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Black Sabbath - Sabotage CD (album) cover

SABOTAGE

Black Sabbath

 

Prog Related

3.95 | 395 ratings

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russellk
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 'Sabotage' is, in my opinion, the best metal album ever made.

Not the heaviest, certainly not the most complex, not even the most innovative. But for sheer musical craftsmanship welded to songwriting genius, I believe this is unsurpassed.

BLACK SABBATH were in the throes of enlarging their musical voice. Though known forever from the album 'Paranoid' and the single of the same name, the group had far more to offer. By 1975 they had absorbed the progressive sounds embraced by their illustrious contemporaries such as LED ZEPPELIN - and had without doubt absorbed enough drugs to think a progressive album was a good idea. They'd cooked up three albums in eighteen months, a fourth and fifth followed at yearly intervals, but this took two years to appear. It was the result of months, not days, in the studio.

It shows. The opener is relatively straightforward, twin trademark IOMMI riffs, all menacing claws and teeth, following a strange little intro. 'Hole in the Sky' features excellent drum work from BILL WARD, earning his keep, and a lovely rumbling BUTLER bass. The drama starts at the four minute mark as the song suddenly stops mid-riff, to be replaced by a mini-acoustic track, the aural equivalent of a doorstop keeping out a hurricane. Because the hurricane is coming, oh yes.

The main riff in 'Symptom of the Universe' is the riff of the twentieth century. Too simple, really, to be respected by guitarists, it is nevertheless numbingly effective, a beast at your throat. This opening never fails to thrill me. BLACK SABBATH have made something here of such simplicity and glory. Added to that are wonderful drum fills in between the riffs, then an astonishing instrumental section repeated after the second and third verses, all bass run and growling guitar. Then a bridge at three and a half minutes heralds the most crazy and unexpected transformation. SABBATH turn a song with two enormous pendulous testicles into the most gentle funk. I still shake my head at this, at their audacity and at the fact it works. Whatever they're taking, I'll have some.

And if that's not enough, this track is followed by the best song in the SABBATH canon, at least for those with a progressive bent. 'Megalomania' is a nine-minute psychedelic monster with cymbal, keyboard and guitar effects comprising a three-minute intro to six minutes of insanity. This ought to be on any prog lover's list of songs that must be listened to. Crackling, crunching, shrieking and growling guitar, driving bass, thunderous drumming, another riff obtained from the devil by the sacrifice of virgins by the light of the full moon, and OZZY's best vocal performance all worked into the most astonishingly frightening exploration of sanity and insanity. Sting me! Sock me! Truly, this is what these lads were born for. A full-on outro set to maximum overload ends Side 1, and it's five stars already.

How many times have I said it: Side 2 doesn't measure up to Side 1. How could it? Humans are given only so much genius. But this is still a better side than anything else in their career, save Side 1. 'Thrill of it All', like 'Killing Yourself to Live' on the previous album, goes through two distinct changes, as though the lads simply didn't have enough vinyl to contain all their ideas. Listening to the lead guitar in the first section reminds me how much IOMMI improved his technique since 1970. And - surprise - another Faustian riff leads into part 2 of the song. Great lyrics: "Won't you tell me, Mr Jesus, won't you help me if you can/When you see this world we live in, do you still believe in man?" Then another bewildering change at the three minute mark, and a synth-led section and a lovely guitar solo concludes the song. 'Supertzar' is yet another moment of sweet genius, an instrumental with what sounds like every massed male voice choir in Russia intoning sonorously as IOMMI takes his guitar for another workout. This track was used at concerts to introduce the band, and provides a welcome change of pace here. 'Am I Going Insane' was the single (!) from the album, and does sound oddly commercial, if your idea of commercial radio is OZZY's voice cheerfully ruminating on his sanity, something he's done on television more recently, of course.

And so to the finale. 'The Writ' is as scathing a piece of invective as you'll hear. The fadeout laughter and crying of insanity leads to an intensely dramatic beginning - I won't spoil it. Suffice to say I stuck my ears close to the stereo speakers, trying to hear the bass, the first time I played it. Big mistake. The song - actually, more like a mini opera - is about a legal dispute between the band and some former manager, and OZZY doesn't hold back. Again the song changes, this time around the five minute mark., and finishes with a piece of backroom foolery.

From the cover through the organisation to the effects to the stellar songwriting, this album has absolutely no weaknesses. Well, apart from one. OZZY complained that IOMMI's increasingly complex arrangements couldn't be replicated on stage, and so, sadly, the golden three-album era of prog-tinged SABBATH ended here.

This is not the BLACK SABBATH your mother warned you about. There's nary a word about the occult. Instead it's about the dissolution of the mind - ironic given OZZY's more recent public appearances. It is, however, the most interesting stuff they ever did. Essential.

russellk | 5/5 |

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