Without Warning, The Wizard Walks By.
Yo, this be Reuben. Bear in mind this before you read this review. I’m 15, and I’m reviewing an album from 1970, so the details might be a bit rusty and I might accidentally write some Sabbath blasphemy along the way, but… Oh well, if you want to know what a millennial child thinks of Sabbath‘s first album, you’ve come to the right place.
Black Sabbath are probably the flag-holders of the metal genre, as the heroic Brummies shredded and squealed through the 70’s with their awesome and influential music, which brought psychedelia, blues rock and prog rock together to create the unholy cauldron of awesomeness that we call ‘heavy metal’. This album from the mind-boggingly far away days of 1970 earmarked the start of the genre, and, to be honest, it’s just a flippin’ brilliant listen.
From the very start, this behemoth sounds too cool to be true. The eerie title track sets the tone for the album in perfect fashion as it jeers and jabs with sinister rainfall and demonic riffs, slowly unwinding into incredible guitar shredding in a psychedelic hell orgy of amazing songwriting. It was the band’s perfect introduction. Tony Iommi’s immense guitar work, Bill Ward’s progressive drumming, Geezer Butler powerful bass work, and Ozzy Osbourne’s ominous shrieks all come together to give the piece a sense of purpose.
From then on, Black Sabbath‘s debut remains just as brilliant. The album’s expert genre bending and minor-tone riffage is on point throughout, every song providing ghastly moments of brilliance in understated bass licks and energetic and perfect drum work. This record is a treasure trove of classics, bringing metal titans like The Wizard, Behind the Wall of Sleep and N.I.B straight to your eardrums with its great mix. That’s right, it’s no Californication or Sturm und Drang, this album has a distinctly 70’s production in that there are no bells or whistles, no effects of that dang ‘loudness war’, and, thank goodness, no synth. This is just a bunch of unnervingly skillful musicians playing their instruments, and it sounds really clear, and heavy when it wants to be. Well, to be fair, it is slightly restrictive, but it’s about as good a mix as you’ll find from 1970.
Admittedly, by today’s standards, Black Sabbath isn’t all that heavy. It ain’t no Lamb of God. Even so, it is chock full of chunk and provides a big slab of untampered-with metal, a night-time festival of heavy blues. It is the sinister undertones provided by the dark lyrics and minor-tone instrumentals that make the album the unique piece that it is, alongside Ozzy’s gloriously haunting vocal delivery. It may not be ferociously heavy, but Black Sabbath laid out the vital foundations for what was to come, so we could enjoy our Lamb of Gods and our Devildrivers.
Black Sabbath, despite holding the inspiration for so much music afterwards, remains unique. Not many albums hold the same amount of groove or expert middle eights as this monster. It’s ridiculous how many incredible guitar and bass bars (just listen to Warning, fellas) they managed to cram into this record. The sense of simplicity, yet with the undeniable skill possessed in the band, just shouts “This album is really good mate” from the word go.
Alright, I can’t hold it back any longer, let’s talk The Wizard. Ooohh boy. I might just be a sucker for harmonica, but it really gives the track its edge. There is a very bluesy tone to the song, as it throws minor tone riffs, groovin’ bass lines and skillful drumming out the wazoo. The Wizard never quite gets going, but that’s part of what’s so great about it. It flows out of the speakers with a constant rhythm, and is just so damn listenable — but still with those sinister undertones of the title track.
No matter how much of a quality record this is, however, it isn’t all perfect. Essentially, I’m not quite so big on Evil Woman, which although a very fun and catchy track, hasn’t got the same stroke of genius the best of the record has. For me, it feels like an album of two halves. The first half is some of the best music that has graced this Earth, but the second half, although still great, ain’t quite on that same level. Moreover, however much I appreciate it, some of the noodling sections can go a little too long, like in Warning, for example.
Nonetheless, there really is little wrong with Black Sabbath‘s debut. It may be slightly rough around the edges, but can be forgiven considering it was literally the first metal album in history, effectively.
Black Sabbath is one of the best debut albums ever, at the end of the day. There is a foreboding sense of purpose provided by the awesomosity of the instrumentals, raw vocals and fantastic lyricism, that created a genre, and sparked huge things for Iommi and the bunch. At the very least, the first four tracks amount as an unstoppable rocking machine and some of the very best turns in the genre. Black Sabbath‘s first is essential listening, and has just earned a place on my Favourite Albums page, like you care.
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