Happy birthday, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath! That’s right, the seminal Sabbath-y release came out a whopping 45 years ago today. It’s undeniably a classic album from the band and one that should be in every self-respecting metalhead’s collection. However, it’s the title track that really takes the cake, a work in heavy metal virtuosity and straight up heaviness, and I’d like to pay tribute to it today.
It’s 1973 and, by this point, Sabbath were full-fledged global superstars, with critics finally beginning to take notice as well. However, coming back off of the Vol. 4 world tour and Tony Iommi, the band’s chief songwriter, is suffering from a rather inconvenient bout of writer’s block. I know what you’re thinking, “the briefcase full of ‘ludes is taking its toll”, but no, we’re not at Technical Ecstacy yet. After struggling to cope in Los Angeles, the band returned to England to get back to their black masses, renting out a supposedly haunted castle and opting to write there. From this, Tony overcame his block with the killer riff that kicked open the group’s fifth record with steel-toed boots.
Clocking in at 5:45, you can break down the song into three parts, each distinctive by their guitar leads and showing incredible musical dexterity for the band. Of course, the intro and verses are characterised by that quintessential Iommi riff, taking greater influence from hard rock than some of the band’s previous work, which focused more on that heavy, occult-esque sound that bore the genre they grew. The drums are gorgeous here as well, if by “gorgeous” you mean thunderous and loud. While some of Bill’s technical proficiency may be missing, sometimes all that’s required is a bit of noise — and this is a bit of fucking noise. You’ve also got the mellower, acoustic-led parts, where you can almost feel the juvenile glee in Ozzy’s voice; he’s loving that contrast. You can really hear the “Planet Caravan” echoes on this song, which Tony’s mellow strumming patterns and Geezer’s always stellar basswork meandering off into a different realm. The break comes with a cathartic “YOU BASTARD!” — one of music’s finest soundbites, for sure.
After the musical interlude, you’re greeted with the Black Sabbath that we first knew crawling out of the grimey depths of Birmingham as Zeppelin’s ugly cousin. The guitar and bass match each other, in a rare occurrence, to produce a riff that’s not just exceedingly dark, but unyieldingly *thicc* and weighty in the mix — this is heavy metal, after all. It’s here also that Ozzy truly shines as a vocalist, hitting high notes that absolutely boggle the mind, bringing that hit of schizophrenia to the song like only he knows how.
As time would tell, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” became one of the band’s many signature songs, and remains a standard in heavy metal to this day. The album launched the band to even greater heights and, if I’m being personally honest, was the last album the great Sabbath released that can be considered “legendary”. Legends they are though, 45 years on.
So, do listen to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath on its birthday, be it your first time or 45th.
Or click here to get the 2009 Remaster on vinyl (UK), a lovely Christmas present I’m sure…