BLACK SABBATH — Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (review)

BLACK SABBATH — Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album cover Album · 1973 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
When the four members of BLACK SABBATH reflect upon the time period when “Vol 4” was released they can only recall upon how the seeds were sown for the ultimate demise of the so-called pioneers of the heavy metal genre of rock music. All the members were suffering from one form or another of substance abuse and the phenomenal success of their albums gave them the financial freedom to indulge in their wildest fantasies in order to achieve the ultimate party like it’s1999 scenario. Unfortunately these endless days and nights of hedonistic highs and living in the sin city of 1970s Los Angeles essentially killed the creative process and no matter how hard the band tried to muster up even the simplest of ideas, ended up in dismal failure every time. The team members that consisted of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward were starting to think that the band’s expiration date had arrived and were seriously considering throwing in the towel.

Luckily the band decided to return to the UK and immerse itself into the mysterious and spooky surroundings of The Forest of Dean where they rented Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire, England where they once again were able to grasp onto the musical mojo that made their earlier albums so sinister and sensational. The haunting environs suited the band well as they recaptured the occult darkness once again. SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH was literally launched when Tony Iommi stumbled upon the main riffs while playing in one of the dungeons in the castle and the evil heaviness is what set the tone for the rest of the album to follow. Once the SABBATH dudes were acclimated to the new surroundings, the ideas started pouring in once again. Scaring the crap out of each in the spooky medieval fortress aside, the band continued the heaviness of the four previous albums and continued the experimental and progressive elements that started on “Vol 4.”

SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH introduced even more complex compositional arrangements that included more keyboard styles and also some strings and other touches. While a sitar and bagpipes were attempted to be included, they were nixed from the final editing which was probably a good thing! With the heavy introductory riffs of the title track and the nightmare visions of the album cover art by Drew Struzan, SABBATH recaptured the dark imagery and darkened vibes of the debut album and “Paranoid” but also displayed a more mature musical approach that found the standard heavy metal riffing styles fortified by deviations into more sophisticated flirtations into the world of progressive rock that found the band members taming their demons and taking on the challenges in order to up their game and remain relevant in a quickly evolving music business. Despite almost breaking up earlier in the year of 1973, the band composed some of the best material of its career and once back in the London for the final recording sessions also happened to be in the studio next to where Yes was recording “Tales From Topographic Oceans” which led to Rick Wakeman playing keyboards and piano on “Sabra Cadabra.”

Except for a few speed bumps, SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH gracefully returned to the Lords of Darkness’ former glory with crushing heavy riffing, evil sounds and imagery and most importantly an album that holds together cohesively unlike the wobbly “Vol 4” that was bogged down by the insipid ballad “Changes” and the pointless electronic experiment of “FM.” With the heavy duty bombast of the title track, the album follows with one of the band’s most interesting tracks ever, the fiery “A National Acrobat” which holds its own in the heaviness department but also engages in an interesting mixing it up of stylistic changes that includes some funk driven grooves and sensational atmospheric freakery to add the proper spell casting haunting sounds. It also displays Ozzy’s vocal style in full fire as he seemed to hit his stride on this album. The track takes many hairpin turns and cranks it out for over six minutes.

While the heaviness is in tact, SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH is a much more daring album as each track takes a different approach. The third track “Fluff” is perhaps the only one that fails to engage. As an acoustic guitar instrumental, it serves well as an intermission of sorts but with a running time of over four minutes woefully wears out its welcome. While similar tracks on previous albums were effective (such as “Orchid” on “Masters Of Reality”) they only lasted a short time whereas “Fluff” just goes on and on with a beautiful piano run which would admittedly sound great on a Yes album but derails the tone of what the first two tracks so confidently constructed. Luckily the following “Sabra Cadabra” makes up for its lackadaisical fluffiness and returns the musical flow to sizzling. With the highly fueled octane of Iommi’s instantly addictive guitar riffs and Ozzy’s controlled manic vocal style, the track delivers some serious chops before Rick Wakeman’s Minimoog and piano contributions take the track into the stratosphere. This still remains one of my most cherished SABBATH tunes. The arrangements and compositional flow are just flawless.

Side Two continues the musical mojo with the crushing riffs of “Killing Yourself To Live” which also displays creative compositional deviations from the expected SABBATH grab bag. Ozzy handled the synthesizer duties on all but “Sabra Cadabra” despite not knowing how to play it but still mustered up the engaging track “Who Are You?” which displays a sinister keyboard riff that sounds like the prototype of what would eventually evolve into the intro of “Mr. Crowley” in his future solo career. While simple in design, the creepy scale utilized works perfectly and continues the eerie mood of the album. “Looking For Today” is another guitar riff based track but with a more complex melodic development and while not the best track on the album isn’t that bad at all. The album ends with “Spiral Architect” which includes the strings of The Phantom Fiddlers. The track is laced with many changes in tempo, timbre and dynamics and the most diverse of the album. While it contains a huge guitar riffs, the problem with this one is that the delivery style is too reminiscent of Pete Townsend and The Who in certain sections when Ozzy isn’t singing. Once again not a horrible track at all but The Who segments bug me. A minor quip. The string section is actually used tastefully and works quite well.

Although the band was staggering along and pulling miracles out of their arses to keep the musical compositions flowing, things were still continuing to unravel as the members were starting to suffer from infighting and the continued drug related incidents. Despite it all the critics had finally caught up to the band’s vision and SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH actually received praise from both critics and fans alike. As well as being a bloody excellent album that still keeps me enthralled, this was my first experience with SABBATH so this is an album that has a personal significance as well as just being a great album. While not as perfectly sinister as the band’s first three albums, this one holds together quite well despite the many elements thrown in the blender and forced to perform unthinkable things together. Only the lackluster “Fluff” and the overuse of the Townsend guitar style on “Spiral Architect” keep me from giving this a perfect score but because this album was my gateway into the world of the BLOODY SABBATH crowd, i’ll round it up every time and for my tastes a clear step up from “Vol 4.”
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