In terms of metal legends, you do not get much more esteemed than Black Sabbath. Formed in the murky depths of the West Midlands in 1968, the group would quickly rise to become one of the most influential of the era and all time, creating a thunderous sound that was unlike anyone had ever heard, with their muscular music augmented by the primal wails of frontman Ozzy Osbourne.
The first iteration of the band comprised Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward, and it is this configuration that is the most significant. Together, they delivered eight albums before Osbourne left under a cloud in 1979 as his various substance abuse problems impeded his creative ability.
Before this impasse, at the start of their career, the four Brummies pioneered what would become known as the heavy metal sound, with their first three bodies of work – 1970’s Black Sabbath and Paranoid and 1971’s Master of Reality – revered as early cornerstones of the genre. Afterwards, their sound would expand into a much darker area, setting the scene for future genres such as thrash and black metal.
The power of the original lineup of Sabbath was that each member was a genius in their own right and that they were all pulling in the same direction.
Osbourne’s reputation precedes him. He has one of the most unique styles of vocal delivery in music and running in tandem to his siren-esque wails, his hard-partying antics earned him the moniker the ‘Prince of Darkness’, fitting for the man fronting a band called Black Sabbath.
Then we have guitarist Tony Iommi, who is perhaps the greatest innovator of the group. His sound influenced the proliferation of all genres of heavy music that followed in the coming years, and his enormous, chugging riffs set a standard for all guitarists moving forward. If you were to erase Iommi from history, music today would be a shell of itself a reflection of the importance of his work.
Bassist Geezer Butler is also a legend of the game. The heaviest bass player of the era, not only did he deliver fuzzy, rumbling lines, but he was also the band’s main lyricist, helping them to craft the ominous sound that swept the world up in a black fog. It’s a testament to his efforts that Jason Newstead, the former bass player of Metallica once said of him: “All true metal bassists look up to Geezer as a pioneer and Godfather of our chosen instrument. The best, ever”.
As for Bill Ward, he is a drumming hero, who sits amongst only the most revered rock drummers such as Neil Peart and John Bonham. Alongside the aforementioned, he laid down the foundations of only the most doom-laden metal rhythms, giving the band’s sound the exuberance needed to blow all their contemporaries away.
Given that Sabbath were so excellent when at their zenith, they had fans from all walks of life, not to mention some of the era’s most lauded and long-established stars. One of their most prominent fans was the colourful genius Frank Zappa, who showered praise on the band, and one of their songs in particular, whilst also managing to get the name of the album it came from wrong.
When speaking to Let It Rock magazine in 1975, Zappa gushed about one of the band’s most lauded releases, ‘Supernaut’ from 1972’s Vol. 4. explaining that he felt it marked the dawn of a new style of music, and unsurprisingly, he was right.
The Mothers of Invention man said: “‘Supernaut’: Black Sabbath. I think it’s from Paranoid. I like it because I think it’s prototypical of a certain musical style. I think it’s well done. Also, I happen to like the guitar lick that’s being played in the background”.