British metal legends Black Sabbath, were formed in Birmingham in 1968 by guitarist Tony Iommi, drummer Bill Ward, bassist Geezer Butler and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne. This iconic original lineup would give us eight albums before frontman Osbourne was kicked out in 1979 for numerous substance abuse problems.
Without a doubt, the first iteration of Sabbath is the most iconic. Together the four of them pioneered heavy metal, and their first three outings, 1970’s Black Sabbath and Paranoid and 1971’s Master of Reality are seen as early cornerstones of the genre. But what is the best album from the band and which is worth avoiding at all costs? Below, we’ve got you covered as we rank Black Sabbath’s albums from worst to best.
Ozzy Osbourne has one of the most iconic voices in all of rock, and his numerous notorious off-stage antics rightly earned him the moniker the ‘Prince of Darkness’, need we mention biting the head off a live bat? Furthermore, guitarist Tonny Iommi pioneered a sound that would go on to influence doom, sludge and everything in between.
Bassist Geezer Butler developed a fuzzy, rumbling tone and was also the band’s primary lyricist. Butler is such a legend, Jason Newstead, former bass player of Metallica once said, “All true metal bassists look up to Geezer as a pioneer and Godfather of our chosen instrument. The best, ever”.
Furthermore, stoner metal pioneers Sleep, who owe a lot of their sound to Sabbath heeded this with their 2018 juggernaut of a track, ‘Giza Butler’. Drummer Bill Ward, who is often overlooked is also a legend, he pioneered the metal style of drumming before anyone else, providing foreboding rhythms that held supported the band’s muscular sound.
After the original incarnation of the band met its demise in 1979, Sabbath would embody something of a revolving door. After Osbourne’s departure, they recorded two album’s with Ronnie James Dio, 1980’s Heaven and Hell and 1981’s Mob Rules. Come to 1983, and the band recorded Born Again, with former Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan, which was to be the last to feature both Ward and Butler for an extended period of time.
Butler and Dio returned for 1992’s Dehumanizer. Apart from the 1992 offering, Sabbath would feature vocalist Tony Martin who did his best to fill the huge boots left by Osbourne and Dio but never quite managed to. If you haven’t been too overwhelmed by the endless coming and going’s, Iommi is the only member to have played on all nineteen of the band’s albums.
The original lineup would reunite in 2013 for their final album 13. Ward did not join, though, due to a “contractual dispute”. However, the album was certified Gold and was warmly welcomed by fans and critics alike as a successful final offering from the heavy metal gods.
Below, we’re looking back at the 19 offerings Sabbath gave us by ranking all of their albums in order of greatness. This is not a definitive list, after all, who can pin down such a long career into 19 numbered slots ad infinitum. But it does offer a starting point for discussion and if there’s one thing Sabbath ever promoted, it was otherworldly escapism of their pioneering music.
Black Sabbath’s albums ranked:
19. Forbidden (1995)
The eighteenth album by Sabbath, 1995’s Forbidden, was to be their last until 2013. It featured the return of former Whitesnake bass player Neil Murray and the returning drummer Cozy Powell. It was also the last album to feature Tony Martin on vocals and Geoff Nicholls on keyboards. The album was negatively received across the board, and the band found themselves at a critical juncture afterwards.
Ernie C of rap-metal legends Body Count also produced the album, showing that the band were trying to move with the times. Luckily for them though, after the album’s release, Iommi and Osbourne would reconcile, propelling the band into its triumphant final chapter.
18. Seventh Star (1986)
Released in January 1986, this was the first record where Iommi was without the three other founding members of the band. Seventh Star
is the band’s twelfth studio offering and features Geoff Nicholls, Eric Singer, and Dave Spitz, playing keyboards, drums, and bass, respectively. Furthermore, Glenn Hughes, ex-Deep Purple bassist and vocalist, takes the helm as lead singer, providing a strange middle ground between all the band’s prior vocalists.
An aggressive record, it was originally intended to be an Iommi solo opus and it shows. Whilst there are great moments such as ‘In for the Kill’ and ‘Turn to Stone’, it just misses that classic Sabbath magic.
17. Born Again (1983)
Released in 1983, Born Again is the one and only album to feature former Deep Purple frontman, Ian Gillan. It was also the last Black Sabbath album for nine years to feature Butler and the last to properly feature Bill Ward. However, Ward did record a track with the band fifteen years later on their 1998 live album Reunion, but this was his last solid effort with the band.
