Released on Friday, February 13, 1970, today marks the 45th anniversary of Black Sabbath, the debut album by the legendary band of the same name. In many ways, Black Sabbath — released on a Friday the 13th like today — stands atop a short list of influential albums which nearly singlehandedly ushered in a sound, genre, influence, and style that continues to be studied and copied endlessly by musicians and bands globally.
In Black Sabbath’s case, they fused together a musical amalgam of Sun Records style rock and roll, doomy blues, classical overtones, jazz complexities, and a drudging sound to create a concoction that had never been heard before it. While many of the most groundbreaking bands in musical history (even The Beatles) sort of wear their influences right on their sleeves (think about Led Zeppelin records), Black Sabbath had a sound, stance, and style that almost was like coming from a mold specifically created for them.
Starting as the band Earth in their native England, the four members — guitarist-always-on-fire Tony Iommi; bassist-always-on-fire Geezer Butler; drummer-always-on-fire Bill Ward; and of course, lead vocalist who needs no introduction, who is still as popular as ever and still going strong as his madman diary still gets shown to the world for all to criticize, manifest, and revere, one John “Ozzy” Osbourne, — soon became Black Sabbath thereafter.
With strong word of mouth and incessant playing in pubs and clubs on their home turf, their debut album was released on Friday, February 13th, 1970 in the UK (with the U.S. following on June 1, 1970). While critically raked over the coals, there was instantly a kind of buzz going among the rock fan base, just wondering what all this new noise was admidst the sea of Jethro Tull, Cream, and Eric Burdon records. From even just a glance at the memorable album cover, almost seemingly purposely done in stark colors and style, it already creates an unease and a creepiness in the listener, and that’s before the record is even put on. Then, of course, once it is, and the heavy, plodding treble high thunderstorm with the tolling of the bell bellows out of the speakers, followed by the slow chord progression of the title track which starts off the album, there’s almost a hold-on-to-your-chair vibe. And once Ozzy screams helplessly “Oh No!” after the first few verses, a freaky vocal aside that became his absolute trademark (he would use little asides on almost every Sabbath track to his solo stuff thereafter, like “All Right Now,” and “Oh yeah!”), it’s like a wakeup cry for the listener and it makes one’s circulatory system go completely off the charts. And it’s at that point for sure, that the song and the record, amplifies it up another notch, jet cylinders on high. It’s akin to being rolled around in a Mack truck without wearing a seat belt, going 100 miles an hour down the blacktop.
And the rest of the record doesn’t let up: “The Wizard,” with Ozzy kicking the harmonica to the netherworlds to create a groovy, heavy as concrete folk song as done by HP Lovecraft; “N.I.B”, with its one-two punch of Ward and Butler going toe to toe in the rhythm musical ring; and “Wicked World,” in which Ozzy expounds (in lyrics written by Geezer Butler) about the ills of the planet, are songs that filled with merciless subject matter that, even 45 years later, have not dated one iota.
To sum up, Black Sabbath is one of the most brutal, audacious in your face records ever released, which would eventually earn the band their title as the Godfathers of Heavy Metal. And the band was just getting warmed up at this point. The following releases with Osbourne at the front, from Paranoid to Never Say Die (the latter of which many Sabbath zealots and pundits like to dismiss, but to me it ain’t THAT bad, just like Zep’s In Through The Out Door wasn’t THAT bad either) would showcase the talent, extreme penchants for creativity, and arrangements that rose the band above a simple 4/4 hard rock group and would combine elements that are even more fantastical, reality based and horror-tinged than found on this hard-to-take-but-yields-so-many-rewards-if-one-can-take-it debut.
If you own Black Sabbath, crank the living hell out of it today. Coincidence that it was released on a Friday the 13th back in 1970? Me thinks not. If you don’t own it, what the hell are you waiting for? This is essential musical semantics, as easy as ABC, being on auto pilot, that one owns this record (and most of the band’s catalog for that matter). Musically, historically, and ultimately, Black Sabbath is for the ages, mainly the dark ages, which means, it fits right smack in the middle of the contemporary world that we live in.