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Forty Five Years Of Blackness: Celebrating The 45th Anniverssary Of Black Sabbath's Debut

Photo of Black Sabbath

Band Photo: Black Sabbath (?)

Forty five years ago this day (Friday and everything,) a debut album was released that, unbeknownst to practically everyone at the time, would change music forever. Though it would be dismissed quite harshly at the time by critics, Lester Bangs being perhaps the most famous journalist to slam the album, calling it amongst other things, "... just like Cream! But worse," it would go on to become one of the most acclaimed, and many agree first, heavy metal album in history. If you haven't figured it out by now, the record in question is the self-titled first effort from the one and only, Black Sabbath.

As most readers of our Sunday Old School column will remember, the feature dedicated the whole month of October to covering the history of Black Sabbath, so having another look back at the early days of Sabbath may seem like a re-run, but like episodes from the fourth season of The Simpsons, it's a re-run worth looking at. For a more in depth look Ozzy's first era with the band, you can read the first part of the aforementioned series, by clicking here

To give a short recap, Black Sabbath first started under the name, Polka Tulk Blues Band, then Polka Tulk, before becoming known as Earth, under which name they recorded their first demos such as "A Song For Jim" and "The Rebel." Eventually, the group changed their name again, this time to the now familiar tag, Black Sabbath, after the Boris Karloff film of the same name. It was this film that also inspired the quartet to change their style to a darker tone, in an attempt to create scary music as a comparison to scary movies.

Following this change, they were soon signed with Fontana Records, before being shifted to the newly formed Vertigo Records, both subsidiaries of Philips Records. It has been claimed, including by then manager Jim Simpson, that Black Sabbath were more or less signed because the label needed a new act quickly, which would explain why the band recorded the whole full length album in only one twelve hour day, with mixing taking place the day after, while the band were performing a gig in Switzerland for £20.

Despite this short time they were allotted in the studio, and the previously mentioned scathing critical reviews, the resulting album became more influential than any of them could possibly imagine. Many claim that as the first album from arguably the first heavy metal band, the eponymous debut is the first heavy metal, and bringing sub-genres into it, certainly the first doom metal album. Indeed, it's isolated, English countryside vibe, which perhaps comes about as part of the eye catching front artwork, sums up the approach and the sound that many doom metal bands followed, especially English doom acts such as Cathedral.

Just as Taxi Driver was slated upon release but later viewed as a cinematic great, so to was "Black Sabbath," in terms of albums. It's not hard to see why it became viewed as a masterpiece, as there was so much on offer throughout. The opening track, also called, "Black Sabbath," was one of the most atmospheric of its time, drenched in rain and backed by the eerie echo of church bells, it was the perfect set up for a horror story, one which bassist, Geezer Butler claims is true. The use of the tritone and Ozzy Osbourne's anguished wails led the singer's father to ask upon hearing it, "Are you sure you're only smoking cigarettes?"

But one song doesn't make a classic album, and there were plenty of other strange and wonderful offerings on show, perhaps most notably was the song, "N.I.B." which many believe to stand for, "Nativity In Black," though the band insist it never stood for anything and that it was called "Nib" at first, because drummer, Bill Ward's beard looked like a pen nib. It featured a punishing riff like no other of the day, a comparatively mellow chourus and a unique storyline about the devil falling in love and deciding to become a good person. Plus the Gandalf inspired track, "The Wizard," allegedly also a tribute to the band's drug dealer, an excellent cover of the Crow song, "Evil Woman" and the superb "Behind the Wall" of sleep, and all in all, you have a classic album. One which sums up the hard rock and heavy metal of the early seventies which was to follow, yet still sounds fantastic forty five years later.

With their debut now unleashed, Black Sabbath went on to release eighteen more albums, with a twentieth and final album scheduled to begin creation in the coming months. It's a testament to the importance and talent of the band that they are still considered to be one of, if not the biggest heavy metal band around, continuing to headline festivals over other heavy weights of the genre such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, themselves titans of the genre that Sabbath spawned.

Heavy metal itself became a global phenomenon since the release of the record, with more sub-genres than Marvel Comics has planned movies, selling hundreds of millions of records, forging festivals across Europe and beyond and creating a culture which has encapsulated so many people worldwide. It's a genre with its own heroes and villains, legends and myths, a reputation both excess and intelligence. And it all began forty five years ago today, when four working class lads from Birmingham released their first album, to the distaste of their peers and the delight of millions.

"Black Sabbath"

"The Wizard"

"Behind The Wall Of Sleep"


Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.

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