This morning I was alerted to the fact that the first Black Sabbath album was unveiled upon this world like an evil curse on this day 47 years ago. Try to imagine what kind of experience it was when someone first whacked Black Sabbath onto their turntable in 1970. There had never before been such a purposefully infernal-sounding racket in rock at that point and it set such a high watermark so as to almost never (ever?) have been topped in that category. Black Sabbath was radical, primal, primitive and quite unprecedented. The young group’s formula—Dennis Wheatley/Hammer Horror meets Cream/Vanilla Fudge—was ingenious and yet dumb enough to please the cheap seats.
What must Black Sabbath’s Black Sabbath‘s opening track “Black Sabbath” have sounded like when people got their first taste of the group? To properly appreciate how truly radical this must’ve been coming at you like a rock to the head just as the Sixties had ended—flower power this was definitely not—you’d really have to mentally erase the decades of imitators who have come since, which is difficult to do. If you trace heavy metal down to its root moment, its true moment of birth, it was when these four guys in their early twenties happened upon this sound:
At the time of the song’s composition, the group was still named Earth, which they knew they had to change due to another band already using it. When they noticed long lines waiting to get into a Boris Karloff film called Black Sabbath across the street from their rehearsal studio, they wondered if the punters would also line up for a sort of heavy horror rock. The band was renamed Black Sabbath and gained a new direction and winning formula that would make them famous and wealthy faster than a pact with Satan.
Writing at On This Deity, the Arch Drude Julian Cope had this to say about the album:
Cannily clad by their record company in a self-consciously Wiccan outer package more fustily archaic and holy than modern “secular” postwar New Testaments could ever have dared to be, and possessed at its centre of an enormous inverted cross, BLACK SABBATH summoned the ears of the Hippie Generation’s little brothers and dragged them jerking into the cold light of the 1970s. The Downer had begun.
And it ended earlier this month when Black Sabbath played their final show in their hometown of Birmingham, where Ozzy had a tram car named after him last year.
“N.I.B,” live at L’Olympia Bruno Coquatrix in Paris on December 20, 1970.
“Behind the Wall of Sleep,” Paris 1970.