A momentous day has recently passed in the history of music. Feb. 13 marked the 40th anniversary of the U.K. release of Black Sabbath's self-titled debut album - an album claimed by many as the first truly consummate heavy metal album.
For those that don't know the story, guitarist Tony Iommi had the tips of two of his fingers cut off while working in a factory. In response, he used lighter strings and down-tuned his guitar to relieve some of the pressure on newly thimble-covered fingertips.
The result? Sabbath hit upon a dark and sinister sound unlike that of any of their contemporaries at the time most exemplified in the song, "Black Sabbath." A six-and-a-half minute demonstration of heavy metal perfection, this song definitively identified the heavy metal sound being felt out by other bands of the late '60s (Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Blue Cheer).
Also evident throughout the album is Sabbath's origin as a blues band, especially in the rhythm section with Bill Ward's incredible feel on the drum kit and Geezer Butler's moving and adventurous bass lines. In addition, two songs, "Evil Woman" and "Warning," are covers of blues songs, the second of which contains some of Iommi's best guitar playing as the band extends a four-minute song to over 10 minutes with some well-executed jamming.
It's also obvious that this album comes from an era where artists worked to craft and listeners expected to hear full albums' worth of sincere effort, as there is truly no weak track on the album.
There is "Behind the Wall of Sleep" and "The Wizard," which combine literarily-inspired lyrics (an H.P. Lovecraft novel and Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings trilogy) with catchy riffs and vocal melodies.
Then there's "Wicked World," which anticipates "War Pigs" lyrically and contains some of Butler's most tasteful bass playing, well-crafted riffs from Iommi and a hypnotic structural shift demonstrative of the band's call-and-response governing rule. Iommi leads the song from its main section to a slow, atmospheric build-up before letting loose an energetic solo until Ward pulls the band back.
"Sleeping Village" works with the title track and "Wicked World" to establish Sabbath's trademark structural variance by mixing together five different musical "paragraphs" into a cohesive song.
The track that stands with "Black Sabbath" as one of the two gems of the album, however, is "N.I.B." Again, Sabbath demonstrates its united virtuosity in constructing songs that always manage to change things up throughout. The song has a wonderful bass solo introduction, fierce guitar playing, a nice vocal performance from Ozzy Osbourne and those "just right" drum parts that Ward accomplishes so well. All of this in a song sung from the point of view of Lucifer, who has fallen in love with a woman.
Overall, Black Sabbath is a heavy metal masterpiece, and even if people continue to debate its status as the first heavy metal album, it remains that nobody can truly call him or herself a "metalhead" without owning it.
Album ReviewBlack Sabbath☆☆☆☆☆
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