A divisive album now as much as it was then, the band had originally intended to be a new supergroup rather than use the Black Sabbath brand, but due to management demands, they were forced to use the Sabbath name. The tracks ‘Trashed’ and ‘Disturbing the Priest’ are some of the standouts from the album that has as many embarrassing moments as it does captivating ones.
16. Technical Ecstasy (1976)
The penultimate album from the original lineup, Technical Ecstasy, is widely hailed as the band’s reaction to the upheaval of the era’s punk movement, which isn’t necessarily accurate. “That was the beginning of the end, that one”, Butler confessed to Guitar World in 2001. Osbourne was already debating leaving, and Iommi was left to produce the album on his own while the other three sunbathed on the beach in Miami, where it was recorded.
There are some highlights, however, ‘Dirty Women’, the ‘All Moving Parts (Stand Still)’ and ‘Back Street Kids’, show that even when the band were engulfed by turmoil, drug use and confusion surrounding artistic direction, they could still pen a decent tune.
15. The Eternal Idol (1987)
The first Black Sabbath album to feature vocalist Tony Martin, The Eternal Idol, is not without its high points. Iommi even thinks the album is underrated. “I’d like to have seen some of the stuff off The Eternal Idol be a bit more credited,” Iommi reflected with Sabbath fanzine Southern Cross in 1997, “because I think there’s some good tracks on that album – ‘Ancient Warrior’…”.
Additionally, ‘The Shining’ and the title track are two other brilliant moments on the album. Iommi shows his prowess as a guitarist and songwriter still existed even twenty years after the band’s inception.
14. Dehumanizer (1992)
Sabbath’s first studio album in over a decade to feature vocalist Ronnie James Dio and drummer Vinny Appice, and their first in nine years to feature Butler, on Dehumanizer the reinvigorated Sabbath give a good account of themselves. A return to the rock ‘n’ roll basics of the band, they actually give us some brilliant moments. ‘Master of Insanity’ and ‘Time Machine’ instantly spring to mind.
Iommi doesn’t look back over fondly at the record though. In 1997 he opined: “we lost millions on it… because of the time we took to record it, and fly backwards and forwards to the States with everything, all the gear; bringing it back; recording here (the UK)… A lot of messing about and a lot of money wasted… If it came to it again now, we could plan it different and it’d be okay, but we had to try that.”
13. Tyr (1990)
An underrated entry in Sabbath’s vast back catalogue, Tyr featured Tony Martin adjusting his lyrical blueprint and providing some subtler takes rather than the overblown, overtly satanic lyrics he offered up on his first Sabbath outing, 1989’s Headless Cross. On the contrary, Tyr is very much an esoteric album dealing with the dense Norse mythologies.
The album is rightly remembered as a departure from the band’s traditional sound, with Iommi’s guitar not as front and centre as it was on previous offerings. Instead, keyboardist Geoff Nicholls takes the driver’s seat. Regardless, it is a refreshing standout in the band’s career, and is surprisingly one of their heaviest offerings.
12. Headless Cross (1989)
The first Sabbath album to feature Tony Martin and the first of three to feature drummer Cozy Powell, Headless Cross isn’t terrible by any means. Predominantly, Martin’s lyrics are concerned with the occult, giving the album a cheesy, ’80s edge.
However, there a few grooves on the record worth adding to your playlist. The title track, ‘Devil & Daughter’ and instrumental ‘The Gates of Hell’ are two highlights. Additionally, ‘When Death Calls’ features a brilliant guitar solo by Queen’s guitarist and premier badger lover, Brian May. What’s not to love?
11. Mob Rules (1981)
The tenth outing by Sabbath, this was the second album to feature vocalist Ronnie James Dio and first with drummer Vinny Appice. Produced by ubiquitous metal and hard rock producer, Martin Birch, Mob Rules is rightly hailed as a favourite by Sabbath fans. Underrated by the mainstream the album contains some of the band’s best moments. One would go as far as to argue that ‘The Sign of the Southern Cross’ is one of Iommi’s best guitar moves. It features that haunting acoustic guitar at the onset and then one of his most punishing riffs.
