Where Led Zeppelin barely escaped the label, Black Sabbath were the very emblem of heavy metal. Their riffs were heavy, their drums were heavy, their lyrics were heavy and their album work was heavy. A blurred image of pink sword welding soldiers had never graced the covers of Herman’s Hermits, nor would bassist Geezer Butler nor frontman Ozzy Osbourne have associated themselves with faded buoyant pop. Black Sabbath meant business, attacking the Vietnamese War, insensate parts of British society and the ill-fated seductiveness of heroin addiction on only their second record; it, however, defined their career, Osbourne led or otherwise.
Guitarist Tony Iommi, primary composer for the band, varied his playing from hard-hitting power chords (‘Hand of Doom’ sounds ominous musically alone) to playful jazz stylings on ‘Planet Caravan’. The best musician in the band, Iommi oversaw the band’s musical contributions, while Geezer Butler, with Osbourne’s complete blessing, wrote the lion’s share of the lyrics. Together, they wrote the album’s title track and most fondly remembered in song in a short period, an afterthought to complete the album (Butler wrote the lyrics while Iommi constructed the riff; Osbourne reading the lyrics as he sang). As with their first record, Sabbath spent very little time in the studio, recording the entire album in a matter of days; as a result, the record has an energy to it, evocative of the excitement of a live gig. The eponymous track flies with anarchic energy, only shades away from the punk records released a mere six years later (John Lydon himself was an avid Black Sabbath fan).
Opener ‘War Pigs’ laid the ground for the seven consecutive tracks, a loud riff to welcome listeners, Osbourne’s nasalising to fear them (Sheffield rockers played a guitar part audibly similar to that of ‘Pig’s on their 2013 hit ‘Arabella’, proof Sabbath still hold an influence on the world of rock today!) Ultimately, a guitar record, Iommi’s signature riff ‘Iron Man’ was violent, distorted and loud, a three chord sequence, not heard so powerfully since The Kinks gave it all with ‘You really Got Me’ (Deep Purple would come two years later with ‘Smoke on The Water’), a blessing for novice guitarists to look cool among their peers. A sci-fi aficionado, Butler spent a near thirty years attempting to explain to interviewers the lyrics had nothing to do with Marvel Comics (growing up in World War II Britain, its likely ‘The Beano’ inspired his ascerbic wit more than Tony Stark did!)
While heavy metal fans adored those three singles mentioned, there were five other tracks the avid buyer could enjoy, ‘Hand of Doom’ the best of these, a deep cut the radio stations never got a hold of, a nifty bass line to start the song, a reverberated drum effect crashing out to the song’s delirious conclusion. ‘Planet Caravan’ proved surprisingly romantic for the Birmingham rockers, ‘Faeries Wear Boots’ an embittered middle finger salute to British skinheads (this song was penned by Osbourne). Only ‘Rat Salad’ proved an indulgence too far – Bill Ward’s salute to Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham a self-congratulatory exercise of percussive extravagance. Ward, a fantastic drummer, served his skills best behind Iommi’s playing, not ahead of it; ‘Electric Funeral’ was proof of that, the two a pair to rival Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell for electricity.
Forever associated with dark occultism, Sabbath’s second album worked as a testament to Sabbath’s live prowess and their instinctual knowledge of each-others strengths. As Osbourne told Classic Albums, it was a result of hard work, not magic cauldrons. “I mean” he joked “we tried that, but it didn’t work!”