NEL 6017, Super deluxe
Black Sabbath Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
Label: NEMS – NEL 6017
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album
Producer, Written-By, Arranged By – Black Sabbath
All songs by Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward.
1. “”Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”” Black Sabbath 5:45
2. “”A National Acrobat”” Black Sabbath 6:16
3. “”Fluff”” Black Sabbath 4:11
4. “”Sabbra Cadabra”” Black Sabbath 5:59
1. “”Killing Yourself to Live”” Black Sabbath 5:41
2. “”Who Are You?”” Black Sabbath 4:11
3. “”Looking for Today”” Black Sabbath 5:06
4. “”Spiral Architect”” Black Sabbath 5:29
Ozzy Osbourne – vocals, synthesizer
Tony Iommi – all guitars, piano, synthesizer, organ, flute
Geezer Butler – bass guitar, synthesizer, mellotron
Bill Ward – drums, timpani, bongos in “”Sabbath Bloody Sabbath””
Rick Wakeman – keyboards, synthesizer, piano on “”Sabbra Cadabra””
Will Malone – conductor, arranger
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is the fifth studio album by the British heavy metal band Black Sabbath, released in 1973. With this album, the band expanded upon their slow, crunching style of music but incorporated progressive rock elements such as synthesizers, strings, keyboards and more complex, orchestral arrangements.
Following the 1972-1973 world tour in support of their Volume 4 album, Black Sabbath again returned to Los Angeles, California to begin work on its successor. Pleased with Volume 4, the band sought to recreate the recording atmosphere, and returned to the Record Plant Studios with new producer and engineer Tom Allom. With new musical innovations of the era, the band were surprised to find the room they had used previously at the Record Plant was replaced by a “”giant synthesizer””. The band rented a house in Bel Air and began writing in the summer of 1973, but due in part to substance issues and fatigue, were unable to complete any songs. “”Ideas weren’t coming out the way they were on Volume 4 and we really got discontent”” Iommi said. “”Everybody was sitting there waiting for me to come up with something. I just couldn’t think of anything. And if I didn’t come up with anything, nobody would do anything.””
After a month in Los Angeles with no results, the band opted to return to the UK, where they rented Clearwell Castle in The Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, England. “”We rehearsed in the dungeons and it was really creepy but it had some atmosphere, it conjured up things, and stuff started coming out again””. While working in the dungeon, Iommi stumbled onto the main riff of “”Sabbath Bloody Sabbath””, which set the tone for the new material.
Recording was completed at Morgan Studios in Willesden, North London in 1973. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman of the band Yes (who was recording Tales from Topographic Oceans with Yes in the next studio) was brought in as a session player, appearing on “”Sabbra Cadabra””.
Building off the stylistic changes introduced on Volume 4, new songs incorporated synthesizers, strings, keyboards and more complex arrangements. “”Who Are You?”” incorporates a Moog, a common instrument in progressive rock at the time. Lyrics of some songs on the album were written about problems within the band at the time.
“”Killing Yourself to Live”” was written by bassist Geezer Butler while in hospital for kidney problems caused by heavy drinking. Drummer Bill Ward was also suffering from binge drinking, and the song reflects the problems caused by their “”extreme”” lifestyles. An earlier incarnation of the song can be heard on the records Live at Last and Past Lives.
Black Sabbath released Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath on 1 December 1973. For the first time in their career, the band began to receive favourable reviews in the mainstream press, with Rolling Stone calling the album “”an extraordinarily gripping affair””, and “”nothing less than a complete success””. Later reviewers such as All Music Eduardo Rivadavia cite the album as “”a masterpiece, essential to any heavy metal collection””, while also displaying “”a newfound sense of finesse and maturity””.
The album marked the band fifth consecutive platinum selling album in the United States. It reached number four on the UK charts, and number eleven in the US.
In the UK, it was the first Black Sabbath album to attain Silver certification (60,000 units sold) by the British Phonographic Industry, achieving this in February 1975.
The band began a world tour in January 1974, which culminated at the California Jam festival in Ontario, California on 6 April 1974. Attracting over 200,000 fans, Black Sabbath appeared alongside such ’70s rock giants as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Deep Purple, Earth, Wind & Fire and The Eagles.
Early in their career, Black Sabbath released albums and launched tours at a breakneck pace. For a while the relentless record-tour-record cycle helped fuel their creativity – from 1970 though 1972, Sabbath issued four classic albums in Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Master Of Reality and Vol. 4.