Featuring Dio’s less satanic lyrics, and wide vocal range, the album touches on that psychedelic element that Sabbath explored in their early career.
10. 13 (2013)
The first sonic reunion of Osbourne, Iommi and Butler in years, 13 is a magnificent way to end the band’s career. Featuring Rage Against The Machine drummer, Brad Wilk, Sabbath does the job on this outing. Hailed as surprisingly good, in 2014 they even won the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance for roaring lead single “God Is Dead?”.
Harking back to the band’s early brilliance, even the band were surprised. Osbourne said he was “blown away”, and, “I don’t understand why it’s happening. I mean, 45 years down the road and we’ve got a really great album to put out.”
Although producer Rick Rubin’s perceived overuse of compression has been taken to diminish the band’s sound, 13 is one of the band’s most refined pieces of work.
9. Never Say Die! (1978)
The last album to feature all of the band’s original lineup, and considering that the band was falling apart, Sabbath do a great job on Never Say Die!
With every band member battling drug and alcohol dependency’s, it is a miracle they managed to record anything. For instance, prior to recording, Osbourne briefly left the band and was temporarily replaced by former Fleetwood Mac vocalist, Dave Walker. The band even wrote a handful of song’s with Walker before Osbourne was welcomed back into the fold.
In 2001, Butler recalled, “Never Say Die! was a patch-up kind of an album… People didn’t realize that it was sort of tongue-in-cheek, the Never Say Die! thing. Because we knew that was it; we just knew it was never going to happen again. We did this 10th-anniversary tour with Van Halen in 1978, and everybody’s going ‘Here’s to another 10 years!’ And I’m going, (rolls eyes) ‘Yeah, sure!'”. Osbourne also provided a concise account of the period: “We were just a fucking bunch of guys drowning in the fucking ocean. We weren’t getting along with each other and we were all fucked-up with drugs and alcohol. And I got fired. It was just a bad thing. You try to lift your head up above water, but eventually, the tide sucks you under.”
Regardless, the title track is a bonafide classic and has influenced everyone from Soundgarden to Megadeth. ‘Hard Road’ and ‘Shock Wave’ are two other highlights. Never Say Die!, remains a divisive yet critical moment for the band members and fans alike. You cannot deny the quality of its high points.
8. Cross Purposes (1994)
An eccentric kind of metal record, Cross Purposes is very of its time. On the opener ‘I Witness’, vocalist Tony Martin does his best to imitate grunge icons such as Layne Staley or Chris Cornell. Featuring refined production, the album contains some of the band’s most stripped back and compressed works.
Musically, at points, Sabbath reduce themselves to a more blues-based vibe, and in all honesty, the music sounds like it could quite easily have been a Guns N’ Roses record rather than a Sabbath one. Highlights include the brooding ‘Cardinal Sin’ and the gothic cool of ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ where Iommi gives us one of his most underrated earworms.
7. Heaven and Hell (1980)
The first album to feature Dio on vocals, Heaven and Hell, is rightly hailed as a classic. In 1987, Dio remembered what his life was like and the feelings that Sabbath were experiencing following Osbourne’s departure in ’79. He explained: “Sabbath was a band that was floundering,” he commented. “And, with my inclusion in it, we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, cared a lot about each other, and knew that we could do it again – especially under the banner of a band that had been so successful.”
One would argue that the band fully succeeded in dusting themselves off. From start to finish it is a joyous listen. ‘Children of the Sea’ is the song that instantly springs to mind, featuring that incredible Iommi solo and the slightly ominous choir, the band took an increasingly gothic turn on the album.
Track three ‘Lady Evil’ is one of the biggest grooves in their back catalogue, and the title track is a winding display of the band’s capability as musicians, featuring one of Iommi’s most overlooked guitar moves, the unmistakable delay drenched solo that rips the track in half.
6. Sabotage (1975)
The band’s sixth album is underrated in its back catalogue. In 2011, Iommi remembered that the title Sabotage was chosen because at the time the band were being sued by their former management and felt they were being “sabotaged all the way along the line and getting punched from all sides”. The legal troubles have been widely accepted as informing the album’s heavier and aggressive sound.
The opener, ‘Hole in the Sky’ is a statement of intent if we’ve ever heard one. The hard-rocking riffs of Iommi and Butler make you want to break something. Furthermore, Osbourne’s wailing line “I’m getting closer to the end of the line” demonstrates the band’s sentiment perfectly.
