‘Black Sabbath’ the eponymous debut studio album by Black Sabbath was released on Friday the 13th in 1970 and it turns 48 this Tuesday! Although it was poorly received by most music critics at the time, it has since been credited as one of the most influential albums in the development of heavy metal music! According to guitarist and founder member Tony Iommi, it was recorded in a single day on October 16th in 1969. The session lasted twelve hours. “We thought, ‘We have two days to do it and one of the days is mixing.’ So we played live. Ozzy was singing at the same time, we just put him in a separate booth and off we went. We never had a second run of most of the stuff.” Other than the bells, thunder and rain sound effects added to the beginning of the opening track, and the double-tracked guitar solos on “N.I.B.” and “Sleeping Village”, there were virtually no overdubs added to the album.
(And in my opinion, the album “transcends its deep roots in blues-rock and psychedelia to become something more … “the birth of heavy metal as we now know it”!)
“Black Sabbath” is the opening track on Black Sabbath’s self-titled first album. According to the band, the song was inspired by an experience that bassist/lyricist Geezer Butler had in the early days of Earth. (Sabbath’s original name) Geezer, who was obsessed with the occult at the time, painted his apartment black, hung several inverted crucifixes, and put many pictures of Satan on the walls. Ozzy gave Geezer a black occult book, written in Latin and decorated with numerous pictures of Satan. Geezer read the book and then placed it on a shelf beside his bed before going to sleep. When he woke up, he claims he saw a large black figure standing at the end of his bed, staring at him. The figure vanished and Geezer ran to the shelf where he had placed the book earlier, but it was gone! Geezer related this story to Ozzy, and the two then wrote the lyrics to the song based on that experience. Fact or folklore? Who really knows? But it does make for a fantastic rock legend!
The main riff in the song is also an inversion of a tritone, constructed with a harmonic progression including a diminished fifth / augmented fourth. This particular interval is often known as diabolus in musica, for it has musical qualities which are often used to suggest Satanic connotations in Western music. In the middle ages it was forbidden to play such a note and even the Catholic Church at one point in time supposedly banned it as well. The song “Black Sabbath” was one of the earliest examples in heavy metal to make use of this interval, and since then, the genre has made extensive use of it!
“The Wizard” is the second song on Sabbath’s 1970 record Black Sabbath. It was composed by all four original members of the band. The track is about a wizard who uses his magic to encourage the people he encounters. In a 2005 interview bassist Geezer Butler said the song’s lyrics were influenced by the wizard Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, and it was also believed to be about the band’s drug dealer at the time.
The ‘Black Sabbath’ album cover features a depiction of Mapledurham Watermill, situated on the River Thames in Oxfordshire, England. Standing in front of the watermill is a figure dressed in black. The name of the woman pictured on the front cover is forgotten, though Iommi said that she once showed up backstage at a Black Sabbath show and introduced herself. Not much else is known about the eerie woman used in the photo other than she was a model/actress hired for the day and her name was Louise.
She may not represent death but must have done a good job of freaking out the more pharmaceutically affected Sabbath fans. And if you look closely — supposedly — she’s holding a black cat.
The inner gatefold sleeve of the original record featured an inverted cross with a poem written inside of it. Allegedly, the band were upset when they discovered this, as it fueled allegations that they were Satanists or Occultists; and suddenly they had all these crazy people turning up at their live shows! And “Unbeknownst to the band, Black Sabbath was launched in the US with a party with the head of the Church of Satan, Anton Lavey, presiding over the proceedings…All of a sudden Sabbath were Satan’s Right Hand Men.”