*Note – I set this to publish back in 2020, but something went wrong and it seemingly never posted. So here you go.
Greetings, Glancers! It feels like we’re getting through an awful lot of Black Sabbath so far with this list, which is a good thing as they were always more of a Greatest Hits band to me while I’m now able to take a deeper dive at their core work. Having said that, I’m pretty familiar with this album even if I’ve never heard it from start to finish. It contains a number of their most famous songs – songs which have appeared on Compilations, and songs which I’ve heard played at the Rock and Metal shows I used to go to and DJ at.
There isn’t much to say about the album cover – it’s iconic in its own way, more due to the popularity of the album rather than the actual artwork, but it does have an interesting wavering font which aligns with some of the more fusion and drug elements of the band and makes me think of a psychedelic Scooby Doo. The almost black on black print for the album title is a neat touch too. But lets just hit play on the thing, right?
‘Sweet Leaf’ begins with a cough which used to freak me out when I first heard the song on a Greatest Hits. I first thought it was a mistake. It’s still a strange inclusion now. But beyond that we get another fat, dirty Iommi riff. Like a lot of the best Sabbath riffs, it’s so simple yet leaves plenty of room for vocal accompaniment and instrumental arrangement. After a couple of verses, the song takes off into an extended instrumental phrase – the drums and bass are pouncing all over the place and there’s a sprinkling of shredding – then we return to the verse. Ozzy doesn’t sound too bad – he still has a distant, near reverb tone on his vocals, but this adds to the overall Sabbath sound. It’s a good song, can’t say I’ve ever loved it and I wish the instrumental part had gone a little further, lasted a little longer, but it’s still a powerful intro.
‘After Forever‘ feels much brighter and fun – the intro is faster and the riff makes the band sound less like Doom Metal, and more like a 70s US rock band. If you hadn’t heard it before, you wouldn’t guess it was Sabbath. The verses change up the pace and tone somewhat, the lyrics are funny, and on the second turn a thundering funky section changes things further. From there it’s a collection of the intro and verse riffs with assorted guitar trickery and freakouts.
‘Embryo‘ is one which, I’ve never been able to work out why, but was quite off-putting to me. Not because it was bad, more because it felt like it was triggering some unconscious memory from a past life in me which made me feel all apprehensive and panicky. I know that sounds ludicrous, but there you are. Something about the jaunty near-medieval melodies of the intro which aren’t quite out of tune, but are… puts me in the headspace of a child terrified by Knightmare or traumatised by some unimaginable horror scene. Then it’s followed up by a Doctor Who style galloping riff and the memory is slowly dispelled.
‘Children Of The Grave‘ continues based off that galloping Dr Who riff. The downtuned guitar and bass sound is really coming through here, and it may take a bit of getting used to for traditional rock fans. It’s not something I’m a massive fan of in general and metal bands have a habit of using it too much, but it’s perfect for Sabbath. The drums feel like trash can lids, but not in a St Anger way, and of course the technique is perfection. It isn’t the most exciting song or riff the band has written, but there is room for a brief instrumental interlude in the middle and a spooky Friday The 13th ending.
‘Orchid‘ is a lovely acoustic guitar instrumental which doesn’t fit neatly with what you know of the band or have heard so far on the album. It sounds more complex than it is, the playing given a swirling hypnotic quality.
‘Lord Of This World‘ on the other hand is exactly what you would expect – a stinking riff followed by a whirlwind of drums before settling into a slower, funkier riff for the verse. Ozzy’s vocals have that distorted quality again, and by now the vocal approach feels a little overly familiar with Ozzy’s limitations becoming clear. It’s still fine, but the vocal melodies and rhythms do become repetitive between songs when listening to a full album. I assume another singer might have the range or originality to spin things up a little. It works better as a standalone than an album track, but the rest of the band are great as always.
‘Solitude‘ begins with a duet between guitar and bass – sweet and moody – and then the vocals start. Is that even Ozzy? Well, clearly they’ve listened to my previous comment as the vocals are almost entirely different on this one. The song isn’t quite trance-like, but it is lovely, hypnotic, sad. The lyrics are of the broken heart, I miss you type, and the whole song is mostly quiet and slow to echo the sentiment.
‘Into The Void‘ is the other big hitter of the album, closing the album with another famous riff which sounds like a, well, a giant Iron Man strutting down your street and happily munching on rooftops. Eventually the chugging joins in and we take things up a notch. Ozzy’s back to the more familiar vocals and the lyrics are back to more of what we expect. The pace picks up once more in the middle for a brief high speed slice of tomfoolery before returning to the verse and main riff. It’s a popular song, it’s easy to see why.
It’s another consistent and strong album by Sabbath. They haven’t made a bad one yet in my journey, although this one does feel the most ‘Sabbathy’. It has their key sounds, but it also has those trademarks which remind me why I was never their biggest fan. While the rhythm section is as superb as ever, the lack of variety in the vocals and melodies does become apparent, and even the individual riffs are great and the timing changes up multiple times per song, there is the sense that songs become repetitive. I think that’s more my issue with the genre – so dependent on slow, booming riffs, and songs that often stretch out longer than is necessary, with maybe less aggression or less emotion than I would like. Like I say, those are just my issues with the genre and the band, and plenty of others will love the music for the exact reasons I don’t. I still recognise the strength of the songs, certainly of the musicianship, and there isn’t a song here I’d have a problem hearing again. Just not many I’d actively pursue hearing.
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: After Forever. Solitude. Orchid.