In The Beginning – Black Sabbath


Rain. An ominous church bell. More rain. Then suddenly, a monolithic, dirge-like guitar riff cracks through the atmospherics and heavy metal is born.

 

It was literally as easy as that. The song in question, is ‘Black Sabbath’, by Black Sabbath, from their first album, ‘Black Sabbath’. Heavy Metal Year Zero in other words.

 

Sure, Led Zeppelin had been around for a few years prior, but they didn’t make the same kind of immediate impact and tread the new ground that the Sabs did from the get go. Steppenwolf may have first quoted the phrase ‘Heavy Metal’ in their breakthrough single Born To Be Wild back in 1968, and Blue Cheer may have popularised the fuzzed-out, down-tuned blues riffs around the same time, but Sabbath were the first, and arguably the most skilful at amalgamating  these – at the time, seemingly disparate – threads which over the years have coalesced into the beast that now is simply known as heavy metal.

 

The funereal speeds, the tortured vocals, the powerful drums and the down-tuned guitars may sound like a description of any one of a number of contemporary stoner or doom bands, but this was the first track from a bands first album, way back in 1970, which is testament to the enduring power of this group, in that even to this day, bands are taking what they created, and treating it as the gospel as to how heavy music should be played.

 

Simply put, without Sabbath, the musical landscape would have taken on a significantly different guise in their absence. Who is to know what our beloved heavy metal would sound like nowadays without the initial impact of Sabbath? Perhaps it’s best not to think about it, and instead celebrate what they have given us. As Scott Ian, guitarist in legendary thrashers Anthrax put it,

“To create something from nothing is impossible. So what Black Sabbath did was magic. These four wizards from Birmingham created a genre of music that didn’t exist before Tony Iommi put tipless fingers to fretboard and changed the world. It’s as if the notes were just floating around in the ether waiting to be heard until Tony, with the power of his hands, plucked them from limbo to share their doom-onic song with all of us. Sabbath channeled those notes into five perfect albums of pure heavy metal. It’s theirs. They own it. Everyone else that followed — Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Pantera (all great bands in their own right) — are just leasing.”

 

And Ian’s sentiments are reciprocated by essentially a whos who of the heavy metal world, noone who has led their life listening to or playing metal can play down the importance of Black Sabbath – indeed, even a cursory viewing of the excellent ‘Metal – A Headbangers Journey’ documentary can see a multitude of established acts – both contemporary and classic – extol the virtues of Black Sabbath, especially their first five albums – Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Master Of Reality, Vol 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, all of which, are to a certain extent, flawless examples of their craft.

 

(Personally, I’d also add their sixth – Sabotage – to that list as I feel that it stands up to any of the first five although a couple of fillers are present, and Hole In The Sky and Symptom Of The Universe are regarded as quintessential Sabs tracks. The artwork is fantastic given that Bill Wards undercrackers are visible on the rear cover, as his red tights just aren’t quite as opaque as he’d have probably liked.)

 

And whether intended or not, it is well-documented that the soundscapes created on their first albums owe a great debt to Birmingham and the Black Country. In the same way that noone would take the Beach Boys seriously if they hailed from Dudley and unleashed ‘Surfing USA’, Black Sabbath are undoubtedly a product of their environment. The correlation between the heavy industry of the area in the late 60s and the heaviest of heavy metal cannot be dismissed. The sound as oppressive and claustrophobic as the factories and mines that littered the West Midlands, and as Charles Dickens described the area in The Old Curiosity Shop, “[the factories chimneys] Poured out their plague of smoke, obscured the light, and made foul the melancholy air” which could easily be re-evaluated as a music review describing Sabbaths debut onto an unsuspecting nation. And let us not forget that J.R.R Tolkien himself based the region of Mordor upon the Black Country, even referring to it in places within the novel as, well,  ‘the black country’.

 

Granted, the relatively frequent reformations of the classic line-up over the past decade or so may have lessened their impact, especially given that the best years of Ozzy’s voice are now well behind him – and the less said about the transformation of his family to bona fide worldwide celebrity the better – but noone can deny the timelessness of their original works, and as Rob Halford himself was quoted as saying,

“you can put on the first Black Sabbath album and it still sounds as fresh today as it did 30-odd years ago. And that’s because great music has a timeless ability: To me, Sabbath are in the same league as the Beatles or Mozart. They’re on the leading edge of something extraordinary.”

 

So in closing, I’d agree with everyone who claims that Sabbath invented this heavy metal lark. Of course, this is my personal opinion, and if debate is to rage, then feel free to comment as appropriate below, but I’d put money on the fact that they did, and I’m comfortable in knowing that I have a veritable army of fans, artists and bands who will back me up.

