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Black Sabbath - Technical Ecstasy CD (album) cover

TECHNICAL ECSTASY

Black Sabbath

 

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2.75 | 392 ratings

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TCat
2 stars Up until 1977, Black Sabbath came across as a band that had control over their sound. They had been inspiring bands since their beginning and would eventually inspire a whole new genre called heavy metal and its many sub-genres. So what happened that turned many of it's fans against them in September of 1976? The answer to that is more than a simple single reason.

The band's 7th album was ill fated from the beginning. Black Sabbath had put out 6 amazing studio albums before that, and it looked as if they could not make a mistake. Their music was not only loud and dark, but it was also better than the norm with many progressive elements. Most of their tracks had multiple melodies and themes. The band was not afraid to change and experiment with their established sound and that made their music exciting and innovative. Sure, they had that reputation of creating the music of the devil, but to them, that was just an aspect of a few of their songs that dealt with dark subject matter, drug use, war, and mental health just to name a few subjects. In order to prove that they were not just a one-trick-pony, they even wrote songs dealing with spiritual matters and more positive subjects as proven in the album "Master of Reality", but the fans loved the dark and heavy sound, so that was almost always retained. But in those heavy tracks, the band explored the softer side of music too, and did it very well.

It seemed all was going well for this band. But then, their 7th album was released. "Technical Ecstasy" was a surprise to everyone, and most people didn't take it very well. People still wonder why there was such a sudden change in their music and the quality of it. First of all, the band had just gone through several legal battles that seemed to plague the album "Sabotage", and they were quite tense about that. Of course, there were drug problems galore. The world was also changing their music tastes with punk music, pop music, disco and new age with heavy use of electronics and synthesizers. Tony Iommi started to think that maybe the band was becoming outdated, that their music wasn't relevant anymore, and he thought a change in style was in order. Strangely enough, back then you couldn't just put out a heavy metal album like you can now and know that people would but it, as Iommi has stated. Also, around this time, Ozzy was considering leaving the band, and actually did during the tour of this album, though he came back to record their next album. The band recruited vocalist Dave Walker from "Savoy Brown" to take Ozzy's place during the tour and they actually wrote some songs with Walker.

Iommi's biggest concern during this time was the sound of the band and trying to make them not sound out of date. He thought the band needed to sound more like "Foreigner" with their more commercial sound. He could also see that albums like "Hotel California" by the Eagles and "Rumours" by Fleetwood Mac were selling like crazy. He was also affected by The Eagles who were recording "Hotel California" in the same studio (who, incidentally, had to postpone recording sessions because Black Sabbath's recording sessions were too loud and they couldn't hear themselves). Anyway, this all led to Black Sabbath experimenting with new sounds which they weren't necessarily equipped to play well.

The album cover took many by surprise too. This looked so different from anything else the band had put out. It had that cartoon-y look and was colorful, not dark like past album art. The designer, George Hardie, said that he was trying to make something that reflected the title, so he used the technical part of the title to be represented by robots. The Ecstasy part had to have something to do with love, so he made a female and male robot, passing each other on opposite escalators and squirting mechanical fluid at each other, as robots would probably do if they fell for each other.

The band consisted of their original line up of Ozzy Osbourne on lead vocals, Tony Iommi on guitar, Geezer Butler on bass and Bill Ward on drums. Joining them was Gerald Woodroffe playing keyboards who also played on "Sabotage". He also went with them on tour, but performed offstage.

The album started with "Back Street Kids" which was still guitar heavy, but more commercial sounding, sounding a lot like other heavy bands at the time, using repetitive melodies with pop-like sensibilities. Half-way through, there is a distinct synth sound which sounded totally out of place in their music. The song itself was quite forgettable and the guitar hook was too bright. It still had a nice guitar solo, but it was accompanied by a distracting, high-pitched synth. "You Won't Change Me" gave some hope as it had that darker sound with a heavy riff and a thick organ sound. The rhythm was slow and dense which reflected back to their trademark sound from the past. I can imagine the fans were a bit disappointed with the opening track, but had some hope when this track started.

"It's Alright" was written solely by Bill Ward. The band wanted him to also sing this track, but he didn't want to offend Ozzy. However, Ozzy was all for it, so he did. The song was also released as a single and Iommi wanted to use it because he wanted the public to see that everything about the band had changed. The song is a ballad and sounds very much unlike anything the band had done before, mostly led by piano. Even on this album, it sounds completely out of place in the entire Black Sabbath catalog, especially placed after the previous song. "Gypsy" begins with a very upbeat and almost danceable drum pattern and an organ that sounds more like a "Deep Purple" track. Even though it has a repetitive guitar riff, it feels so much lighter than most of the band's songs, and definitely has a pop feel to it. You can also hear a definite "Foreigner" style with the repeated piano chords pushing it all along, it almost copies the "Cold as Ice" riff in its stripped down form. At least there was a good guitar solo in there.

"All Moving Parts (Stand Still)" is about a transvestite that is elected as president of the United States. This is really bad, and sounds like the beginning of hair metal than anything else. It still has the guitars, but they are lightened up quite a bit and the synth parts don't fit in well. The best part is the funky bass line, but nothing else works on this track. As one critic said at the time, "Rock 'n' Roll Doctor" sounds like the band trying to imitate "Kiss" even down to the cow bell. There is a bad honky-tonk style piano in there too. The guitar riff is also very cliché. It's bad!

"She's Gone" is another ballad. It is thick with orchestral effects. It probably would have worked as a nice ballad on one of their earlier albums, but on this album, it just gets forgotten mixed in with sub-par material. All alone and taken out of context, however, it is a lovely piece, but it lacks a bit of depth that previous ballads by the band had. The last track is the longest on the album. "Dirty Women", according to Iommi, is about the many hookers that Butler had seen around Florida. The song is ruined by the bad synth that backs up the chorus. It's probably the 2nd best track on the album, after "You Won't Change Me" and has some excellent guitar work, but it still lacks depth in it's melody and themes. The instrumental melodies are also a bit repetitive, and even though it has a sudden change in tempo towards the middle, it's not enough to save the album. At least it ends on an okay note with this song, but by now it's all a lost cause. It doesn't help that Ozzy's vocals sound brassy in the last half of the song.

Yes, the album is as bad as they say, especially since the band had set the bar so high on previous albums. If this was any other band, it still would have been a 2 or 3 star album. That's how bad it is. The band's signature sound and attitude was missing here, and it definitely was missed by the fans. It was going to be hard for the band to return to it's glory days after this mess. It's true that Iommi had quite a dilemma in trying to make the band relevant, and if only he could have seen the future, he wouldn't have bothered trying to fit in with the current sound. This probably would have been a completely different review. There just isn't that much on this album that will keep you coming back.

TCat | 2/5 |

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