Black Sabbath are considered by many to be the inventors of heavy metal, but regardless of whatever followed in their wake, they were certainly one hell of a trailblazing force to contend with when they first crash-landed onto the scene after signing to Philips Records in November 1969.
By 1970, they had released a self-titled debut and one of the greatest sophomore records of all time with Paranoid, and their legacy was cemented within a year of emerging from the factories of Birmingham with their fingers barely intact.
While they may have changed the music scene forevermore, they were not universally taken to. As Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone scathing wrote about their debut: “Discordant jams with bass and guitar reeling like velocitised speedfreaks all over each other’s musical perimeters, yet never quite finding synch,” in truth, he couldn’t have defined heavy metal, before the event, better if he tried.
Everything about the band was rough, tumble and raw. Even their debut album was pieced together in a day, as Tony Iommi recalls, “We thought we have two days to do it and one of the days is mixing. So we played live. Ozzy was singing at the same time, we just put him in a separate booth and off we went. We never had a second run of most of the stuff.”
That same ethos bled onto one of the band’s most iconic tracks, ‘War Pigs’, the song that sparked their second album into gnarled existence. “We didn’t have enough songs for the album,” drummer Bill Ward recalls while making Paranoid. “Tony just played the guitar lick and that was it. It took twenty, twenty-five minutes from top to bottom.” This quintessential rock ‘n’ roll slapdash approach, layered their sound with a wholly visceral edge and that cut through all the more when they performed live.
Even this glorious clip has a healthy dose of the aforementioned slapdash about it in a very meta sense. The official line from Black Sabbath is that it was filmed at L’Olympia, in Paris on the 20th of December in 1970, but legions of fans argue against that narrative and when it comes to the history of the band’s bookkeeping, they may well have a point on this occasion.
Tedious details like when and where aside, all you need to know about this performance is that it captures what the band were all about. As they race through ‘Paranoid’, ‘Iron Man’, ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘Behind the Wall of Sleep’, ‘War Pigs’ and ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ like a bunch of “velocitised speedfreaks”, they harness so much energy you’d be ill-advised to strike a match whilst watching it, and in the process, they propagate something wholly new.
While it might seem like we’ve seen this sort of thing before at this stage, way back in 1970 it marked the invention of a new genre with more carefree bravura than Scatter, Elvis Presley’s rock ‘n’ roll pet chimp, after a few shandies and a twist to ‘Jailhouse Rock’.