Black Sabbath: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1974)

Welcome to Black Wax Reviews. Our tagline is “Nothing New”, and we mean it. If you’re looking to read reviews about albums that have been out forever and have been reviewed a thousand times already, or that you haven’t heard of and might not even deserve to be reviewed, then you’re in the right place.

We’re going to start out this blog with a masterpiece: Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.

Let me just start out by saying that when I was a kid and I first heard this, I wasn’t impressed. It’s taken me decades to figure out why, but I finally get it. It wasn’t that Sabbath was too HEAVY for me… it was that the jazzy ‘in-between’ parts weren’t heavy ENOUGH. Back then, I simply did not know how to make sense of those sections… for all I knew, it may as well have been country music slipped in between the cool heavy stuff.

And for that reason alone, I abandoned Sabbath. (Ozzy-era Sabbath, anyway. Mob Rules would change my life just a few short years later. But that’s another story.)

Well. No longer. Now, some 33 years later, it’s time to give this album its due.

The needle drops on Side One and we hear the title track, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Instantly we can tell that although Tony didn’t have access to the amps  that we have today, he was tearing it up. He was probably using an Orange 1972 amp w/ 4×12 cab on this album. So many of the awesome guitars of the day are still highly valued today, including his Gibson SG’s, which have become his signature trademark.

I will say that a video of Heaven and Hell (the band with Dio, not the album) in 2009 shows him still jamming with an SG, but with an updated sound that rivals any of today’s bands. (Check out Tony’s sound on 8/29/2009: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqMyEalm-JI&feature=related.)

Flashback: When I was 12 and I got a turntable for Christmas and my stepdad let me dig through his LP’s, there was a reason simply couldn’t get into this album. Looking back, I figured it was simply too heavy for me. (At the time, I was listening to a steady diet of KISS root-fifth power chords.) But in retrospect, I can see that what turned me off from this album wasn’t its heaviness. Rather, it was the jazzy, laid-back feel of the choruses (like on the title track) that sent me running away covering my ears.

Even the words “Oh, he sits around listening to Black Sabbath” conjure up visions of heaviness, but a heaviness laden with boredom, simplistic thinking, and… let’s face it… stupidity. But one careful listen reveals the exact opposite… the title track, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, really has a lot more going on than the opening heavy riff might lead one to believe.

Once the chorus hits, things mellow out for a moment, and there’s jazz in the air. Some really complex, kick ass jazz. Then, before you know it, we’re back into the heavy stuff, and we’re on to verse 2. Pretty genius, in this reviewer’s opinion. Oh yeah, and back then, Ozzy could REALLY hit those high notes. Nice. I’ve heard Bruce Dickinson cover this in the modern era, with modern equipment, etc. As great as he is, just can’t compare to the original.

Track 2: A National Acrobat. Awesome riff.

Track 3: Fluff. Pretty. It’s always fun to put on that track for dinner guests who don’t know me very well and ask them to take a guess. Coolest thing ever is how they closed “Live Evil” with that track.

Track 4: Sabbra Cadabra. A love song about a woman. Trippy. The piano in there almost gives it a rock and roll feel. How did they do it? Somehow, Sabbath become synonymous with All Things Heavy… but listening to this, there is so much tasteful, un-heavy music happening.

SIDE TWO

Track 1: Killing Yourself To Live — Not to beat a dead horse, but those old tube amps being overdriven just really sounds good. Funny how Ozzy’s singing about all these positive things… yet this album was catching such a bad rap. “Just take a look around you, what do you see? Pain, suffering, and misery…”

Track 2: Who Are You — Okay. State-of-the-art technology happening with the synths. Whatever. Still sounds cool. Creepy, slow, and menacing. Main riff is based on the tri-tone (diminished fifth), which, of course, was (and is) a staple of heaviness. “The devil in music.” And then in the middle we have a pretty huge, gorgeous-sounding section. Stately. Orchestral, even. Then, back to creepy. I love it.

Track 3: Looking for Today — Cool snare thing going on there. Up-tempo, and rocking. Flute. Oh yeah… Tony was in Tull there for a little while, in the beginning. You can check him out on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. Tull as a band is lip-syncing, but Ian is actually singing and playing his flute. And standing on one leg. And I guess Tony’s really playing, though we’re hearing the backing track, instead of his actual performance. Turns out the Stones didn’t have enough time for Tull to rehearse, so had them lip-sync. Oh well… still highly recommended. And it ‘s the only video of Tony with Tull. Reason enough to check it out.

Track 4: Spiral Architect — Sweet acoustic beginning. (King Diamond/Merciful Fate actually stole that one for their track “Sleepless Nights”, off of the album Abigail. Pretty sweet. I don’t blame them for stealing it.) Chorus is awesome… if you check out the vocal phrasing on the chorus and compare it to that of later Ozzy (“Over the mountain”), you’ll see some striking similarities. Like, carbon copy. But then again, I don’t blame Ozzy for nicking his own stuff… it’s damned good.

Spiral Architect chorus:

Of all the things I value most of all
I look inside myself and see my world
And know that it is good

Over The Mountain chorus:

I heard them tell me that this land of dreams was now
I told them I had ridden shooting stars
And said I’d show them how

The sweetest part of all, though, is the closing of Side Two, with the fake applause and then the reprise.

When I was 12, I couldn’t handle this album, because I needed something heavy. Like KISS. These days, I see that the laid-back parts simply make the heavy stuff even heavier. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is a masterpiece from start to finish. There simply are no weak tracks on this album. It could not be any more perfect than it already is.

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath rating: 10 stars out of 11

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