Black Sabbath remain one of the most influential bands of all time. Their original lineup of frontman Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward, were one of the most pioneering rock ‘n’ roll outfits from the classic age of rock.
If you go back and listen to their early records, Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Master of Reality or even Vol. 4, Sabbath gave us some of the most iconic and unrelenting moments from the time where rock was metamorphosing into heavy metal and many other new offshoots.
Lyrically and musically, the four Brummie hippies managed to reinvent the rock formula, creating a sound that people had never heard before. It was for stoners sharing ideas on a major scale, but it also appealed to the darker side of the human condition, with a sinister edge, evoking witchcraft, murder and science fiction.
Gone were the sunny days of the 1960s. The death of the countercultural dream gave way to the ’70s which would prove to be a much less hopeful time for the younger generation. However, music was to explode, bubbling up in different guises, and Sabbath, alongside bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, would be at the forefront of this new explosion. The musical explosion would provide a way out for many listeners.
If you were to substitute any of the original Sabbath lineup, it would not have been the same band as shown after the departure of Ozzy in 1979. To imagine the band without Iommi is also nigh on impossible, as he has written the majority of the band’s music.
It was via his sludgy, detuned riffs that the band managed to tap into music’s dark side. He became known as the ‘Riffmaster’, and for good reason. Iommi has a penchant for writing a heavy riff, and through his thick, foreboding sound, he effectively started the genre of metal and all its offshoots. Even latter subcultures such as black and thrash metal owe a lot to Iommi.
Just how far Iommi took the guitar is made even more astounding when you realise that he grew up with the same guitar heroes as everyone else from his generation. These were the early guitar legends that helped to form rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s in a more straightforward form.
Iommi told Guitarist Magazine: “Me and Brian May both loved Hank. We’re not widdly diddlies. Brian and I have done a few things, played together on albums. We were in the studio together once and we started playing Shadows stuff. So it was mainly Hank, then Chuck Berry and a bit of Buddy Holly. I liked Clapton. I liked John Mayall. That lineup was really appealing. When he went with Cream I wasn’t so enthusiastic, but then I got used to Cream. I loved his style and his sound.”
He continued, and also namechecked two of the West Midlands’ other favourite sons: “But, yes, you had bands like The Moody Blues, Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, Cream. Then you had Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and us. We knew Planty and Bonham. Bonham was best man at my first wedding. I used to knock about with him a lot. We used to play the same gigs.”
This is what makes Iommi’s titanic steps on the guitar so incredible. Whilst his heroes were pioneering, when you look back on their work, a lot of it seems rather airy, save for Chuck Berry. Iommi had the ingenuity and foresight to recreate guitar playing for the bleak social landscape of the ’70s, and on the way, earn himself legions of disciples.