Black Sabbath is the eponymous debut studio album by English rock band Black Sabbath. Released on 13 February 1970 in the United Kingdom and on 1 June 1970 in the United States, the album reached number eight on the UK Albums Charts and number 23 on the Billboard charts. Although it was poorly received by most contemporary music critics, Black Sabbath has since been credited with significantly influencing the development of heavy metal music.
According to Black Sabbath guitarist and founder member Tony Iommi, the group’s debut album was recorded in a single day on 16 October 1969. The session lasted twelve hours. Iommi said: “We just went in the studio and did it in a day, we played our live set and that was it. We actually thought a whole day was quite a long time, then off we went the next day to play for £20 in Switzerland.” Aside from the bells, thunder and rain sound effects added to the beginning of the opening track, and the double-tracked guitar solos on “N.I.B.,” there were virtually no overdubs added to the album. Iommi recalls recording live: “We thought, ‘We have two days to do it and one of the days is mixing.’ So we played live. Ozzy (Osbourne) was singing at the same time, we just put him in a separate booth and off we went. We never had a second run of most of the stuff.”
Key to the band’s new sound on the album is Iommi’s distinctive playing style that he developed after an accident at a sheet metal factory where he was working at the age of 17 in which the tips of the middle fingers of his fretting hand were severed. Iommi created a pair of false fingertips using plastic from a dish detergent bottle and detuned the strings on his guitar to make it easier for him to bend the strings, creating a massive, heavy sound. “I’d play a load of chords and I’d have to play fifths because I couldn’t play fourths because of my fingers,” Iommi explained to Phil Alexander in Mojo in 2013. “That helped me develop my style of playing, bending the strings and hitting the open string at the same time just to make the sound wilder.” In the same article bassist Geezer Butler added, “Back then the bass player was supposed to do all these melodic runs, but I didn’t know how to do that because I’d been a guitarist, so all I did was follow Tony’s riff. That made the sound heavier.”
Iommi began recording the album with a white Fender Stratocaster, his guitar of choice at the time, but a malfunctioning pickup forced him to finish recording with a Gibson SG, a guitar he had recently purchased as a backup but had “never really played”. The SG was a right-handed model which the left-handed Iommi played upside down. Soon after recording the album, he met a right-handed guitarist who was playing a left-handed SG upside down, and the two agreed to swap guitars; this is the SG that Iommi modified and later “put out to pasture” at the Hard Rock Cafe.
Sabbath vocalist Ozzy Osbourne has always spoken fondly of the recording of the band’s debut album, stating in his autobiography I Am Ozzy, “Once we’d finished, we spent a couple of hours double-tracking some of the guitar and vocals, and that was that. Done. We were in the pub in time for last orders. It can’t have taken any longer than twelve hours in total. That’s how albums should be made, in my opinion.” Drummer Bill Ward agrees, telling Guitar World in 2001, “I think the first album is just absolutely incredible. It’s naïve, and there’s an absolute sense of unity – it’s not contrived in any way, shape or form. We weren’t old enough to be clever. I love it all, including the mistakes!” In an interview for the Classic Albums series in 2010 Butler added, “It was literally live in the studio. I mean, (producer) Rodger Bain, I think he’s a genius the way he captured the band in such a short time.” In his autobiography Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath, Iommi plays down the producer’s role, insisting, “We didn’t choose to work with Rodger Bain, he was chosen for us… He was good to have around, but we didn’t really get a lot of advice from him. He maybe suggested a couple of things, but the songs were already fairly structured and sorted.”
According to AllMusic’s Steve Huey, Black Sabbath marks “the birth of heavy metal as we now know it”. In his opinion, the album “transcends its clear roots in blues-rock and psychedelia to become something more”. He ascribes its “sonic ugliness” as a reflection of “the bleak industrial nightmare” of the group’s hometown, Birmingham, England. Huey notes the first side’s allusions to themes characteristic of heavy metal, including evil, paganism, and the occult, “as filtered through horror films and the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and Dennis Wheatley.” He characterises side two as “given over to loose blues-rock jamming learned through” the English rock band Cream.
