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Black Sabbath - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath CD (album) cover

SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH

Black Sabbath

 

Prog Related

4.09 | 714 ratings

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SonomaComa1999
4 stars REVIEW #4 - "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" by Black Sabbath (1973)

After doing three straight Zappa-related albums, I felt that it would be nice to switch over to another band and another sound. Progressive rock is a very diverse genre, and many people apply loose interpretations of it so that it can absorb other bands. Pioneering heavy metal icons Black Sabbath are a good example of that; while some will argue that Sabbath had progressive tendencies at some points over their existence, and others will say that their brand of metal inspired future progressive acts, the same cannot be said about the actual band. Nevertheless they are my favorite ROCK band and since they are featured on this site, I am more than eager to write a review about one of my favorite albums by the band, 1973's "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath."

By 1973, Sabbath was in full swing. Successful albums such as "Paranoid" and "Master of Reality" had cemented the band's reputation in the rock scene, and had already inspired several contemporaries. Even Frank Zappa claimed that the band's 1972 song "Supernaut" was one of his favorite songs. However, following the release of "Volume 4", the band found itself running short on ideas, while definitely not running short on the supply of drugs. Cocaine abuse was rampant in the band as evidenced on the track "Snowblind", but nevertheless Sabbath went on to release a few more good albums before Ozzy left. "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" is perhaps the most technical of these albums, with the band experimenting a lot with various pitches, sounds, and instruments.

The album starts off with an absolute gem in the title track. The opening riff is absolutely brutal, and Ozzy's high- pitched and distorted vocals breach the wave of sound perfectly. The chorus is just as money, with some acoustic influences and the typical independent Sabbath lyrics. The band released a music video alongside this with the members wandering through the forests outside Birmingham in the UK, as well as some dreary shots of the West Midlands at the height of British industrialism. The band's working-class, heavy, and rugged sound matches the emotions of the area very well. The song's riff was considered the band's breakthrough during the recording process, it reinvigorated the group and motivated them to continue on through a creative dry spell. Midway through, we get our first solo, continuing on to a pseudo-progressive shift in rhythm and tempo with a bridge. So far there is definitely a lot more going on than in previous Sabbath staples, but the overall product is still simple. However, this is Sabbath's best attribute; they had the ability to take simple riffs and give them an edge the likes of which had never been seen in music until then. This motif continues into "A National Acrobat", which hammers down the point just as good as the opener. Another candy riff, with some more hard-hitting vocals. Sabbath's lyrical themes always struck me as particularly epic, especially in the rock scene. Early on in their careers, they spoke on the occult and the horrors of war, then as they moved into their Golden Age the concepts of religion, drug addiction, and philosophy seeped in. As far as I can tell, this piece is about the concept of unborn life and a creator, but there are several interpretations of this song. The classic Sabbath style of having bassist Geezer Butler follow the riffs of the legendary Tony Iommi continues, which really makes the melodies better on this one. The opening half of this song is pure gold, but it tapers off a little bit in the funkier middle section. Really, it's the first time so far in the album that I've even lost a little bit of interest, but fortunately the band returns with a very solid coda that includes a guitar solo which in my opinion trumps the title track.

The obligatory Sabbath calm and acoustic piece follows in what I perceive to really be the wrong moment. The first two songs create amazing momentum, and when we hit "Fluff", all of that momentum dies in its tracks given it's four minutes long. Nothing much to say about this one except that it's a cute Iommi acoustic showcase that would be a great lullaby song. Personally, I feel the band should have continued onto the following track, "Sabbra Cadabra" which brings us back to that typical Sabbath metallic edge. Now, for all the prog fans who are likely reading this, we get a little cameo appearance by the keyboard god Rick Wakeman himself! Yep, Sabbath was recording this album in the same studio as Yes during the symphonic prog staples infamous "Tales from Topographic Oceans" sessions, which eventually culminated in Wakeman pursuing a solo career. Bored from having to follow the creative will of Jon Anderson and Steve Howe, the keyboardist wandered over to where Sabbath was rehearsing and offered to do the keyboards on "Sabbra" for free beer after he rejected financial compensation. To make things even more interesting, Led Zeppelin were in the same studio as well, and the legendary John Bonham had desired to do the drums on this piece, but the band was busy rehearsing other material. What a shame - to have Ozzy, Iommi, Wakeman, and Bonham all on the same song would have likely produced something awe-inspiring. Nevertheless this is a very good song, another great guitar riff, and Wakeman's piano work stands out very well during the middle instrumental section. "Sabbra" grooves the best out of any of the material on this album, which serves as a testament to why it is such a popular song by the band. I would not say it is even top three given the breadth of material that "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" serves up, but this is another great offering by the band. You can see why fans consider this album to be a work of progressive rock; the tempo changes, the prevalence of acoustic interludes, and the presence of Wakeman's keyboards make this a very musically challenging LP side, especially for a crude metal act such a Black Sabbath.

