabbath reviews for Bill. Only thing to add is that here he displays even more range and prowess. Way to go, Bill!
8. I suppose that this time around Sabs tried to display a seriouser lyrical content, in line with the overall ambition to be treated like a “serious” band. So, I again suppose that the lyrics try to show some depth and social consciousness. Or something. They’re okay, thus the “8”.
9. It’s so totally out of context of the record that it’s amazing. Drew Struzan painted a man trapped inside a quasi-satanic nightmarish vision, even though there’s not ONE satanic song here. It’s a fine, painting, though, and I like it quite a lot.
7. The first attempt towards a logo, even if it’s not in the band’s name –which is written in Ye Olde Heavy Metal font-, but on the record’s title: I’m talking, of course, about the runic “s” found in “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, which will be used again on the covers of some more records.
8. Pix, info, lyrix, other stuff, it’s okay, I don’t care.
As I’ve already said, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, for all its embellishments and shit, is still a typical and typically good Black Sabbath Mk. I record. Even though this time the band goes for a more “up-to-date” sound, trying to show that it’s worthy of being treated as a “serious” band, the inherent heaviness and unfuckwithability of the Sabs remains intact and shows that the guys are still evolving as musicians and composers-arrangers. The bottom line is that if you felt that the previous four albums were too heavy for you, this time around you’ll find more texture. If you liked them, there’s no reason not to enjoy “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” as much as the previous records. It’s a great album and you should have it, okay?