BLACK SABBATH — Sabotage (review)

BLACK SABBATH — Sabotage album cover Album · 1975 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
What sounds like just like a form of wordplay on the band name BLACK SABBATH, SABOTAGE, the final album of the classic mandatory six found the quartet of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward culminating all the heavy metal thunder one last time before the band effectively lost all momentum and quickly fell from grace. SABOTAGE is also one of the most misunderstood and least appreciated of the big six but for us diehard fans the album ranks very well near the top of the mighty SABBATH’s canon for being one of the most intricately crafted and esoterically interesting of the bunch. Graced with epic proto-prog compositions that eschew conventional songwriting with a fiery passion reinvigorated that allowed more experimental touches to seep in, SABOTAGE allowed SABBATH one last moment of musical glory before the band hit a creative brick wall. The album while seemingly random in many ways actually makes a lot more sense once the story behind it is unmasked. The tale is somewhat hinted upon with the oddball album cover that shows the band’s reflection in the mirror behind being SABOTAGED.

SABBATH had a phenomenally successful run with the first five albums but like many rock bands of the era found themselves in the spoils of riches which led to hedonistic drug abuse rituals and incessant bouts of self-indulgence. Around the time of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” the band discovered that the management had been ripping them off all along and siphoning funds like a parasitic scourge. SABOTAGE was created during the time when the litigation against former manager Patrick Meehan and others was taking place. Many of the references on the album are derived from the experiences of this period of time and despite the stress that the never-ending legal battles generated, the incident seems to have reinvigorated the fiery passion of distrust, paranoia and rage against the machine that made the first two SABBATH albums so amazingly focused. Despite all odds, the band seemed to channel all of the angst into crafting one of the most sophisticated and fine-tuned albums of its career. While SABOTAGE usually ranks last of the classic period amongst the general fanbase, the album that requires more than the average spins before digesting is actually one of the band’s highest artistic statements.

SABOTAGE is a unique mix of stylistic approaches. Not only does it contain some of the band’s heaviest moments such as the crushing “Symptom Of The Universe” which some cite as one of the first blueprints of thrash metal (another would be Queen’s “Sheer Heart Attack” the prior year) but the album also contains the bizarre “Supertzar” which while based on Iommi’s guitar riffing, employed the English Chamber Choir to ululate wordless vocalizations which eerily accompanied the heavy metal thunder. The opening “Hole In The Sky” sets an important tone of blistering heaviness that evokes the zeitgeist of earlier albums like “Paranoid” and the short acoustic guitar snippet “Don’t Start (Too Late)” which i always assumed was about taking political action was actually an inside joke that referred to tape operator David Harris who was often frustrated because they band would start playing before he was ready to begin recording. The less than a minute echoed guitar sequence reminisces of the short instrumentals on “Master Of Reality” and provides the perfect fluffer between the heavy metal bombast of “Hole In The Sky” and the soul crushing uptempo heaviness of “Symptom Of The Universe, arguably one of the band’s finest moments.

Starting with “Megalomania” the album becomes much more experimental. While heavy metal guitar riffs remain aplenty, the track which approaches the 10-minute mark displays SABBATH’s most proto-prog leanings that begins with a sinister mid-tempo slice of echoey guitar fueled paranoia that slowly morphs into a heavy metal guitar riff based powerhouse. The track not only provides the perfect canvas for Ozzy Osbourne to vent his rage and discontent but also allows his much improved vocal style to hit a new level of sophistication by exploring a wider range of octaves as well as some of the most powerfully emotive deliveries of his career. The rest of the album only builds off of the momentum. “Thrill Of It All” follows suit with another dualistic one-two punch of melodic constructs. It begins with Iommi’s guitar parts, both rhythm and lead generating a fiery metal experience that shifts into a more keyboard dominated second half which displayed the band’s much improved integration of keyboards.

After the choral metal experience of “Supertzar,” the sole single of the album “Am I Going Insane (Radio)” also proved to be one of the most hated of the band’s career right up their with “Changes” from “Vol 4.” While the “(Radio)” annex to the title insinuated an edit of some sort and the cause of much confusion, the title actually was derived from the Cockney slang term “radio-rental” which means “mental” and if like me you’re not up on your English dialects especially in the slang department it is an understandable misunderstanding. The song itself is hardly a throwaway despite its commercial appeal. By far the most accessible of the SABOTAGE track listing, it was also one of the few tracks where Ozzy wrote the lyrics, a job mostly performed by bassist Geezer Butler. While Ozzy’s lyrics usurp the guitar playing of Iommi on this one as his playing becomes subordinate, the track is quite arty in in display of heavy and soft alternate passages and Ozzy’s emotive vocal delivery and lyrical content narrated the depression that the band was in the middle of.

The biggest mindfuck of the album has to be the fact that “Am I Going Insane (Radio)” was a title of the penultimate track however it was the final track “The Writ” that actually repeated the lyrics “Am I Going Insane.” The closer wasn’t really a bona fide song of sorts but rather a melodic declaration of frustration and paranoia not experienced since the band’s earliest albums of 1970. The pop melody is the most repetitive of the album and IMHO was the ultimate statement of a band truly losing its shit before the inevitable downturn which was prolonged for an agonizing two more albums which finally resulted in Ozzy leaving the band. The track is also rather symbolic. As Ozzy repeats the lyrics like a deranged declarative chant of sorts, the album ends by sinister laughing voices mocking him as if the lawyers had the last laugh. So many ways to interpret all of this but the ambiguity of it all plus the stellar instrumental performances of SABOTAGE are what has made this one of the hardcore fan favorites. While not as immediately accessible as the first three albums, SABOTAGE was in reality the peak of SABBATH’s Ozzy-era creative prowess and for true fans where the six year party officially ended. A more careful analysis and the proper time for its magic to sink in will reveal SABBATH’s most crowning achievements made all the more remarkable by the traumatic events that surrounded it.
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siLLy puPPy wrote:
38 days ago
Yep, it is definately a grower which is why i advise newbies to give it time to blossom. Still doesn't beat the first two but my third fave.
UMUR wrote:
38 days ago
Initially I didn´t like this album much, but it´s grown on me considerably over the years, and it´s become one of my favorites now. Great album.

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