photo & text by nacrowe
it is hard to downplay the cultural and historical importance of the massively influential debut BLACK SABBATH album BLACK SABBATH (WARNER BROS, 1970). it basically created METAL as a genre. in fact, BLACK SABBATH is such an important band that there are whole current sub-genres that trace their origins back to specific songs from various albums.
of course this is all in hindsight, at the time of its release this record was not a critical favorite and the band were never considered to be at the vanguard of ROCK N ROLL or anything particularly unique or special. that fascinates me. this is the type of stuff i find intriguing about art in general, how each generation rediscovers and cherry picks from the past. how the inscrutable 16th century DUTCH painter HEIRONYMOUS BOSCH was a favorite of the SURREALISTS some 400 years later. how KRAFTWERK and KRAUTROCK in general influenced early HIP HOP acts like AFRIKA BAMBAATAA. why is BLACK SABBATH arguably as celebrated as LED ZEPPELIN with modern METAL musicians? its beyond interesting.
putting that aside, what always struck me about their debut was how much a JAZZ element there was to it. if you listen to the interplay of the drums and bass on songs like "N.I.B." and "THE WIZARD" there is a definite swing element at play. in fact, it really grooves. i think that aspect of their sound is criminally overlooked. on subsequent releases they streamlined this sound which eventually became further developed with subsequent bands like JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN, METALLICA, SLAYER into various beloved subgenres ranging from the extreme in GRINDCORE, BLACK METAL and DEATH METAL to the streamlined in THRASH METAL and the experimental in SLUDGE METAL, POST METAL and even DOOM METAL.
obviously the most celebrated track is the opener "BLACK SABBATH" with its iconic tritone riff and creepy atmospherics. when i envision it the adjective cinematic comes to mind. it just sets a mood long before singer OZZY OSBOURNE enters in. obviously OZZY is one of the great frontman in ROCK N ROLL history, but id argue not from his voice which is evocative but rather limited. i dont think he'd disagree with me on that. where his gift lies is in his commitment to the material and his presence as a relatable avatar for the every-man. i find OZZY immensely more relatable than contemporaries of the 1970s like ROBERT PLANT, ROGER DALTREY or even members of the then-recently disbanded BEATLES. no disrespect to any of them but they cover an altitude beyond us mere mortals. to my ears, OZZY comes off as something attainable. i think this is why he is beloved by every ROCK N ROLL iteration since, including PUNK ROCK and all its incarnations like 1980s HARDCORE and 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK. i also think lyrically OZZY is never given enough credit for the intelligence of his lyrics. in my mind the song "BLACK SABBATH" can be a substitute for your pick of any existential crisis, global or personal.
i should also mention that the riffs of guitarist TONY IOMMI are legendary and the aforementioned TRITONE PATTERNS (specifically diminished 5ths) as well as detuned guitars (to accommodate his recently disfigured right fretting hand) and ample distortion is in effect the very template for the sound of METAL for the past 50 years. its hard to downplay his impact on this and subsequent records. his riffs alone are copied by modern guitarist to this day. IOMMI basically is METAL.
i was lucky in that as a teenager i got to see a reunited BLACK SABBATH at OZZFEST numerous times and hearing specific tracks like "BLACK SABBATH" and "N.I.B." in a love context always sounded haunting and absolutely massive. even in their waning years they were a force to reckon with even after supporting acts like SLAYER, PANTERA, SYSTEM OF A DOWN, JUDAS PRIEST, SLIPKNOT or ROB ZOMBIE. never did they disappoint.
again, its hard to downplay the importance of this record. as i stated before, it is also one of those records that gets rediscovered year after year by young musicians, much like THE STOOGES or THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, and continues to influence and shape modern culture. seminal record by a seminal band. definitely worth your time to investigate.