In the opinion of the author and former Metal Maniacs magazine editor Jeff Wagner, Black Sabbath is the “generally accepted starting point” when heavy metal “became distinct from rock and roll”. In his opinion, the album transfigured blues rock into “something uglier, found deeper gravity via mournful singing and a sinister rhythmic pulse”. According to Rolling Stone magazine, “the album that arguably invented heavy metal was built on thunderous blues-rock”. Sputnikmusic’s Mike Stagno notes that Black Sabbath’s combined elements of rock, jazz and blues, with heavy distortion created one of the most influential albums in the history of heavy metal. In retrospect, Black Sabbath has been lauded as perhaps the first true heavy metal album. It has also been credited as the first record in the stoner rock and goth genres.
Taking a broader perspective, Pete Prown of Vintage Guitar Magazine says, “The debut Black Sabbath album of 1970 was a watershed moment in heavy rock, but it was part of a larger trend of artists, producers, and engineers already moving towards the sound we now call hard rock and heavy metal. The previous year had already seen authentic, metal-edged music from Led Zeppelin (“Whole Lotta Love,” “Heartbreaker”) and the Jeff Beck Group (“Plynth”), as well as the new trio Mountain, which played a breakthrough performance at the Woodstock festival in August, 1969. Sabbath’s debut LP in the UK (Feb. 1970) was matched a few weeks later by Mountain’s Climbing! album and its proto-metal hit, ‘Mississippi Queen.’ So while Black Sabbath was a crucial band in heavy metal’s arrival, it’s important to remember they were not alone. The year 1970 further saw pivotal early metal releases from Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, as well as Sabbath’s own Paranoid album that fall. Even the track ‘Immigrant Song’ from Led Zeppelin III can be reasonably categorized as metal.”
Black Sabbath’s music and lyrics were quite dark for the time. The opening track is based almost entirely on a tritone interval played at slow tempo on the electric guitar. In the 2010 Classic Albums documentary on the making of the band’s second album Paranoid, Geezer Butler claims the riff was inspired by “Mars, the Bringer of War,” a movement in Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Iommi reinterpreted the riff slightly and redefined the band’s direction. Ward told Classic Albums, “When Oz sang ‘What is this that stands before me?’ it became completely different…this was a different lyric now, this was a different feel. I was playing drums to the words.” The song’s lyrics concern a “figure in black” which bassist Geezer Butler claims to have seen after waking up from a nightmare. In the liner notes to the band’s 1998 live album Reunion the bassist remembers:
I’d been raised a Catholic so I totally believed in the Devil. There was a weekly magazine called Man, Myth and Magic that I started reading which was all about Satan and stuff. That and books by Aleister Crowley and Denis Wheatley, especially The Devil Rides Out…I’d moved into this flat I’d painted black with inverted crosses everywhere. Ozzy gave me this 16th Century book about magic that he’d stolen from somewhere. I put it in the airing cupboard because I wasn’t sure about it. Later that night I woke up and saw this black shadow at the end of the bed. It was a horrible presence that frightened the life out of me! I ran to the airing cupboard to throw the book out, but the book had disappeared. After that I gave up all that stuff. It scared me shitless.
Similarly, the lyrics of the song “N.I.B.” are written from the point of view of Lucifer, who falls in love with a human woman and “becomes a better person” according to lyricist Butler. Contrary to popular belief, the name of that song is not an abbreviation for “Nativity in Black”; according to Osbourne’s autobiography it is merely a reference to drummer Bill Ward’s pointed goatee at the time, which was shaped as a pen-nib. The lyrics of two other songs on the album were written about stories with mythological themes. “Behind the Wall of Sleep” is a reference to the H. P. Lovecraft short story Beyond the Wall of Sleep, while “The Wizard” was inspired by the character of Gandalf from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The latter includes harmonica performed by Osbourne. The band also recorded a cover of “Evil Woman”, a song that had been an American hit for the band Crow. In his autobiography, Iommi admits the band reluctantly agreed to do the song at the behest of their manager Jim Simpson, who insisted they record something commercial.
The Black Sabbath album cover features a depiction of Mapledurham Watermill, situated on the River Thames in Oxfordshire, England. Standing in front of the watermill is a figure dressed in black. The name of the woman pictured on the front cover is forgotten, though guitarist Iommi says that she once showed up backstage at a Black Sabbath show and introduced herself. According to feelnumb.com, which featured an article on the album cover, ‘Not much is known about the eerie woman used in the photo other then she was a model/actress hired for the day and her name was Louise.’
