It has now been five decades since one record written by four blokes from Birmingham changed everything. It is no exaggeration to say that Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut album laid down a blueprint for heavy metal that would sprout, grow wings and blossom into something so multifaceted, brilliant and beautiful that not even its creators could ever have foreseen it. Virtually every musician who has strapped on a guitar and peeled off riffs in the years since its release owes it an immeasurable debt. The fact that Black Sabbath have influenced legends who themselves went on to shape the lives and careers of future generations speaks to the level of their importance and impact. And it all started with their introduction on that monolithic debut album, released on the eve of Saint Valentine’s Day, 1970.
And yet, speak to Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward about it and you’d think the record came as naturally as breathing – that such inspired genius was as easy as flicking on a light switch to illuminate a room. “Once we’d finished,” the vocalist wrote in his 2009 autobiography I Am Ozzy, “we were in the pub in time for last orders.”
But the source of Black Sabbath’s awesome power came from a much darker place than the temporal. Instead, the band eschewed the façade of hippy-centric peace and love that dominated the music of their peers, delving into the kind of subject matter that others dared not – fantasy and the occult, taking cues and inspiration from figures like Aleister Crowley, Dennis Wheatley, H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien. It came from the unique magic created when those four musicians played in a room together, each bringing their A-game to the record. It came from something intangible – a true one-of-a-kind moment in time.
Hard as it is now to fathom, such is the band’s legendary status and so ingrained is every note of those classic songs, but they were just four regular young men, unaware at the time just what they were about to offer onto an equally unsuspecting public.
Here is the fascinating, often touching and amusing story of how Black Sabbath changed the whole damn world…