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Black Sabbath - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath CD (album) cover


Black Sabbath


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4.13 | 806 ratings

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4 stars With this album BLACK SABBATH continue to explore unfamiliar territory: sophisticated songwriting.

A number of the tracks on this album don't finish in the way they start. In other words, they are not straightforward rock songs. As such they warrant attention from the progressive community. The songs with a progressive brush are the title track, 'A National Acrobat', and 'Killing Yourself to Live'.

I'll make special mention of the title track. Using a riff and rhythm more than suggestive of something from native North America, this song grinds along for three and a half minutes, combines a driving riff underneath OZZY OSBORNE's cleverly processed voice spitting vindictive lyrics, then becomes a different and altogether more menacing beast with a riff from the depths of Sheol. OZZY's voice reappears over this riff - unprocessed this time, raw as only his voice can be - and you are left in no doubt that this band is still visceral. Surely purchasing this riff from the devil must have cost one of the band members his soul. Nothing prepares you for this change, and it grabs you by the glands every time. Then the song changes yet again for the drum-led fadeout.

'A National Acrobat' is near as good. The guitar is toned strangely for this one, but it's effective, giving the song an epic sci-fi/fantasy feel. A dramatic middle section, complete with fx the early SABBATH would never have embraced, leads to a quite disparate but very fitting outro. Two down, and finally it seems BLACK SABBATH are fulfilling their promise.

In an unfortunate move they position the obligatory acoustic instrumental too early in the album. This might have been better as the sixth track, but we don't need interrupting yet, certainly not for four minutes. A nice four minutes, to be sure, but not what I spent my pennies on, and IOMMI is no AL DE MIOLA. 'Sabbra Cadabra' sounds like a great title but it's a fairly MOR love song, a little bit of a surprise. Well done and all that, especially the latter half, with a hook in the bridge (funny place for it, lads) and a stunning funky outro, but I'm getting itchy feet ...

Cured by 'Killing Yourself to Live'. This is another three-parter, the parts welded together by main force. Again the guitar tone sounds genuinely ominous, as befits the lyrics. The chorus is lifted by another great riff from the IOMMI riff factory - and again, the central section is simply superb, a real chill moment. 'I'm telling you, believe in me!' And then, suddenly, it all changes, growing even more menacing, with a hint of keyboards. Riff follows riff, enough to fill a normal album, a riot of genius one after the other - and the song changes again, picking up tempo. No, OZZY, I don't know if I'm up or down either.

Why did I stop listening to BLACK SABBATH? Because in 1977 a teenage boy was found in my home town, hanging in his bedroom, this album on the platter, side two upwards, lyrics to this song in his diary, and speculation was he'd obeyed the title. Look, back then this music was considered sufficiently powerful that listening to it could, we thought, do stuff like that to your head ...

'Who Are You' was another not-very-good idea. Kudos for trying something different - the central piano section sounds almost TONY BANKS-like - but the synths are so dated now, sounding like bees in a dustbin. 'Looking For Today' is a surprisingly gentle rocker of no particular interest, and 'Spiral Architect' follows a lovely acoustic intro not with some blinding riff, but with another gentle upbeat rocker. Seems IOMMI used up his year's quota of riffage from hell earlier in the album. This sounds like something from ELTON JOHN or THE WHO (I'm probably reminded of 'Pinball Wizard' by the dual notes that herald the song) - not a bad thing, but not what you want from the demonic foursome, particularly given the lyric. And who let the orchestra in? Were they in the wrong studio? And what's with the finish: a polite audience clapping and a post-concert outro? Haven't quite worked that one out.

Thing is, they simply couldn't play this stuff live. Early SABBATH was lead or rhythm guitar: by now they have two leads and at least two rhythms going at once, some with studio effects. OZZY's voice was so processed (a great idea) he could not make the songs sound anything like the studio versions. After this and the next album, the miraculous 'Sabotage', they abandoned all progressive ideas and studio manipulation. Sad. But you can still listen to this and reflect that when they told you BLACK SABBATH was simply a heavy blues band, they weren't telling you the whole truth. Or, with this album as evidence, not even most of the truth.

russellk | 4/5 |


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