The inner gatefold sleeve of the original release was designed by Keith McMillan (credited as Marcus Keef) and featured an inverted cross with a poem written inside of it. Allegedly, the band were upset when they discovered this, as it fuelled allegations that they were Satanists or Occultists; however, in Osbourne’s memoir, he says that to the best of his knowledge nobody was upset with the inclusion.[ “Suddenly we had all these crazy people turning up at shows,” Iommi remembered in Mojo in 2013. “I think Alex Sanders (high priest of the Wiccan religion) turned up at a gig once. It was all quite strange, really.” The album was not packaged with a gatefold cover in the US. In the liner notes to Reunion, Phil Alexander states, “Unbeknownst to the band, Black Sabbath was launched in the US with a party with the head of the Church of Satan, Anton Lavey, presiding over the proceedings…All of a sudden Sabbath were Satan’s Right Hand Men.”
Black Sabbath was recorded for Fontana Records, but prior to release the record company elected to switch the band to another of their labels, Vertigo Records, which housed the company’s more progressive acts. Released on Friday the 13th February 1970 by Vertigo Records, Black Sabbath reached number eight on the UK Albums Charts. Following its United States release in June 1970 by Warner Bros. Records, the album reached number 23 on the Billboard 200, where it remained for more than a year and sold one million copies.
Black Sabbath received primarily negative reviews from contemporary music critics. Rolling Stone’s Lester Bangs described the band as, “just like Cream! But worse,” and he dismissed the album as “a shuck – despite the murky songtitles and some inane lyrics that sound like Vanilla Fudge paying doggerel tribute to Aleister Crowley, the album has nothing to do with spiritualism, the occult, or anything much except stiff recitations of Cream clichés.” Robert Christgau, writing for The Village Voice, panned the album as “bullshit necromancy.” He later described it as a reflection of “the worst of the counterculture,” including “drug-impaired reaction time” and “long solos.”
Retrospective reviews of Black Sabbath have been positive. In AllMusic, Huey said it was a highly innovative debut album with several classic metal songs, including the title track, which he felt had the “most definitive heavy metal riffs of all time.” Huey was also impressed by how the band’s “slowed-down, murky guitar rock bludgeons the listener in an almost hallucinatory fashion, reveling in its own dazed, druggy state of consciousness.” In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), the journalist Scott Seward highlighted Bain’s grandiose production on “an album that eats hippies for breakfast.” In the opinion of Mike Stagno of Sputnikmusic, “both fans of blues influenced hard rock and heavy metal of all sorts should find something they like on the album.” BBC Music’s Pete Marsh referred to Black Sabbath as an “album that changed the face of rock music.” (by wikipedia)
In other words: A masterpiece in the history of hard-rock !
Geezer Butler (bass)
Tony Iommi (guitar)
Ozzy Osbourne (vocals, harmonica on 02.)
Bill Ward (drums)
01. Black Sabbath (Iommi/Butler/Ward/Osbourne) 6.20
02. The Wizard (Iommi/Butler/Ward/Osbourne) 4.24
03. Behind The Wall If Sleep (Iommi/Butler/Ward/Osbourne) 3.37
04. N.I.B. (Iommi/Butler/Ward/Osbourne) 6.08
05. Evil Woman (L.Weigand/D.Weigand/Wagner) 3.25
06. Sleeping Village (Iommi/Butler/Ward/Osbourne) 3.46
07. Warning (Dunbar/Dmochowski/Hickling/Moorshead) 10.28
08. Wicked World (taken from the US edition) (Iommi/Butler/Ward/Osbourne) 4.43
09. The Wizard [Outtake] (Iommi/Butler/Ward/Osbourne) 4.46
10. Behind The Wall Of Sleep [Outtake] (Iommi/Butler/Ward/Osbourne) 3.41
11. N.I.B. [Instrumental] (Iommi/Butler/Ward/Osbourne) 6.09
12. Evil Woman [alternate version] (L.Weigand/D.Weigand/Wagner) 3.47
13. Sleeping Village (Intro) [Alternate Version] (Iommi/Butler/Ward/Osbourne) 3.45
14. Warning (Pt. 1) [Outtake] (Dunbar/Dmochowski/Hickling/Moorshead) 6.58
15. US Radiospot for their first album 0.56