We all know the story of the Summer of Love. It was 1967, everyone was a carefree Hippie, and life was just great, wasn't it?
The thing is, whilst this may have been true for those involved in it, there were many people who we don't hear quite as much about - those who were struggling for money, for direction, and for any real joy in life. These people must have looked at Hippie culture and hated every part of it. 'Why are they the face of the day; they don't represent us. We're working in factories and losing fingers because of our dangerous, depressing jobs.'
That's not a random, hypothetical scenario - that's exactly what happened to Tony Iommi, later the guitarist of Black Sabbath, in an industrial accident at the age of 17. He lost the tips of two of his fingers whilst working in a sheet metal factory and it nearly finished him as a guitarist. But he soldiered on and found a way around it, and we must all be so very glad that he did.
His band comprised of four blokes from Aston, Birmingham, who were all inamongst this group of people who were far more disillusioned with life than the Hippies were. Whether their evolution into a band inspired by horror and the occult was a direct response to the Hippie culture is unknown, but it certainly offered an alternative for those who couldn't identify with the Hippies. Sabbath's morose lyrics, heavy distortion and loud, brash riffs - including that iconic tritone - paved the way not only for the band, but also for an entirely new genre of music.
In 1970, heavy metal was born.
The record itself isn't quite as doom and gloom as it's often made out to be. Sure, the opening track is about as tense and dramatic as music gets - but the rest of the album isn't quite as dark. Hell, the next track, 'The Wizard', uses a Harmonica as its lead instrument - hardly an instrument that has gone down as a staple of heavy metal. In addition, two of the three tracks that make up Side Two of the original release are covers, automatically not as gloomy in tone as Sabbath's own stuff.
This isn't a criticism, though, merely an observation. The whole album is excellent, from the Gandalf-inspired 'The Wizard' and 'N.I.B', to the two songs referencing sleep in their titles. And if the music isn't quite as dark in tone as it's made out to be, then the vocal delivery by Ozzy Osbourne certainly is. Truly a voice like no other, he delivers his lyrics in a way that is somehow beautiful and enchanting, yet also spine-tingling and haunting. The devilish lyrics, inspired by the likes of Aleister Crowley, offer an insight into a totally different world. It is truly chilling at times.
Every member gets a turn, as well. Ozzy and Iommi showcase their skills throughout, the latter with some phenomental solos, while there's plenty of drum fills throughout for Bill Ward to have some fun with. 'N.I.B' opens with an iconic bass solo by Geezer Butler as well, so every member of the band gets their moment or two to really have some fun.
As good as the whole album is, though, it never does quite top that bloodcurdling opener. The thunder and rain, the oddly scary bell, the devil's interval and the absolutely terrifying set of lyrics all come together to birth heavy metal as we know it. It's enough to wake the dead, and you can picture the scene: Satan descending on a dark and dismal graveyard as a rotting stench fills the air, the ground appearing to come to life as the dessecrated corpses of those long since passed step out once again into the world, dirt and worms falling off of them as they straighten up and reveal their decayed faces. That's the image that this song represents and in 1970, that was just something else. It's easy for younger metal lovers today, listening to Djent and breakdowns in Drop A tuning, to underestimate the sheer power that this song radiates, but make no mistake - it is just as haunting now as it was 50 years ago to this very day.
Yes, that's right - this album, and heavy metal with it, was released 50 years ago today at the time of reviewing. This album will forever be remembered, not just because of its musical prowess, but also because of what it did for music. Without this album, would Iron Maiden exist? Metallica? Judas Priest? Trivium? Metal would have, no doubt, formed at some point, but in this timeline it's Black Sabbath we have to thank. Not bad for an album which was recorded in a single day, on a tight shoestring budget. There have been many great and legendary albums over the years, but few can claim to have left a legacy like this one.
Ozzy recently revealed that he has Parkinson's Disease, which is terrible news and we wish him all the very best. Whatever happens, the man, along with his bandmates, will never be forgotten, for they fathered metal. Black Sabbath is a seminal album, timeless - and downright heavy. Glorious.