Black Sabbath is usually just referred to as an act integral to the solidifying of the metal genre. But it was more.
The socio-economic background of players in any group is generally examined at length. And yeah, the dudes in the Clash went to art school. Tony Iommi, Sabbath’s guitarist, though, worked in some dingy factory in Birmingham, England. Supposedly, because of his exposure to the repetitive functioning of the machinery that surrounded him, his guitar playing in some way mimicked the sounds he encountered. One might debate that, even as it’s an entertaining way to explain the texture of Iommi’s soloing. Beyond that, though, was a cultural movement that was reaching the end of its usefulness.
The entire hippy thing served to enliven the youth for the better part of the ‘60s. As the decade ended with a glut of violence and political murders, music began reflecting not just the actions, but the drugs that were involved. And the dudes in Sabbath, well documented as it was, enjoyed uppers as much as smoking weed.
The combination of blowing lines, taking a burned out, inland wasteland and rendering it in terms of songs based on decay and witchcraft found the band in direct conflict with those long hairs who sought to carry its idealism into a new decade. And while Sabbath functioned briefly during the ‘60s, its first full length, released in 1970, worked as much to get out the ju-ju as it did to trounce any remaining optimism and tie-dye.
Oddly tracked due to the two medleys that the disc comprises, Black Sabbath has cropped up in various forms over time. With its latest reissue, the disc is broken into eight tracks. No matter how it’s all chopped up, though, what the album gives listeners is a final glance back at fuzzy ‘60s psych and hard rock while presaging the devilish and more metallic work of the coming decades.
Songs like “N.I.B.” were in direct conflict with ‘60s optimism as Ozzy sings about Lucifer and following him down to wherever he might be going. Whether or not this was all devised as a concerted backlash against the preceding decade can’t really be guessed at. But with Sabbath’s combination of Cream styled blues-rock and Iommi’s endless, knotty solos the music took on a new meaning – one that wasn’t benevolent at all.
Whether or not Black Sabbath represents the group’s best effort from its first run is going to be argued for a good long time. Whatever the answer, though, the disc does represent some of Sabbath’s most rambling, psych related fair.