Rain. An ominous church bell. More rain. Then suddenly, a monolithic, dirge-like guitar riff cracks through the atmospherics and heavy metal is born.

It was literally as easy as that. The song in question, is ‘Black Sabbath’, by Black Sabbath, from their first album, ‘Black Sabbath’. Heavy Metal Year Zero in other words.

Sure, Led Zeppelin had been around for a few years prior, but they didn’t make the same kind of immediate impact and tread the new ground that the Sabs did from the get go. Steppenwolf may have first quoted the phrase ‘Heavy Metal’ in their breakthrough single Born To Be Wild back in 1968, and Blue Cheer may have popularised the fuzzed-out, down-tuned blues riffs around the same time, but Sabbath were the first, and arguably the most skilful at amalgamating  these – at the time, seemingly disparate – threads which over the years have coalesced into the beast that now is simply known as heavy metal.

The funereal speeds, the tortured vocals, the powerful drums and the down-tuned guitars may sound like a description of any one of a number of contemporary stoner or doom bands, but this was the first track from a bands first album, way back in 1970, which is testament to the enduring power of this group, in that even to this day, bands are taking what they created, and treating it as the gospel as to how heavy music should be played.

Simply put, without Sabbath, the musical landscape would have taken on a significantly different guise in their absence. Who is to know what our beloved heavy metal would sound like nowadays without the initial impact of Sabbath? Perhaps it’s best not to think about it, and instead celebrate what they have given us. As Scott Ian, guitarist in legendary thrashers Anthrax put it,

“To create something from nothing is impossible. So what Black Sabbath did was magic. These four wizards from Birmingham created a genre of music that didn’t exist before Tony Iommi put tipless fingers to fretboard and changed the world. It’s as if the notes were just floating around in the ether waiting to be heard until Tony, with the power of his hands, plucked them from limbo to share their doom-onic song with all of us. Sabbath channeled those notes into five perfect albums of pure heavy metal. It’s theirs. They own it. Everyone else that followed — Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Pantera (all great bands in their own right) — are just leasing.”

And Ian’s sentiments are reciprocated by essentially a whos who of the heavy metal world, noone who has led their life listening to or playing metal can play down the importance of Black Sabbath – indeed, even a cursory viewing of the excellent ‘Metal – A Headbangers Journey’ documentary  can see a multitude of established acts – both contemporary and classic – extol the virtues of Black Sabbath, especially their first five albums – Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Master Of Reality, Vol 4  and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, all of which, are to a certain extent, flawless examples of their craft.

(Personally, I’d also add their sixth – Sabotage – to that list as I feel that it stands up to any of the first five although a couple of fillers are present, and Hole In The Sky and Symptom Of The Universe are regarded as quintessential Sabs tracks. The artwork is fantastic given that Bill Wards undercrackers are visible on the rear cover, as his red tights just aren’t quite as opaque as he’d have probably liked.)


And whether intended or not, it is well-documented that the soundscapes created on their first albums owe a great debt to Birmingham and the Black Country. In the same way that noone would take the Beach Boys seriously if they hailed from Dudley and unleashed ‘Surfing USA’, Black Sabbath are undoubtedly a product of their environment. The correlation between the heavy industry of the area in the late 60s and the heaviest of heavy metal cannot be dismissed. The sound as oppressive and claustrophobic as the factories and mines that littered the West Midlands, and as Charles Dickens described the area in The Old Curiosity Shop, “[the factories chimneys] Poured out their plague of smoke, obscured the light, and made foul the melancholy air” which could easily be re-evaluated as a music review describing Sabbaths debut onto an unsuspecting nation. And let us not forget that J.R.R Tolkien himself based the region of Mordor upon the Black Country, even referring to it in places within the novel as, well,  ‘the black country’.

Granted, the relatively frequent reformations of the classic line-up over the past decade or so may have lessened their impact, especially given that the best years of Ozzy’s voice are now well behind him – and the less said about the transformation of his family to bona fide worldwide celebrity the better – but noone can deny the timelessness of their original works, and as Rob Halford himself was quoted as saying,

“you can put on the first Black Sabbath album and it still sounds as fresh today as it did 30-odd years ago. And that’s because great music has a timeless ability: To me, Sabbath are in the same league as the Beatles or Mozart. They’re on the leading edge of something extraordinary.”

So in closing, I’d agree with everyone who claims that Sabbath invented this heavy metal lark. Of course, this is my personal opinion, and if debate is to rage, then feel free to comment as appropriate below, but I’d put money on the fact that they did, and I’m comfortable in knowing that I have a veritable army of fans, artists and bands who will back me up.


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