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Classics: Black Sabbath

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In February 2005 we ran the following Classics review to mark the 35th anniversary of the release of Black Sabbath's seminal debut album, which opened the floodgates to one of the most popular genres of music: heavy metal. Today we mark the 40th anniversary of this release by looking back again.

Now from Darkness There Springs Light
By Keavin Wiggins

When you look at groundbreaking albums that changed the direction of music forever Sgt Pepper probably comes to mind at once. Perhaps the second most influential band of all time is Black Sabbath and this month we look at the album that started it all. By all, I mean not only Black Sabbath but a whole new form of music-- Heavy Metal and its later offshoots.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Black Sabbath and its impact can still be felt in music today. Sabbath is one of the most significant artists of all time, right up there with Elvis, the Beatles, and the Stones. Some may try to downplay the impact of this album because it hasn't moved 20 gazillion units, but we can hear its importance to this day in every single metal and metal influence band that came after it.

By 1970 acid rock and the late 60s brand of heavy blues were still the rage among younger rock fans. Cream, Blue Cheer, and Vanilla Fudge laid the groundwork. Led Zeppelin became an international sensation that the critics never understood but young fans immediately latched on to. It was the power of the distorted Blues and majesty of the lyrics that captured the imagination of a generation.

There is the famous scene in Spinal Tap where Nigel Tufnel talks to Marty DiBergi about his special guitar amplifier that "goes to 11". "When I need that little extra push over the cliff…" That little push over the cliff was what Black Sabbath delivered. Zeppelin II was released in October of 1969, five months later Black Sabbath delivered this self-titled debut and provided that little extra push over the cliff for many fans when they took the blues based heavy rock to a new extreme. Metal was born.

The album wouldn't hit American record stores until May of 1970, but it quietly built momentum as word of month spread about this amazing new band. By August, Black Sabbath had entered the American Top 40 album chart and remained there for over a year, going on to sell a million copies. Quite an impressive accomplishment in 1970.

But why did this album have such an impact? One listen tells the tale. The dark mesmerizing power of "Black Sabbath," "The Wizard," "Behind the Wall of Sleep," "N.I.B.," and "Warning" still send shivers down the spine. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like to fans in 1970 the first time they heard this dark symphony of distortion and power and the genius combining of one song into the next. As Ozzy sang "Now from Darkness there Springs Light," a strange metaphor when you consider the dark nature of metal, but it fits. As Led Zeppelin was moving into a new lighter direction with Led Zeppelin III (released Oct 70) Black Sabbath was giving the power hungry fans something to bang their heads to, but also sink their minds into. The one thing about the early Sabbath releases is that they are very visual. The power of the bass, drums and guitars grab you but the lyrics capture the imagination, bringing on visions in the mind's eye. Many bands have come after but very few have held the same captivating power of early Black Sabbath.

If you are a fan of metal, you owe it to yourself to own this album. Not only because, 40 years later it still stands out, but because on this disc you will hear the keystone to all the metal that came after. Sabbath were the rock John the Baptist, shouting in the wilderness about the coming messiah for rock n roll: heavy metal!

"Misty Morning… Clouds in the Sky
By DeadSun

Does Heavy Metal have a birthday?

It seems like a ridiculous question at first blush. Cold logic dictates that, as an inanimate object, it very well couldn't. Besides, even if the question were entertained even semi-seriously, it seems mighty pretentious to narrow the origin of a single genre of music down to a single day.

… and it is with that that we must, for a moment, step away from our instinct toward bland dismissal, and consider that there is perhaps something to entertain after all--- a consideration which has, in point of fact, always been a belief of mine:

If Heavy Metal were to have a birthday, that day would be Friday, February 13th, 1970.

It was that day which saw the release of Black Sabbath's debut album… the aptly titled "Black Sabbath"… recorded in just two days, for an estimated 600 English pounds (roughly $800, to us Yanks in the U.S.).

Many will question the accuracy of such a birthday--- though just as many, upon honest analysis, will readily concede that there lies much distinction between Heavy Metal as it came to be, Hard Rock, and Acid Rock.

I hope you've been doing your homework: acts like Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Cream, Iron Butterfly, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Vanilla Fudge, Deep Purple (1968's "Shades of Deep Purple"), The Electric Prunes, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, etc.--- they are, in hindsight, infinitely more kindred to Hard and Acid Rock than Heavy Metal as we know it. To the human ear, Black Sabbath clearly draws a line of demarcation. It establishes an unambiguous branching off. These were the sounds which set the stage for what severe, apocalyptic, and sinister music that Black Sabbath laid to tape in 1970. Of course "Black Sabbath", in its entirety, does not forsake its roots. On the contrary, it also provides us with a bountiful supply of the straight-laced, backbone of hard, amplified blues that characterized the sound of hard sixties Rock n' Roll--- making the album a valuable missing link of sorts, one that not only begins in a new direction, but simultaneously reveals a musical linkage from Heavy Metal, back to Hard/Acid Rock, and ultimately right back to the delta Blues herself. Examine songs like "The Wizard," "Evil woman," and "Wicked World". To anyone with even a remote interest in Rock history, it is vital to acquaint yourself with this. That having been established: "Black Sabbath's" sound, style, compositional arraignment--- while certainly with influence, were without precedent when taken as a whole.

My evidence?

First song--- "Black Sabbath". The opening track that carries the band name wastes no time in establishing the mood, tone, and style by which Black Sabbath spearheaded a new era in Rock and Roll. The tone is stark, and the structure--- fashioned as a form of dark opus--- was beyond unconventional for its time. The opening music creeps and crawls in a dirge-like procession, and anchors itself in something which, from a standpoint of technique and melody, clearly spells out a rough sketch for so much of the Metal that was to come--- the employment of the diminished fifth tritone. This was--- musically speaking--- a "bon voyage" to 1960's flower power. Following the verse, we find a departure from the straight-on blues foundations of Rock, and hear Iommi belt out a passage of triplets in a G natural minor scale. We also find examples of a highly unusual approach to song structure, virtually pioneered (in Rock) by Black Sabbath, whereby the traditional, vocally centered chorus form is completely left out, and the verse is instead followed by a musical phrase. Two good examples of this are the title track, as well as the Heavy Metal staple "N.I.B.".

It may come across as technical gibberish, but it was early experimentations like this--- pushing that first significant domino over, and laying the track which demonstrated a distinct identity apart from the loud, blues-fused psychedelia of the Rock that preceded it, that makes Black Sabbath so important.

When defining a "Classic"--- what could be a more important ingredient than seminality and innovation?

There is none higher.

I love this album from start to finish. The musical ideas within this album are within the music of hundreds upon hundreds of other bands. To Metal fans, this is part of the quintessence of everything you love about Heavy Metal.

Whether you hear this or not does nothing to diminish the fact that it is so.

What an album.

DS


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