Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath

Composed by Bill Ward / Geezer Butler / Ozzy Osbourne / Tony Iommi

Song Review by

Rain pours down outside, and the distant sound of thunder crashes through the sky. Then, like no moment in music before, the striking of a single guitar chord kick started a genre and provided generations of angry teenagers with a sound they could relate to. People can argue endlessly about the first Led Zeppelin album or the brutal sounds coming from Detroit that preceded this, but "Black Sabbath" is really where heavy metal began. From the imagery to the look and the sound, Ozzy Osbourne and company are the undeniable godfathers of the genre. With this song they sapped the blues out of garage rock and replaced it with a naïve self-importance that inspired legions of like-minded kids to pick up a guitar and sing about the devil. The three-note riff that pours from Tony Iommi's remaining fingers sounds like nothing before it -- distorted, discordant, and ungodly slow. Drummer Bill Ward pounds his drums like a caveman alerting the tribe of something bad, and indeed, something bad arrives. Armed with the most unique banshee wail in rock, Ozzy's first impression on the music world was a strong one. "What is this that stands before me," he barks over the minimalist soundscape, "A figure in black points at me." With two lines and a good riff, the band had suggested the sort of Dungeons and Dragons imagery that would feed its imitators for years to come, while alternately leaving so much to the imagination that artists as diverse as Nirvana, the Cardigans, the Butthole Surfers, and Big Country would admit their love for the heavy metal foursome. By the time bassist Geezer Butler shows up to carry the song off to its galloping conclusion, Osbourne has already begged God for help but to no avail. "Satan's coming 'round the bend," he sings, "people running 'cause they're scared." And mainstream critics, who had never heard such dark lyrics and brooding music sound so heavy, did exactly that. Black Sabbath was roasted by the press and shunned by the media for years, until finally it became obvious that heavy metal, not punk, was the mainstream voice of disenchanted suburban youth. And by that time, Osbourne was a drug addict who made better headlines than music, and Sabbath was a washed-up joke that Iommi couldn't bring himself to end. It only goes to show that the kids really are right, and Sabbath would pass on that knowledge to every metal band that rose up in its footsteps. The band had better songs and made much better albums, but this song was the defining creative moment of Black Sabbath's career.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Black Sabbath 1970 Rhino
No Image 1972 Tendolar
We Sold Our Soul for Rock 'n' Roll 1976 Rhino / Warner Bros. 6:18
Greatest Hits [Griffin] 1980 Power Sound 2001 6:15
Mob Rules 1981 Universal Japan 8:24
Live Evil 1982 Universal 8:34
No Image 1984 Media Records
Seventh Star 1986 Universal Japan
Black Sabbath Greatest Hits 1986 Sanctuary 6:14
Cross Purposes 1994 I.R.S. Records
The Ozzy Osbourne Years 1994 Import
Rocktastic 1994
Various Artists
6:19
No Image 1995 Sanctuary
Under Wheels of Confusion: 1970-1987 1996 Castle/Essential 6:21
No Image 1998 Epic 7:29
No Image 1999 Epic / Sony Music
Black Mass 1999 Pilot 6:34
The Best of Black Sabbath [Sanctuary 2000] 2000 Raw Power Records 6:19
Complete 70's Replica CD Collection 2001 Castle Music Ltd.
Past Lives 2002 Rhino
Symptom of the Universe: The Original Black Sabbath (1970-1978) 2002 Rhino / Rhino/Warner Bros. 6:17
Britannia Infernus: A History of British Occult & Black Metal 2002
Various Artists
Godreah Records / Edgy Records 6:20
Lords of Chaos 2003
Various Artists
Season of Mist / Sem 6:16
Never Say Die: Live in 1978 [Video/DVD] 2003 Sanctuary
Black Box: The Complete Original Black Sabbath 1970-1978 2004 Rhino 6:18
Geracao Rock and Roll [DVD] 2005
Various Artists
Atracao
Greatest Hits 1970-1978 2006 Rhino / Warner Bros. 6:18
We Sold Our Soul for Rock 'n' Roll, Vol. 1 2006 Power Sound 2001 6:11
Past Lives, Vol. 2 2006 Earmark 8:23
Audiobiography 2007 Nova / Regeneration
Live at Hammersmith Odeon 2007 Rhino
The Rules of Hell 2008 Rhino/Warner Bros. 8:38
The Greatest Hits 2009 Universal Music TV / Sanctuary / Universal Distribution 6:18
No Image 2009 Universal Distribution 6:18
Children of the Sea 2011 Disc Media / IDS
Iron Man: The Best of Black Sabbath 2012 Sanctuary / Sanctuary Records 6:18
Paranoid - Live: Black Sabbath, Live 1970-1978 2012
The Vinyl Collection 1970-1978 2012 Sanctuary
The Complete Albums 1970-1978 2014 Rhino / Warner Bros. 6:18
blue highlight denotes editor's pick