I feel that had the band put the opener to side two "Killing Yourself to Live" on the A-side, it would have qualified it for one of the greatest album sides in rock history. Seriously, this is a criminally underrated song that performs just as good as anything that Sabbath was really well-known for. It brings back the theme of drug abuse which had been experimented with on previous albums ("Snowblind", "Hand of Doom", "Sweet Leaf") but this one speaks volumes regarding the current state of the band. I feel that if you had to give a phrase to 1973-1978 Black Sabbath, it would be the title of this song. I'd go a bit far and say the riff is a little bit weak to start off this one, but Ozzy's vocals make up for it in terms of power, and the chorus is absolute ecstasy. Following a reprise, we get what I consider to be the best guitar solo of the album; it builds off the rhythm like the title track's, but this one is infinitely more powerful and rich. I'm serious - the fact that this song is not regarded more in the band's catalog is tragic. I do know that Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett has given "Killing Yourself" the respect it deserves in an interview.

Unfortunately, after this masterpiece, the quality of the music begins to decrease pretty steadily. This begins with the synth-driven "Who Are You?". In this piece, Ozzy literally went out and bought a synth (because they were all the rage back then as Wakeman could attest to) and played it on an actual studio album without any prior keyboard experience. As a result, the synth is very simple, and as is the case with most synth, it sounds very dated in 2018. I'll give the band props for taking an experimental and progressive approach with this song, but after all that good stuff to put us into a state of euphoria, this one brings us back down to earth. "Looking for Today" isn't that much of an improvement; it comes off as the most forgettable song of the LP, obviously given it reuses all the previous motifs the band already showed off to the listener. The guitar sounds flat, and the riff comes off a little bit too generic, but there is a really intriguing melody part with some toned down noise, various forms of percussion, and even what I think is a flute which reminded me of Jethro Tull for a moment. Ozzy's work here salvages the song a little bit, but midway through I am already awaiting the closing track "Spiral Architect." After a prolonged intro, we get our first taste of the guitar riff, and so far I am definitely more interested than on the previous two tracks. This piece relies heavily on what is a pretty good riff and solo combo, and lyrically the band returns to the themes seen on "Acrobat" about life. As the title entails, this one is about the mysteries of DNA - a pretty progressive lyrical theme if I may say so. An orchestra makes itself known in the middle section of the song, but ultimately it is rather forgettable and the band doesn't really use it to their full advantage until the closing bit where they play over Ozzy's vocals. The slow build up works just fine, and while the conclusion features a corny outro applause, the album ends on a rather positive note, even if I may have not been struck by "Spiral."

Had the momentum kept going after "Killing Yourself to Live", I would have likely unveiled my first five-star review. Seriously, the first half of this album is absolute gold, as the band barrels into your head with various new sounds and strategies to further the genre of heavy metal with a tinge of prog. Wakeman's appearance is cool to see, but in the end it really doesn't have such a profound impact on the album as Ozzy and Iommi do, which is a good thing because it shows that Sabbath could still make original music without having to lean on external influences. Both Ozzy and Iommi consider this album to be the peak of the band's first generation, and while I am hesitant to agree with them given how much I like 1975's "Sabotage", I will give this album its due credit. It is strong, it features memorable and seminal works by the band, and Sabbath is not relying on the sounds that helped them attain popularity in the first place. It is a shame that this would be the turning point of the band however, as drug abuse and constant infighting exhausted the four members of the band.

The gems on this album are obvious. The title track, "A National Acrobat", and "Killing Yourself to Live" are obvious standouts, while "Sabbra" deserves an honorable mention. Most of side two's offerings are what failed to give this album five-star status, but even then "Spiral Architect" is a fine song while "Who Are You?" and "Looking for Today" are more mediocre than horrible. Any rock/metal fan should consider giving this album a listen if they haven't heard it already based on the frontline tracks alone. In terms of a rating, I'm gonna get as close to 90% as possible with a four-star (89% - B+) rating; very favorable thanks to prog influences and strong offerings.

SonomaComa1999 | 4/5 |

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