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Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

Vertigo (1973)
Rating: 9/10

Arguably Black Sabbath’s greatest album cover, let alone album, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is a tour-de-force of a record that features more intricate arrangements than previously, enlisting the services of keyboards and orchestral dynamics.

The band’s fifth opus is a self-produced affair, although considering the inner friction, fatigue and illegal substances I’m wondering how it was recorded at all. Even so, this eight-track platter saw the band accepted into the mainstream with several huge concerts.

Despite its overtly occult album cover, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, for me anyway, lacks the murky gloom of previous records; only the chugging mid-section of the title track nods to cocaine-induced doom. Mind you, the title track is one of the band’s finest ever moments; Ozzy Osbourne’s vocals this time around are more tortured scream than sorrowful moan. Also, as expected, Bill Ward, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler are on fine form despite rumours that the guys were literally drying up.

Clearly the band were keener to experiment, enlisting the talents of keyboard magician Rick Wakeman (Yes) whose tinkering added more cosmic atmospheres to proceedings. The gothic strains of ‘A National Acrobat’ are bereft of any truly occult stuffiness; instead the band seem to have adopted a fresher sound with the guitars taking on a crisper approach.

Black Sabbath truly became masters of progressive rock and flirting with all manner of ludicrous dynamics to create instrumental wonders such as ‘Fluff’ and the truly monstrous ‘Killing Yourself To Live’. The latter cemented its place in metal history as one of the greatest songs ever written; it’s more a case of doomy rock ’n’ roll rather than out-and-out coffin dragger. There’s certainly something mystical about this spooky affair as Ward’s battering ram drums contradict the lavish presentation elsewhere as Iommi’s solos spiral off into the ether.

It would be unfair to deem Black Sabbath’s fifth opus as their lightest, but the intricacies displayed suggest a band moving away from the grit and grot of Birmingham’s smog-choked backstreets. ‘Sabbra Cadabra’ showcases more of the band’s boozy, bluesy melody as the synths drive hard in the distance, while Wakeman’s lush arrangements pepper the slow-motion dirge that is ‘Who Are You?’; Sabbath opting for more mellow passages of time although the world view is still weak, bleak and weary.

‘Looking For Today’ is more sprightly, holding hands with ‘Paranoid’ as a cool piece of polished rock, but the inclusion of flute and pensive acoustics puts pay to any chart success.

The album ends with the melancholic strains of ‘Spiral Architect’, which wafts on the breeze as an acoustic flutter before taking flight as a stirring masterpiece of a tune awash with synths and less threatening guitar chug. It’s a track that sums up Sabbath circa 1973 – the band more Bleary-Eyed Sabbath rather than Black Sabbath – but it’s an album that also proves there is more to this beast than meets the eye.

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is an artistic juggernaut that leaves the listener breathless rather than blackened.

Neil Arnold

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