[Review] Black Sabbath: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973)

Great title, great cover, great album, lousy review from me the first time around.

Kronomyth 5.0: Dungeons & drinking.

A little-known fact is that I started this site in 2002. Since then, it’s gone through several iterations—amazingly without improving one iota in terms of design or navigation. The latest iteration involves rewriting some (actually, many) of the old reviews. I saved this one (originally from April 24, 2011), but with an addendum at the end to reflect the fact that Sabbath Bloody Sabbath has since inched itself to classic status in my estimation.

“Overinflated fluff,” says the Troll, stabbing the air behind his head in a slow yawn, as if to say he’d heard this all before in Vol. 4. “But this has an orchestra, synthesizers, multipart suites,” I remind him. My eyes visibly widen at those last words, yet he’s unimpressed. And maybe he’s right. The world didn’t need another prog band in 1973; it needed metal warriors who would slash through ranks of suited, seated cellists and flautists to plant a new bloody standard at the podium.

Fortunately for us, Black Sabbath’s most orchestral album still has its share of dark energy, from the opening “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” to the heroic ending of “Spiral Architect.” In between you’ll find what may be Tony Iommi’s prettiest instrumental (“Fluff”), an eerie and synthetic spectre of a song (“Who Are You”), a three-part heavy metal suite (“Killing Yourself To Live”) and a melodic metal song that would have felt right at home on the superior Sabotage (“Looking For Today”).

The Troll notwithstanding, a lot of people will tell you this is one of Black Sabbath’s best albums. I’m not one of those people. The production isn’t up to snuff, and it’s almost impossible to hear songs like “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and “A National Acrobat” without thinking how much heavier they could have been.

From its origins in the dungeons of haunted Clearwell Castle, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was destined for some measure of enshrinement in the Sabbath songbook, but it’s an unfocused album. Paranoid, Master of Reality, Sabotage… those albums are solid blocks of metal. SBS show cracks of light in its dark mass: strings, synthesizers, suites and some piano from soon-to-be-ex-Yesman Rick Wakeman. For all the talk of “the riff that saved Sabbath,” wasn’t their utter damnation their salvation?

No, blame the drugs or the drink, the Sabbath war machine was winding down despite Iommi’s attempts to wind them back up again. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is a better album for his efforts; it is not, however, one of their better efforts. That said, a merely average Sabbath album is better than most things in this cursed world, so you still need to buy it, bang your head to it and burn a small amount of incense at its altar. (Note: The CD lists “Spiral Architect” at 5:29, the LP at 4:40. Could just be an error, but I’ll confirm it as soon as I dig my vinyl copy of SBS out of the vault.)

Now, this is me writing in 2020. I have a few bones to pick with the previous review. This is one of Sabbath’s best albums, specifically their fifth-best album (you’ll have to pry Sabotage from my cold, dead hands). That’s not a back-handed compliment, but an acknowledgement that Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is indeed classic Sabbath. Overinflated? More like the floodgates of creativity had been opened after Vol. 4’s trickle of treats. “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” could have been heavier? Nothing is heavier than the riff introduced in the middle of that song, not even the opening riff on “Sweet Leaf.”

I didn’t have any earthly use for Vol. 4, but on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath all is forgiven. The songs are stuffed full of great riffs and different musical ideas, as though the band were being swept up in a creative second wind (a point that Sabotage confirmed). And dark? Ozzy literally laughs in the face of death at the end of “A National Acrobat.” This is more than a return to form; their royal blackness was back.

Original elpee version

A1. Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath (5:35)
A2. A National Acrobat (6:20)
A3. Fluff (4:10)
A4. Sabbra Cadabra (5:55)
B1. Killing Yourself to Live (5:35)
B2. Who Are You (4:10)
B3. Looking for Today (5:00)
B4. Spiral Architect (4:40)

All songs written by Black Sabbath.

CD reissue bonus track
9. Cornucopia (live)

The Players

Geezer Butler (bass, fuzz bass, synthesizer, Mellotron, hands, nose), Tony Iommi (guitars, acoustic and steel guitars, piano, harpsichord, synthesizer, flute, organ, hands, bagpipes), Ozzy Osbourne (vocals, synthesizer, hands), Bill Ward (drums, percussion, timpani, hands, fuzz bass-drum) with Will Malone (conductor, string arrangement), The Phantom Fiddlers (strings), Rick Wakeman (piano & synthesizers on A4). Produced by Black Sabbath with production help from Mike Butcher and Spock Wall; engineered by Mike Butcher; coordinated by Mark Forster; direction by Patrick Meehan.

The Pictures

Illustrations by Drew Struzan.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on December 1973* in the UK (WWA, WWA/WWC 005), the US and Canada (Warner Bros., BS 2695), France and Germany (Vertigo, 6366 101) and Italy (WWA, 6366 201 A) and in 1974 in Japan (Vertigo, RJ-5113) and Mexico (Vertigo, LGR-23009) with gatefold cover and lyrics innersleeve (released without gatefold cover in the US and with lyrics insert); reached #4 on the UK charts and #11 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record). (*First appeared in 12/15/73 issue of Billboard.)

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1975 in Japan (Vertigo, RJ-7031).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1978 in Japan (Vertigo, BT-5155).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in June 1980 in the UK, France and the Netherlands (NEMS, NEL 6017) and in Japan (NEMS, SP18-5014) with gatefold cover.
  4. Re-issued on elpee in 1985 in Germany (NEMS, CLALP 201).
  5. Re-released on expanded compact disc in 1986 (NEMS, NELCD 6017) with one bonus track.
  6. Re-packaged with Black Sabbath on 2-for-1 2CD in June 1988 in the UK (Castle, TFO 10 1 / 2).
  7. Re-issued on compact disc on August 9, 1988 in the US (Warner Bros., 2695-2).
  8. Re-issued on elpee in 1990 in Russia (SNC, C90 31085 007).
  9. Re-issued on compact disc in 1991 in Japan (Teiciku, TECP-23937).
  10. Re-released on remastered compact disc on February 26, 1996 in the UK and Germany (Essential, ESM CD 305).
  11. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 2003 in the UK (Earmark, 41012).
  12. Re-released on clear vinyl and picture disc elpee in 2004 in the UK (Earmark, 641012/41012P).
  13. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in 2007 in Japan (Universal, POCE-1101).
  14. Re-released on super high material compact disc in 2008 in Japan (Universal, POCE-9111).
  15. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in September 2009 in Europe (Sanctuary/Universal, 2716846).
  16. Re-issued on super high material compact disc in 2009 in Japan (Universal, UICY-94186).
  17. Re-issued on 180g vinyl elpee in 2011 in the US (Rhino, R1 2695) with lyrics insert.
  18. Re-issued on elpee in 2015 in Europe (Sanctuary, BMGRM057LP).
  19. Re-released on remastered 180g vinyl elpee and compact disc in 2016 in the US (Rhino, RR1/RR2 2695).

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