These records spawned numerous anthems – The Wizard, Paranoid, Iron Man, War Pigs, N.I.B. and Sweet Leaf chief amongst them – and made Sabbath one of the world’s top hard rock bands of the era. And, as it would turn out, certainly one of the most influential on subsequent artists.
In fact, if it wasn’t for a band that contained several members affiliated with Sabbath’s hometown of Birmingham – Led Zeppelin – the Sabs would have been the undisputed global heavy music kings.
But, despite all of their success and popularity, when the group tried to settle down and write their fifth album in the summer of 1973, guitarist/songwriter Tony Iommi experienced something he never had previously – a wicked case of writer’s block.
“What happened was we’d done Vol. 4 in Los Angeles, and we had a house in the city,” the metal legend recalls. “We all lived there, and everything was great on that album. We came to England and toured and all the rest of the stuff, and then we were due to make another album.
“We went back to the [LA] house again, to do Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and I got writer’s block. It just went dead. We had the studio booked, same everything booked. And it was just one of those times.
“I really panicked: ‘Oh my God, I can’t seem to think of anything that we like!’ I could play stuff, but it just wasn’t sinking in; I didn’t like it. So we cancelled the whole thing, came back to England.”
Instead of jumping right back into the songwriting, the band – which, in addition to Iommi, still featured singer Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward at that point – took a little time off to recharge their batteries before getting back to work. But rather than rent an ordinary house to write and record, they had something else in mind.
“We rented an old castle in the Forest Of Dean [Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire],” says Tony. “And it was just us there. What we did was set up the equipment in the dungeons of the castle to try and get some vibe going. And then that was it – we came up with Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and the rest came fairly shortly afterwards. The block had gone.”
In the Brian Ives-penned essay A Hard Road 1973-1978, from Sabbath’s 2004 Black Box multi-disc set, bassist Geezer Butler recalls how he and the band felt when Iommi presented the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath riff to them:
“When Tony came up with the riff to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, it was almost like seeing your first child being born. It was the end of our musical drought, the beginning of our new direction, an affirmation of life. It meant the band had a present – and a future – again.”
As with the majority of Sabbath’s early material, Butler was the song’s lyricist. In the same Black Box essay, he explains: “The lyrics to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath were about the Sabbath experience, the ups and downs, the good times and the bad times, the rip- offs, the business side of it all.
‘Bog blast all of you’ was directed at the critics, the record business in general, the lawyers, the accountants, management, and everyone who was trying to cash in on us. It was a backs-to-the-wall rant at everyone.”
Musically, the song is comparable to past Sabbath classics, with its mammoth Iommi riff, and includes a musical trademark long associated with the band – merging a heavy section (‘You’ve seen life through distorted lies/You know you had to learn’) with
a lighter one (‘Nobody will ever let you know/When you ask the reasons why’) – to create light-and-shade contrast.
And, harking back to such past compositions as Black Sabbath and Children Of The Grave, the song concludes with a long, instrumental jam section.
While the title track remains the best-known off the album, there is no filler contained within the rest of the record’s eight tracks. After the album-opening title track, one of Iommi’s most underrated guitar riffs is showcased on the mid-paced behemoth, A National Acrobat, before an instrumental ballad, Fluff, serves as a momentary palate cleanser.
Closing out the first side is another grinder that Metallica would later cover (on their 1998 covers compilation, Garage Inc.), Sabbra Cadabra, which also features none other than Yes’s Rick Wakeman tinkering away on the piano and Minimoog.
The second side kicks off with the incredibly titled Killing Yourself To Live, which leads to the spooky synth slither of Who Are You? and the straight-ahead headbanger Looking For Today, before wrapping things up with an epic, Spiral Architect, which contains input by a conductor and arranger, a chap named Will Malone.
If Malone’s name sounds familiar to astute readers, it’s with good reason – he would go on to produce Iron Maiden’s classic self-titled debut, in 1980 (allegedly, he was hired by Steve Harris and company due to his association with Sabbath, and in particular, this recording).
Although the band would begin to fracture soon afterwards due to drug abuse and burnout, Tony recalls that they were all getting along quite well on both a musical and personal level around the time of the recording of the title track from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
“We had done what we always do: we go to a studio, lock ourselves in, and record the album,” he states. “Everything seemed to go all right on that album, I think. We didn’t have all the problems we had with some of the others.”
