Black Sabbath? Black Sabbath Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath! “Black Sabbath”. Much as I do love punctuation (and Sabbath) I’ll stop there.


There was a funny moment in about 1992 when suddenly the music press, coming to terms with the fact that every grunge band ever (even the pimply, blatantly fake ones) claimed they owned almost everything to Sabbath, started to pretend that they’d really liked Black Sabbath all along. Hang on! thought all of us long hairs – you’ve mocked and derided us for our tribalism and uncool musical tastes for ever – you can’t steal our Gods. But they did and suddenly Black Sabbath were lauded as one of the most influential bands ever, which they were of course. We knew that.

Almost all of the Ozzy-era Sabbath LPs are perfect and I know they made better ones, but Black Sabbath has a special place in my heart. I own a really cool Vertigo original vinyl copy, with a swirly inner label and everything – in fact I borrowed it from my dad in around 1990. If you discount Hendrix and various heavy blues merchants you could say my dad only owned two hard rock/metal LPs, Thin Lizzy Bad Reputation and this one.

Everything about this record is just perfection – creepy cover image of robed chick in overgrown garden? check; sound of a mournful bell tolling midnight in the rain? check; singer who sounds fearful for his very soul itself? check; the invention of almost every worthwhile metal riff ever recorded? check; LP released on Friday 13th? check; evil? check; scary upside-down cross in the gatefold containing even scarier poem? check; despair? check; three of the best rock musicians ever assembled in one place? check; 1537’s favourite ever rhythm section? check. I could go on, but you’d probably skip off to a better blog.

Original UK gatefold (with authentic original scary-robed lady Lego figure)
Original UK gatefold (with authentic original scary-robed lady Lego figure)

One of the reasons I like this LP so much is that while it contains some tracks that are undeniably metal, you can really hear their origins in the hard-blues tracks like ‘Warning’ and ‘Wicked World’, the logical progression is there for everyone to see. I really wish I could have heard it when it first came out, it must have just sounded so wrong, so negative – brilliant. No wonder all the critics, reportedly, hated it.

There are undeniable cold classics here such as ‘Black Sabbath’, which is just perfect even before the music starts and unlike lots of songs by lots of other artists, gets even better when it does start, ‘N.I.B’ and ‘The Wizard’, but I even like the more throwaway tracks like the cover ‘Evil Woman’ and the 10-minute ‘Warning’. To be honest I just have the hots for this LP and if the final track was a kazoo-only cover of ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ I would still argue it was a proto-metal classic*, a neglected part of their canon and that it showed a clear progression from, umm, something to something else a bit different. I have no objectivity here, I have to have this LP at least once a month.

I’ll spare you my ramblings on just how great Bill Ward and Geezer Butler are for another time and stash my Tony-Iomni-is-a-genius rant for later on, but what I will say is that if you ever tire of the multi-media buffoon Ozzy either has become / or pretends to be, or appalling 80’s Ozzy in a blouse, then just feast your ears here, when he is in full cry. His voice is every bit as much of an instrument as any other here, his tone perfect throughout, giving every track here just the right texture and feel.

My favourite track on Black Sabbath Black Sabbath? ‘Black Sabbath’ of course.

112 Down.

What is this that stands before me?
What is this that stands before me?

* Proto being my new prefix of choice which I use wherever possible, even if it’s not proto-relevant.

15 thoughts on “A Distant Bell Tolls

    1. I know, I know – beggars belief doesn’t it? I agree but I find the production on Sabotage a bit off, so its the first 5 for me until Dio rides his dragon into town!

      1. Sabotage is a bit odd sounding admittedly but so many great songs on that. Don’t let the sound put you off. Hole in the Sky is one of the best, heaviest opening tracks ever! Symptom of the Universe, The Writ, Megalomania… all incredible! Give it another go, you’ll thank me for it. It’s harder to love than its predecessors but it’s a real grower.

      2. Obviously that’s just in my opinion… and I don’t mean to assume you haven’t listened to it plenty already. It’s just one of those underrated albums I like getting behind!

  1. First off: two people whose dad had cool music to steal? Mine had Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass which, it turned out, was too racy for him. I got ripped off!

    Second: I definitely preferred Master of Reality (why did I never notice there was just one “Master”?), but this series of Ozzy-era music is such an awesome transition from the heavy rock of the past to the metal of the future. Unlike most transitions, this stands on it’s own without the before/after links.

    Third: Those Legos? They’re some evil m__ f__ers. My fragile childhood brain (insufficient racy music exposure) would have exploded had I seen those.

    1. Difference is, I started to climb the mountain (of vinylness) from halfway up (standing on the shoulders of giants etc), where as you Mr O are cooler because you started from the foothills of Alpert.

      Evil m_f_ers ? evil minifigures ?

  2. Oh my. That is a thing of beauty…evil beauty, that is. I’m sure your dad didn’t miss it(just like mine didn’t miss that first edition pressing of Led Zeppelin ll).

    Such a great album. I think after Master of Reality there began a gradual decline in quality in Black Sabbath’s albums. Trends and Ozzy’s drug problems weighed heavily on them. But even up to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath there were at least two or three gems, ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ being an example of just how far ahead Iommi and Butler were in creating what is now referred to as heavy metal. No band ever had a run like Sabbath did with Black Sabbath, Paranoid, and Master of Reality…not even Zeppelin.

    Bohnam had nothing on Ward. ‘Supernaut’ proved that. He was a beast behind the kit, yet he also could swing like a jazz drummer. The guy was amazing.

    Alright, I’m gushing now. Great pick. Carry on, sir.

Leave a Reply