Was Rock in league with Satan? There were a lot of people who couldn't find any other plausible explanation for the genre's lasting popularity. They had to attribute it to outside forces. It couldn't be the music or even expert marketing. No, something more sinister was at work. In the '50s Rock n' Roll was a communist plot. But by the '70s Satan had taken over. Why let inept commies run something as powerful as Rock? Rumors abounded. KISS was alleged to stand for Knights In Satan's Service. Religious types, with nothing better to do, played Styx records backwards trying to prove there were Satanic messages. In the end, all they really proved was Styx records often sounded better in reverse. Amid all this craziness there were some bands, like Black Sabbath, whose songs dwelled on the sinister, occult and macabre.
When the term "Heavy Metal" (taken from the William Burroughs novel "Soft Machine") was coined in the late-60s it was used to describe loud, earth-shaking guitar oriented Rock. The first groups tagged with the term (Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and so on) found it derogatory but the next wave, including Black Sabbath, embraced the title and all its loutish connotations. Dishonor had its own reward.
Starting out in Ashton, UK, as Polka Tulk, with Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Terry "Geezer" Butler (bass) and Bill Ward (drums), they composed a song called "Black Sabbath." After becoming Earth, they finally settled on Black Sabbath to coincide with Butler's interest in black magic.
Black Sabbath's second effort, "Paranoid," was one of the all-time great Metal LPs. It was released in the UK in '70 and a year later in the U.S. Along with Judas Priest's "Screaming For Vengeance," (recorded years later) Sabbath's "Paranoid" defined ultimate Metal. Osbourne's staccato vocals battled with Iommi's machine gun guitar chords.
"Iron Man," a heavy riff song, had a dark and ominous feeling - not to mention a killer guitar solo. Also, there was "War Pigs" which turned out to be a concert favorite. Sabbath continued with the fierce "Masters Of Reality" and "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath." In the mid-70s Sabbath came to a grinding halt in a management dispute. On top of that Osbourne and Iommi had musical differences. Iommi wanted to expand the arrangements while Osbourne favored the present course and speed. Osbourne walked out only to return a short time later. But not long after that he was unceremoniously booted out. Drugs (often cocaine) had riddled the group, zapping the creativity and drive. Even amid a wasted backdrop Osbourne's abuse was deemed unacceptable.
Ronnie James Dio, from Rainbow, stepped in. Dio's mythology influenced lyrics fit the Sabbath mode. But while Sabbath was successful they didn't have the same power. As the '80s got underway the band became a revolving door that included Dio's departure. Eventually, ex-Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan, replaced him. However, Gillan bailed for a Deep Purple reunion project.
Ironically, as Black Sabbath's troubles mounted their former vocalist, Osbourne, was having a spectacular solo career.
In '97 the original Sabbath members performed together including an appearance on the Ozzfest tour. The "Black Box: The Complete Original 1970 - 1978" containing the first eight Sabbath LPs arrived in '04 as the group did another Ozzfest stint.
The Sabbath story stalled awkwardly end when an attempt to record a new album fell victim to creative differences. "I wanted it to be more like classic Sabbath . . . but Ozzy wanted it to be more like an Ozzy [solo] album," explained Butler. Oh well, both Butler and Iommi (plus Dio) kept busy with their Sabbath spin-off Heaven & Hell.
But in '09, Dio was diagnosed with stomach cancer in '09 and underwent treatment at the Mayo Clinic. "After he kills this dragon, Ronnie will be back onstage, where he belongs, doing what he loves best, performing for his fans," said Dio's wife, Wendy, in an online statement. "Thanks to all the friends and fans from all over the world that have sent well wishes. This has really helped to keep his spirit up." Dio's illness forced Heaven & Hell to cancel a European tour.
On 5/16/10, Dio died in Houston where he was being treated.
Later in the year, Black Sabbath re-released their '92 effort "Dehumanizer," the album that marked Dio's return to the band. Also included was a live set recorded at The Sundome in Tampa, Florida, on July 25, '92.
Meanwhile Ozzy did a commercial for Brisk Iced Tea. "Believe me, I drink a lot of tea being English," said Ozzy. "I love iced tea, I think iced tea's a really good, refreshing drink. I've done a lot of elixirs over the years. The fashion now is to have the green tea, but I'm not really big on it."
A Sabbath reunion seemed back on track in '11 with the announcement that the group was going to record and tour. The album got underway with legendary producer Rick Rubin, the co-founder of Def Jam Records and founder of American Recordings - a man who had worked with artists ranging from Johnny Cash to Metallica.
But things didn't go smoothly. First, Ward stated that he would not participate in a reunion unless he was presented with a "signable" contract - simply put, a better deal than what was offered. In a statement, the other members said they would proceed without him. So much for a full-fledged reunion. Then Iommi was diagnosed with lymphoma and began treatment. As a result, a planned European tour was scaled back to a single show at the U.K.'s Download Festival.
As a warm-up for that show, Black Sabbath (sans Ward) performed for the first time in thirteen years in their native Birmingham at the O2 Academy. The show sold out in 10 minutes.
"I was extremely nervous beforehand about playing a long set, not knowing whether I'd be able to last," said the recovering Iommi. "It turned out to be no problem whatsoever because Ozzy, Geezer and Tommy were nailing everything, no chance to feel tired!"
A bit later, the Ozzy Osbourne and Friends tour got underway in Helsinki. Originally intended as a Black Sabbath reunion, the trek was renamed due to Iommi's health and Ward's issues. "It's sad that it's come to this," wrote Ward.
