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Technical Ecstasy

Vertigo (1976)
Rating: 8/10

For some, Black Sabbath’s seventh opus, Technical Ecstasy, was the beginning of the end. Others see the platter in a different light, appreciating it for what it is; a fantastic album that merely couldn’t match the six that had gone before it. It wasn’t that Sabbath was running out of ideas but merely that they had written so much amazing material before that there was always going to be a writer’s block of sorts.

Even so, this eight-track opus, recorded in Miami, is still consistent enough to suggest that the mighty Sabs were in no hurry to vacate their lofty perch. Of course, nobody realised that within a few years Ozzy Osbourne would have flown the nest, leaving Sabbath in dire straits – albeit for a short while.

And so, Technical Ecstasy doesn’t quite live up to its name, and the album cover leaves me cold, Sabbath never truly consistent in their imagery but proving that the music mattered. The opus opens with ‘Back Street Kids’, a dense sounding rocker that suggests this album is going to be travelling on a more direct route to the ears instead of spending much of its time frolicking in those strange voids. ‘Back Street Kids’ is a rather basic tune – if one compares it to so much that has gone before – and it seems to have more in common with The Who than anything remotely metal; Bill Ward’s drums cartwheel throughout and Tony Iommi’s guitar sound has a more classic, progressive feel.

‘You Won’t Change Me’ begins life as a sorrowful dirge, harking back to the days of Black Sabbath’s inception. The riff has quicksand qualities as the keyboards moan and groan behind it – again I’m reminded of The Who at their most pensive. It’s still a solid rock track, but lacks the spark to truly ignite the album, and the fact it weighs in at almost seven minutes makes it a rather unpleasant journey as it lumbers.

The injection of the piano during ‘You Won’t Change Me’ is interesting, but if you’re looking for full on tinkering then Bill Ward’s Ringo Starr moment comes in the form of ‘It’s Alright’. Yep, it’s a Beatles-esque ditty that drifts by without any real effect, leaving me to question as to why such a track was even included. Here, Sabbath seem out of their depth, carving out a rather cringeworthy few minutes that sound more suited to a television programme. Thankfully, ‘Gypsy’ ends side one of the record in a blaze of glory, building on a platform of robust rolling drums and churning riff.

Geezer Butler comes to the fore on the bluesy ‘All Moving Parts (Stand Still)’ – his dominant bass eases through this number like a snake in the woods – while ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Doctor’ comes crashing through the speakers on a swirling guitar and pounding drum. This is Black Sabbath opting for a piece of honky tonk rock ’n’ roll, although many years later this has all the buffoonery of a Status Quo track, so simple is its structure.

Meanwhile, the sweeping ‘She’s Gone’ is another reflective ballad – proof that Sabbath can write ballads just as good as anyone else. The strings and acoustics seem to caress Ozzy Osbourne’s voice, as once again he muses over another lost love. But just when we thought all hope had diminished, the epic ‘Dirty Women’ comes creeping from under a boulder. It’s the sort of track that evokes images of Sabotage (1975) as Ozzy yearns for a streetwalking femme fatale. Without a doubt it’s the album’s most atmospheric rocker, and my favourite track on the album.

And there we have it. Not quite the ecstasy we had hoped for, but still another masterful record by heavy metal’s greatest ever band.

Neil Arnold

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