Black Sabbath – Sabotage (1975)
I don’t know how many of my readers were around to experience the 1970s, and WordPress doesn’t care to help me figure it out, but when I started my exploration of metal and progressive rock music, I rapidly found out how much overlap between the two there was in the genre’s earliest days. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Black Sabbath, the archetypalest of the archetypal metal bands, was involved in such blatant genre mixing! Sabotage came at a point where Black Sabbath was already a veteran band, and allegedly at a point where extreme drug abuse was tearing the band apart and forcing increasingly bad business decisions. More importantly to me, it’s also the culmination of studio and songwriting experimentation that began back on Volume 4, and those things tend to make for fertile writing.
Sabotage is, to my understanding, a cleaner fusion between early heavy metal and its prog rock contemporaries than its predecessors, and a hell of a lot more coherent than Technical Ecstasy, an album with a reputation so bad I haven’t given it a chance yet. Some of the obvious metal tropes of previous albums are gone, with a cleaner and less distorted guitar tone from Iommi that belies the occasional exception (usually “Symptom of the Universe”), but a couple of obvious progisms make a departure too – fewer flashy keyboards, less varied instrumentation, etc. Sabotage gains its status here primarily by applying extended songwriting techniques to what otherwise might be similarly composed to previous Black Sabbath albums. Now, I’m aware those had their share of lengthy songs, but compared to some of the blues inflected jams of the past, these songs feel a bit tighter and more solidly constructed.
This album also gets some credit in the metal circles for giving the growing heavy metal movement a couple of prototypes for subgenres. I wouldn’t go too far along that line of thought, personally, since a couple of hard rock and other early metal bands were constantly experimenting with their share of grooves and strums and (in the particular case of one Judas Priest) similar expansions of instrumentation and song structure. The aforementioned “Symptom of the Universe”, though, is quickly labeled a prototypical speed metal song and in its especially minimal and tritone driven form, I can hear how this might’ve influenced a few generations of bands. However, due to the prog influence (and the occasional shift into nonsensical weirdness like the strangely cheerful “Am I Going Insane”), I’m ultimately going to have to suggest that most of the ideas other bands lift from Black Sabbath come from their earlier, more formative works.
After this, Black Sabbath’s discography (and lineup) turns into a rollercoaster of colossal failures, interspersed with the occasional successful reinvention; you’ll have to ask me what I think about Heaven and Hell at some point. Sabotage ends up kind of incoherent at times, but interestingly, it is most entertaining and well constructed in its lengthy, vaguely prog-fusion moments. I like it personally, but I don’t know if it’s really what the average Sabbath fan wants. Then again, I don’t actually know what the average Sabbath fan wants, so that might be a moot point.
Highlights: “Megalomania”, “Supertzar”, “The Writ”, “Blow on A Jug”