The Best of Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath
by Josh Kinnear
THE BAND: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BAND
Black Sabbath is a British rock/heavy metal band that was formed in 1969 in Birmingham, England. The band initially consisted of guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Bill Ward and singer Ozzy Osbourne. The band released most of its classic groundbreaking albums in the 1970’s. In 1979 due to his severe alcohol and drug abuse Ozzy Osbourne was kicked out of the band, going on to create a highly popular, successful, and influential solo career that highlighted the heavy metal aspect of his music. The band then hired the former vocalist of Rainbow (a band including former Deep Purple guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore), Ronny James Dio. The band released 2 more records with Dio, and then faded more from the arena of popular music in the rest of the 1980’s and 1990’s, releasing 8 more studio albums with a variety of singers, bassists, and drummers. Tony Iommi (guitarist) has been the only constant member of the band since its creation. In 2013 all the original members of Black Sabbath (this is excluding drummer Bill Ward due to his desire not to participate; they instead used Brad Wilk, of Rage Against the Machine), reunited to release the album “13”. Black Sabbath is unanimously agreed upon as one of the most influential bands in history to rock music and heavy metal, releasing over 7 platinum and multi-platinum albums, and influencing such popular acts as Nirvana, Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Soundgarden.
THE ALBUM: BACKROUND ON THE ALBUM
The Best of Black Sabbath is 32-song double-CD compilation album released in 2000 on Sanctuary Records, and spans the entire length of the band’s career up to that point, It includes their best and most popular work. The majority of the work comes from the band’s releases with their original incarnation featuring Ozzy Osbourne, 2 songs from the band’s releases with Ronnie James Dio, and the final track from their 1983 album Born Again, featuring Ian Gillian on vocals. Although not an official release by the Black Sabbath management, it is a perfect representation of their career, and an excellent choice for anyone who’s looking to be introduced to the Black Sabbath band and their legacy as a whole.
TRACKLIST: SELECTED NOTABLE TRACKS
1. BLACK SABBATH- This is the opening track from their eponymous debut album, Black Sabbath. Yes, the song Black Sabbath, off the record Black Sabbath, by the band Black Sabbath, and there could be no better musical composition to describe them. The song is a long, dark, heavy, ominous, foreboding narrative written by the band’s bassist, Geezer Butler. The song was inspired by an experience he had where he believed he saw the devil himself standing at the foot of his bed one night when he awoke. Not only is this the perfect choice of song to kick start the album, and prove what Black Sabbath is really all about, but it was just as equally a perfect choice of a song to kick start their career. Its dark satanic lyrical imagery, and their use of the “diabolus in musica” (a musical interval pattern that has been historically thought to incite evil and the devil) in this song, formed the basis for their style and set the tone for the future music to come.
2. WAR PIGS- Here is the epic anthem of Black Sabbaths career. At just slightly under the 8 minute mark, it is in fact remarkably among one of their best and most enduringly popular songs. Joining the ranks of those early rock songs that defied the general music rule that long complex songs don’t become popular, such as Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, The Eagles’ “Hotel California”, or “Light My Fire” by The Doors. The song paints a wildly vivid visual war scene, and reflects philosophically, and with brutal honesty, on the tragedy’s and horrors of war. Not just in the soldiers realm of experience like many anti-war songs do, but also in terms of the roles of politicians, generals, Satan, and even God himself. Not to mention the song in undoubtedly an unrivaled representation of Tony Iommi’s guitar playing, with the solo of the song being given ranking as the one of the best in heavy metal history.
3. PARANOID- This one’s a classis. So much so that Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi played it at a private party for the Queen of England in 2002, and notable musicians such as Johnny Rotten (of The Sex Pistols) and Slash (of Guns and Roses) have cited the song as influence. Meanwhile reputable publications such as Rolling Stone and VH1 have included it in some of their lists of greatest songs of all time. The song is about a man’s mental break-down, yet is still the kind of song to get stuck in your head. Being that this was the band’s first ever released single it’s extreme unprecedented success (especially because it was originally written for the intention of album filler) is all the more respectable.
4. IRON MAN- Here it is. The one Black Sabbath song that everyone has heard at some point, most likely the radio. It’s a song that uses a sci-fi analogy of a time traveling man who tried to save the Earth from apocalypse, but is ridiculed by mankind for his attempts, and eventually he takes his revenge and becomes the apocalypse that he intended to prevent. It delves into the universally relatable concepts of loneliness, isolation, and anger. But most of all, the song’s fucking catchy, along with being one of their most popular songs, this is defiantly one of their most highly covered tacks, with numerous big name acts having paid tribute to it over the years including Frank Zappa, Green Day, Phish, Marilyn Manson, Metallica, Pearl Jam, and even Kanye West (he samples the song).
5. HEAVEN AND HELL- Finally, the title track off Black Sabbath’s 9th studio album and the third to last song on this “Best Of” compilation. As the period of Black Sabbath that included Ronnie James Dio was significantly less than that of Ozzy Osborne’s era in terms of length and popularity I’ve’ only reviewed one of the songs from the Dio time period. This is simply because in the context of Black Sabbath’s history Ozzy played a much bigger role, however, that isn’t to say that Sabbath didn’t receive a lot of renewed popularity and new fans with Dio, just that it’s comparatively less. Nevertheless Ronnie James Dio’s role in the band deserves strong acknowledgement and recognition as he’s an incredibly talented songwriter and singer by any standard. He has said that “Heaven and Hell” is his favorite song of his career and he takes the most pride in it. Making the song a perfect introduction to Dio as an individual and Black Sabbath as a whole, as it’s the quintessential Dio era Sabbath song.
This album is a perfectly proportioned display of the wide range of the style and skill of the band’s members, musically and conceptually. It’s one of the few compilation albums I’ve heard that is a more than adequate showcasing of a legendary band’s illustrious career. It leaves no stone unturned, and picking from the very best of the best, is an attention keeping interesting listen from opening track to closing track. For anyone who loves rock music, heavy metal, punk, or anything in the genre of darkness and horror, becoming familiar with this band is a necessity, due to its influence on these realms in the modern day mainstream and fringe culture. Even just as a fan of music in general, it’s beneficial to know Black Sabbath’s work, as they’ve been a fluctuating (yet consistent) presence in the international music industry for over 45 years. This band is essential in the evolution of Rock N’ Roll and heavy metal specifically, and of popular music and media as a whole. I mean, the story of Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off of a bat onstage (although being accidental, as he, of his own account, thought it was a rubber bat at the time) is the supreme archetype of concern for the cliché of parents being scared about the dark angry violent music their teenager is listening too. All in all, being familiar with Black Sabbath is quintessential to the understanding of the context of modern music, and is therefore informative, important, and useful to even those who dislike the music. An accomplishment few bands in history can lay claim too, and there is no better starting point for the beginner (or review for the expert) then “The Best of Black Sabbath” double-CD compilation, released by Sanctuary Records, in 2000.