From start to finish, Sabotage is a classic album. ‘Symptom of the Universe’ is another standout on the album, a sludgy, foreboding number; on it you can clearly hear how the band influenced stoner and doom.
5. Vol. 4 (1972)
Vol. 4 is criminally underrated outside of Sabbath fandom. Produced by the band themselves, they had just started heavily using drugs, which give the album its raucous, narcotic feel. At points, it sounds as if you’re listening to the band jam in the middle of a desert. The band also started using heroin at the time, which influenced the album’s somewhat intense composition.
Either way, Vol. 4 is classic Sabbath. The band we’re using so much cocaine that they would get speaker boxes of it delivered to the L.A. studio where they were recording. Subsequently, it has since been characterised as their cocaine album. The band also started to experiment with their heavier side, and Iommi and Butler give us some of their heaviest riffs up until that point.
The record’s opener ‘Wheels of Confusion’ is one of Iommi’s most dextrous pieces of work, he crosses every inch of the fretboard and gives us melody and metal in equal part. Other key points are ‘Tomorrow’s Dream’, the instrumental ‘Laguna Sunrise’ and one of the band’s best-known songs ‘Changes’. From start to finish Vol. 4 is an enthralling listen, and a perfect road trip album.
4. Black Sabbath (1970)
The band’s debut album is rightly considered the first in the heavy metal genre and the title track/album opener is hailed as the first doom metal piece.
Equally as sinister as the album cover, the music on Black Sabbath is nothing short of groundbreaking. Featuring satanic and fantastical themes, and in tandem with the haunting music, at the time, the album was the evilest record out there.
A washed-out body of work featuring reverb-drenched bells and all, the album is akin to being inside of Charles Manson’s mind, a sonic representation of the dark side of hippiedom.
3. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973)
The follow up to the cocaine-fuelled Vol. 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, features the band continuing on their successful streak. The band rented Clearwell Castle in the Forest of Dean, England, and the building’s spooky atmosphere permeated the album’s sound.
The opener, and title track, is one of the band’s most iconic, and it was after walking in the Castle’s dungeon that Iommi stumbled across the song’s wicked riff. Building on the stylistic changes introduced on Vol. 4, the new songs incorporated synthesizers, strings, keyboards and more complex arrangements.
Possibly the band’s most gripping sonic offering, the album has been incredibly influential, Metallica, Mastodon and Guns N’ Roses are just some of its iconic disciples. A mature album, it takes all the elements of the earlier Sabbath and expertly repackages them for an equally mature audience.
2. Master of Reality (1971)
Regarded as another foundation of doom metal, stoner rock, and sludge metal, Master of Reality is a pounding classic. Trudging along like a monster truck, the riffs are meaty, Osbourne’s visceral vocals are some of his best, and Bill Ward gives us some of his hardest-hitting moments.
The strange thing about Master of Reality, like with any groundbreaking album, is that initially it was negatively received. Retrospectively though, it is now hailed as a cornerstone of all things metal.
Without the album, there would be no grunge. There would be no Nirvana, Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins, and there would certainly be no Josh Homme or Queens of the Stone Age. A stoned affair, it is one of Sabbath’s most complete bodies of work. ‘Sweet Leaf’, ‘Into the Void’, ‘Children of the Grave’ and ‘After Forever’ are just some of the hard-rocking highlights of this classic.
1. Paranoid (1970)
Did you seriously think it would be any other? Containing some of the band’s signature songs, Paranoid was the album with which Black Sabbath truly broke onto the scene. From start to finish, it is an apocalyptic album featuring themes regarding the Vietnam war, satanism, drug use and science-fiction.
Side one is one classic after another, ‘War Pigs’, ‘Paranoid’, ‘Planet Caravan’ and ‘Iron Man’ make one hell of a listening experience. The album is melodic yet heavy and features the band at their best.
Throughout its 41 minute run-time, you are never bored. It is an enthralling journey that bridges the gap between the ’60s psychedelia and metal perfectly.
Primary lyricist Butler said in 2010: “You could just see that a lot of things were going wrong in the world.” He continued, “and no one was saying anything about it. Bob Dylan had long since faded from the present memory and there was nobody talkin’ about the things that I wanted to talk about – political stuff – so that’s what inspired me.”