But the reunion effort couldn't be derailed. Sabbath recorded "13," with Rage Against The Machine's Brad Wilk on drums. Wilk was not Rubin's choice. The legendary producer tried to convince Sabbath to go with Ginger Baker (Cream) instead. Baker had recently topped an Esquire list of "The Craziest Drummers Ever." The idea was nixed by the group.
"I wanted to make an album that stood alongside their first four albums," Rubin said of "13."
Prior to the album's release, Ozzy apologized, via Facebook, for his "insane behavior" while drinking and taking drugs over 18 months. He added that he had been sober for a month and a half. The post was in response to rumors that Ozzy and Sharon, his wife of 31 years, were getting divorced.
The following month, the song "End Of The Beginning" premiered on the season finale of the popular TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Black Sabbath celebrated "13's" release with a live event broadcast which included the premiere of the video for "End Of The Beginning."
Ozzy and Geezer appeared from the live event at Angel Orensanz Foundation For Contemporary Art in NYC; Iommi connected from Birmingham, England; and Wilk joined via Google+ Hangout from L.A.
All this promo activity produced results. Sabbath scored their first U.S. #1 album with "13." They sold over 120,000 copies of their comeback in its debut week. Sabbath had previously only reached the Billboard Top 10 once, when their '71 album "Master Of Reality" peaked at #8.
In addition, the group earned the Best UK Band and Best Album (for "13") honors at the 2013 Golden God Awards in London.
"I have never ever ever been able to attach myself to the word (sic) 'Heavy Metal', it has no musical connotations," Ozzy told CNN. "If it was heavy Rock, I could get that."
"We were four guys who had a dream that became bigger than expectations," Ozzy continued. "It's been the best thing that ever happened to me."
Still in a reflective mood, Ozzy later stated, "I wasn't really happy with the way it ended before, but this album has been received really well all over the world. I know I can now rest my head and die a happy man."
Sabbath launched their comeback North American trek in Houston.
Among the Rolling Stones' many innovations was to follow a tour with a commemorative CD and/or DVD. As if asking fans to pay inflated concert ticket prices wasn't enough, they also offered a profitable, for them, keepsake. Given that long tradition, it was hardly surprising when Sabbath released their live concert DVD, Gathered In Their Masses. It was filmed in Melbourne during the group's "13" world tour.
The 4th of July is big in the U.S. but the 4th of July, '14, was major for Black Sabbath in London. First, they received a worldwide Platinum Award for "13." The award was presented prior to their festival appearance at London's Hyde Park.
Later, they were honored at the 02 Silver Clef Awards with the AEG Live Ambassadors Of Rock award.
Health issues forced Ozzy's cancellation of some '15 Ozzfest appearances. But it was Ward's physical state that became the issue when the drummer addressed an old grievance.
Using Facebook, Ward said in April of '15 that he would only rejoin Sabbath when Ozzy apologized for previous comments regarding the drummer. He added that he didn't think that would happen. And he was right.
The very next day Ozzy fired back, via Facebook, stating that the reason Ward was excluded from "13" and the supporting tours was that his health was poor - from being overweight, suffering two heart attacks and a shoulder injury. The band doubted Ward could make it through the two hour live shows and all the talk of a 'signable' contract was just a smokescreen.
Next time, Ward should use Twitter.
1970 Black Sabbath
1971 Master Of Reality
1972 Black Sabbath Vol. 4
1973 Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
1976 Technical Ecstasy
1978 Never Say Die!
1980 Heaven And Hell
1981 Mob Rules
1983 Born Again
1986 Seventh Star
1987 The Eternal Idol
1989 Headless Cross
1994 Cross Purposes
1982 Live Evil
1995 Cross Purposes Live
2002 Past Lives
2007 Live At Hammersmith Odeon
1975 We Sold Our Soul for Rock 'n' Roll
1992 The Collection
2000 The Best Of Black Sabbath (32 Digitally Remastered Tracks on a 4-LP set) Limited Edition
2002 Symptom Of The Universe: The Original Black Sabbath 1970-1978
2004 Black Box: The Complete Original Black Sabbath (1970-1978)
2006 Greatest Hits 1970-1978
2007 Black Sabbath: The Dio Years
2008 The Rules Of Hell
2009 Greatest Hits
If Black Sabbath didn't invent Heavy Metal, they were certainly present at creation. "Black Sabbath" (1970), "Paranoid" (1971), "Masters Of Reality" (1971) and "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" (1973) are Black Sabbath's best albums. All had Ozzy Osbourne. Even though the group had declined significantly before his departure, Osbourne's absence was near fatal. An attempt to carry on with Ronnie James Dio provided short-term, above average results with the "Heaven and Hell" record but it didn't last.
Black Sabbath mixed Metal, fear and paranoia. In hindsight, it seems a natural combination and Sabbath parlayed it into a career, beginning with "Iron Man" from "Paranoid" to the title track of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath." All driven by Iommi's blistering guitar and Osbourne's intense, piercing vocals.
By the mid '70s Black Sabbath was done but they kept on recording. The '80s the situation got worse with the group employing a couple of Deep Purple (Ian Gillan/Glenn Hughes) re-treads to fill out the line-up. None of this really matters. "We Sold Our Souls for Rock and Roll" captures the highlights. The "Black Box: The Complete Original 1970 - 1978" is an interesting option. The set captures the group at their peak. Unfortunately, it also documents their decline due to drugs and constant legal hassles.
"13" is not so much a fresh start as a revisiting. Iommi's guitar and Ozzy's tormented vocals have aged reasonably well.
The album's lone dead spot is "Zeitgeist." Black Sabbath is Black Sabbath, not Pink Floyd. But with "Age Of Reason," "Live Forever" and the acid Blues of "Damaged Soul," one song can get flushed.