Last Friday the original, legendary Black Sabbath lineup — Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward — announced that they are reuniting once again for a tour and a 2012 Rick Rubin-produced album. I’m holding out hope that it won’t be a disaster, as the quasi-Sabbath Heaven & Hell project (R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio) was quite good.
So to honor the godfathers of heavy metal I’ve put together this compilation of ten songs (from the original foursome) that are not their biggest hits, but are still true genre classics.
1 — “Black Sabbath” (from Black Sabbath, 1970)
This is it, people. Scholars can debate the origins of metal all they want, but for my money it starts with the first song from Sabbath’s first album. Those opening three guitar chords from Iommi are the sound of your doom, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Ozzy’s plaintive wails only enhance the dread and when he screams, “Oh no, no, please God help me!” you know God’s not listening. Feel the darkness envelop you, and revel in it my friends.
2 — “The Wizard” (from Black Sabbath, 1970)
One of the many great things about really early Sabbath was that as pummeling as they could be, they also really grooved. Few songs showcase this better than “The Wizard,” featuring Ozzy on harmonica and Bill Ward making great use of the cowbell.
3 — “Hand of Doom” (from Paranoid, 1970)
Speaking of sick grooves, check out the delicate stick work from Ward that starts this one. I love the dynamics on this track, which alternate between the subtle dread of the verses with the full-on power of the choruses. And of course the trademark Black Sabbath mid-song breakdown (which is almost like a new song entirely) is in full effect here.
4 — “Into the Void” (from Master of Reality, 1971)
It amazes me how Tony Iommi can draw upon a seemingly endless supply of great riffs. This is one of his best. Listen to that sludgy Geezer Butler bass part. Awesome.
5 — “Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener” (from Vol. 4, 1972)
Vol. 4 was my entry point into Black Sabbath’s music, and to this day it’s my favorite album of theirs. This is clearly the point where drugs started to heavily influence the band’s sound, but they held it together for awhile. The intro to this song is the soundtrack to a bad acid trip, but then it settles down a bit. Fuck that peace and love crap, man, this is the music I float away to in my mind.
6 — “Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes” (from Vol. 4, 1972)
A masterpiece. One mind-melting riff after another. The intro was one of the scariest things I ever heard as a kid.
7 — “A National Acrobat” (from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, 1973)
I have no frigging clue what the title of this song is supposed to mean, but it matters not. This is a very good song for about the first five minutes, then the coda kicks in and it goes to the next level.
8 — “Spiral Architect” (from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, 1973)
One of the things people tend to overlook about Black Sabbath is that they were just as adept at conveying genuine beauty in their songs as they were menace and power. Witness both the delicate acoustic guitar intro to “Spiral Architect,” as well as the choruses, backed with a string section. Few metal bands could pull off lines like, “Of all the things I value most in life / I see my memories and feel their warmth / And know that they are good” and not be laughed at.
9 — “Symptom of the Universe” (from Sabotage, 1975)
The song that launched a thousand thrash metal bands. I hate to sound like a broken record, but listen to that fucking riff. That riff alone should be encased in gold and put in the Smithsonian. Never mind that Ozzy sounds possessed and Bill Ward is playing with what I’m sure was a cocaine-fueled frenzy. I think I just cracked a rib listening to Geezer’s bass.
10 — “The Writ” (from Sabotage, 1975)
Despite being cast as Satan worshipers, a lot of Sabbath’s lyrics were fairly positive and actually spoke out against evil. But the band saved the most venomous lyrics for “The Writ,” directed at former manager Jim Simpson. But in true Sabbath fashion they change things up, and the song shifts to a yearning, hopeful tone at the 5:30 mark. Great stuff, and possibly my favorite Black Sabbath song.
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