And yet, there were a few….odd occurrences outside of the band’s circle that happened during the recording.
“I recall walking from the dungeons one day, I think with Geezer, Bill, or somebody,” Tony reveals. “We were walking along the hallway, and saw this figure coming towards us. It’s a long corridor. This figure turned left into this room, which was the armoury room, where they had all the weapons. We followed, and went in. There was nobody in there.
“And there was no way out or anything – no other door. Very odd. Anyway, a few days later, the people who own the castle came to see if we were OK, and we said, ‘We’ve seen a few strange things happening here’, and we told them. They said, ‘Oh God, that’s the castle ghost. Don’t worry about him!’”
Released as the album’s lead-off single, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was the first Sabbath song to have a promo video shot to accompany it. In it, the group don’t mime the lyrics or fake playing their instruments – in fact they don’t even bother to pick up their instruments at all, as they waltz through what appears to be a forest.
“That was at Geezer’s house. That was Geezer’s garden we were walking around in,” Tony recalls of the ‘forest’ scene. “What I remember about that is that we just turned up and that was it, really – ‘We’re doing a video!’”
Unfortunately, an argument could be made that the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album was the beginning of the end for the group’s original line-up.
Although they would manage one more bona fide classic, the oft-overlooked Sabotage, the last two studio offerings with Ozzy, Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die!, were largely muddled affairs that didn’t come close to the quality of their more focused and inspired earlier offerings.
And, despite the last album’s title, Ozzy would exit the band in 1979, bringing the original line-up to an end (although there would be various subsequent reunions, as well as a seemingly infinite number of Sab line-ups with various members, only Iommi serving as the sole constant through it all).
But on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and its title track, the Osbourne-Iommi-Butler-Ward line-up was still firing on all cylinders, and, in the process, kept their early-70s winning streak very much intact. So much so, that US metal radio host Eddie Trunk still ranks the song amongst Sabbath’s all-time best.
“Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is one of my all-time favourite songs by the band,” he says. “To me, it’s one of my all-time favourite riffs as well, and that’s saying a lot considering Tony is the all-time riff king!
“I also love the Anthrax cover back in the 80s [first included as a b-side on their 1987 single for Indians, before reappearing the same year as part of the I’m The Man EP]. I think it’s right up there with the all-time Sabbath classics.
“I mean, Sabbath have so many incredible songs and are the founders of metal, but Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was always an all-time favourite. To me, Sabbath never sound dated. I still play it on my radio show all the time. It’s a go-to Sabbath track for me!”
One of my favorite bands and, in my opinion, their best album. Great drum beats, guitar riffs, and production. Still keeps the doom metal sound with Ozzy’s vocals at a pinnacle. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabra Cadabra are two of the best song Sabbath ever released and …
this is my favorite band ever. I play on a show that we only play songs by black sabbath and my favorite song is sabbath bloody sabbath because of the drumbeat it has and the guitar. as a drummer, I know how to drum and learning this song was so much fun. I completely …
An exhilarating original masterpiece, as powerful today as to when I first was gripped by it as a 16 year old in Dublin Ireland, heard it recently broadcast in its entirety by an esteemed radio dj on a classical station no less,and it still sounds powerful.
…deserves to be given a jolly good thrashing on any self respecting stereo system.
There must have been a few Sabbath fans running scared when they heard that Birmingham’s finest doom merchants had released an album that included gentle acoustic guitars, synthesisers and – hell forbid – string arrangements! What the blazes were they thinking? Surely this departure from the tried and true was a signal of the imminent decline of their metal masters. It would have no doubt come as welcome relief to hear the familiar guttural grind of Tony Iommi opening the title track with one of his best riffs yet. The discovery of this classic phrase by Iommi apparently helped kick the band out of a songsmithing quagmire as well and set the band on course for the production of their fifth and most progressive album to date.
“Killing Yourself to Live” is churning heavy rock masterpiece, “Fluff” a gentle instrumental and “Looking for Today” is given the orchestral treatment. A diverse range indeed when compared with earlier ‘meat and spuds’ efforts but apart from the too heavily synth drenched “Who Are You?” it all pulls together and makes for an superbly uplifting experience. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is not as ultimately arresting as the likes of Paranoid but its a great album in its own right, highlighting a creatively more mature band, and deserves to be given a jolly good thrashing on any self respecting stereo system.