What is this?
Am I actually enjoying Black Sabbath? Am I listening to a metal album, and not just listening idly but actually replaying songs? Am I genuinely adding them to Spotify playlists?
Am I, a 26 year old man who has never belonged to any particular genre or fashion beyond ‘indecisive’, about to become… a fucking Goth?
I grew up on the Strokes and Arctic Monkeys and all that. I like my riffs distorted, my drums a-clatter, my vocals coarse. Bleach-era Nirvana is about the darkest I go, musically. Mostly I enjoy happy things, like sunshine and apple cider and, I dunno, ket.
The only Sabbath songs I really know are Paranoid, Iron Man and War Pigs. I learned to play them on guitar as a teenager. I also have vague memories of my dad blasting Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Crazy Train’ in the kitchen when I was a kid, and my mum rolling her eyes. That’s it – that’s the extent of my Osbourne/Sabbath knowledge to date.
Fifty years ago last week, however, Black Sabbath released their debut, heralded retroactively as the first ever metal album (it got an absolute slating by Rolling Stone at the time of release). It seemed only fitting that I give it a listen.
The opening track gripped me from the off. The solemn church bell. The ghoulish twang of those three guitar notes. The drums like thunder rolling across distant hills. And my god: Ozzy Osbourne’s vocal. “What is this?” That first line isn’t sung – it’s wailed. A disgusted bellow, confused, horrified, distraught. And like: I can relate! And there’s more to come. By the time ‘oh no, no, please god help me!’ echoed down through the mix, the dark deal was done. I love this album.
The next track, The Wizard, brings in some bluesy rock‘n’roll and a groovy harmonica. The lyrics are quite cute – a song about wizard walking around making people happy – and the band alternately claim the song is about either Gandalf and or their old dealer. Either way, I’m about it.
The next stand-out for me is Evil Woman, which is about all my exes hahaha ahha ha. There are quite a lot of nasty woman songs, aren’t there. Black Magic Woman… Black Hearted Woman… Devil Woman… Bad Woman… Bitches Ain’t Shit, I guess. Female artists are usually a little more subtle in their digs – you never hear a track called, like, Horrid Man. Probably because it sounds like a shit supervillain. But I digress.
From the title track to the end of Black Sabbath’s debut, I was gripped with a dripping, inescapable sense of wrongness, wrapped up in layers of tasty riffs like a pig-in-blanket. Doom and fun, death and a wink.
My friends, on the thirteenth of February, 1970, Black Sabbath‘s eponymous first album was released. It would go on to change the world of music. Fifty years on, it sounds as fresh as ever. In 2020, as the modern world crumbles a little more with every passing day, the album is increasingly vital. This here – this is the perfect soundtrack to the end times. Don your blackest gown and blast it from your speakers, and wander out into the back garden to howl at the moon. Fantastic. One hundred stars out of ten.