Black Sabbath - Sabotage review



Reviewer:
9.0

775 users:
8.42
Band: Black Sabbath
Album: Sabotage
Release date: July 1975


01. Hole In The Sky
02. Don't Start (Too Late)
03. Symptom Of The Universe
04. Megalomania
05. Thrill Of It All
06. Supertzar
07. Am I Going Insane (Radio)
08. The Writ


One of popular sayings of literature teachers in the western world is "Never judge a book by its cover". It makes sense in theory. Unless you're a famous writer or work with a very hands-on publisher, it's unlikely you'll even have a say about the cover for a book; and, either way, it's hard to find the right cover to match the spirit of the product. In practice, though, I think judging something by its cover is an act we still fall back on, even if just subconsciously. And if you were flipping through a case of albums from the 1970s and came across Sabotage, I certainly wouldn't blame you for moving right along - it's awful. But if there is one major act that revisionist musical historians owe Black Sabbath, it's revisiting Sabotage more regularly and placing it where it belongs: at the absolute top of the band's catalogue.

Most of the original band members rate Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, the precursor to Sabotage, as their crowning achievement, and you'd be hard-pressed to find many reviewers - from the time or now - who would argue that Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is anything but a great album. The two, though, feel like they go hand-in-hand to me. Prolific heavy metal journalist Martin Popoff also looks to these two as a unit and has Sabotage at the top of the Black Sabbath pyramid, and I think a large part of that comes down to experimentation.

The recording of the first four Black Sabbath albums and all the touring that went along with them left the band completely wiped out (and, for some, hospitalized). Coming back to the studio after a break brought along ventures into learning new instruments and incorporating different sounds into the Black Sabbath oeuvre. The band would take a keyboardist on tour for the first time. "Supertzar" showcases the English Chamber Choir. And the strange, maligned "Am I Going Insane (Radio)" feels entirely out-of-place stylistically while being monumentally important in the transitioning to the album's closer, showing a stronger sense of album structure and movement. Ozzy dislikes both "Supertzar" and "Am I Going Insane (Radio)", but one of the through-lines of Sabotage is great material coming out of conflict.

The album's title and much of the material, especially "The Writ", addresses the incredible amount of litigation the band had to deal with after firing a manager they felt had been taking advantage of them. And it's maybe this sourness that colours some of the impressions of the album. It is, though, the Black Sabbath album that has the best claim to being called a masterpiece, which is a word that is thrown around way too often and haphazardly. The argument is there in the songs, though. "Hole In The Sky" and "Symptom Of The Universe" will probably be the tracks casual fans are most familiar with, especially since the latter has been a regular in the band's setlist since its release. Both build on the heaviness of the previous album's title track, "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", and are often cited - along with Judas Priest's "Exciter" and early Motörhead - as proto-thrash metal. And both help comprise a genuinely perfect first side for the album. "Symptom Of The Universe", in particular, with its tonal shifts and jam session (which, like "Paranoid", was basically improvised and recorded on the day it was composed), is a great example of maturity in songwriting, balancing multiple styles on the way to something that completely works in its own right.

But the best pieces of evidence for considering Sabotage at the top of the Black Sabbath canon are its two longer tracks, which close each side: "Megalomania" and "The Writ". Trying to talk about Black Sabbath is often an exercise in dealing with frustration and disappointment for me because of how often Sabotage is overlooked and how neither of its crowning achievements are mentioned enough in lists of best Black Sabbath songs. And as good as the band's other longer, epic songs are - "War Pigs", "You Won't Change Me", "Heaven And Hell", "The Sign Of The Southern Cross" - these two from Sabotage are not just the best from the album but the best in all of the band's library. The movements they go through feel like great storytelling just in the music, but the lyrics (and, surprisingly, "The Writ" is one of the only songs that Ozzy penned, a product of his own frustration with everything that was getting in the way of the band's enjoyment as artists at the time) add that further depth that pushes them over the edge. Despite how angry and resentful "The Writ" is, Ozzy finds moments to bring himself back from the brink: "A smiling face, it means the world to me / So tired of sadness and of misery". Here, in "Megalomania" and "The Writ", are the members of Black Sabbath at their most cohesive and thematically focused, a by-product of a genuine outpouring of emotion that might have drained them too much creatively, as there is very little left in the tank by the time they get to Never Say Die!. For all the encroaching menace, stress and pressure that these songs tackle, though, it feels like that yearning for beauty and balance, which was always a huge source of conflict in Geezer's lyrics, wins out. "Got to get to happiness / Want no more of sorrow", he writes in "Megalomania", venting while being aware that letting one's demons take control can't ultimately be the right path.

It's difficult not to get too wrapped up in talking about this album. Even its lesser tracks, "The Thrill Of It All" and "Am I Going Insane (Radio)", feel tied in correctly and, in the case of the former, are still technical accomplishments. It's a classic instance of something being better than the sum of its parts, and I think works of art can give off that impression of perfection when taken as a whole, even if they don't quite live up to that when broken down piece-by-piece. I wouldn't say Sabotage is perfect. But it's the Black Sabbath album that comes closest. It's the one that's had the most replay value for me, because there's so much to dissect, especially in how it peaks and bottoms out in acts like a great screenplay. At the very least, "Megalomania" and "The Writ" deserve intense scrutiny and reconsideration by the band's fans, because they and not "Iron Man" or "Paranoid" are more indicative of the creative contributions to music that were made by the godfathers of heavy metal. It's more likely that newer generations of metal fans will elevate Heaven And Hell and Mob Rules into the upper echelon of Black Sabbath albums because of how accessible they are. And they are, to be sure, great albums. I just hope history eventually looks as kindly on the lengths to which the band pushed themselves on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and, especially, Sabotage.


Rating breakdown
Performance: 9
Songwriting: 10
Originality: 9
Production: 9

Written by SeanC | 04.09.2019


 


Guest review disclaimer:
This is a guest review, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.


Comments

Comments: 6   Visited by: 21 users
06.09.2019 - 11:35
Bad English
Masterchief
Only first 2 bs albums deserve such high rating
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Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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07.09.2019 - 11:21
Ozzy88
Rock Philosopher
Great review! Cheers
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09.09.2019 - 23:15
nikarg
Old Nick
Written by Bad English on 06.09.2019 at 11:35

Only first 2 bs albums deserve such high rating

I think about half of Black Sabbath albums deserve such high - or even higher - rating.
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09.09.2019 - 23:27
JoHn DoE
Written by nikarg on 09.09.2019 at 23:15

Written by Bad English on 06.09.2019 at 11:35

Only first 2 bs albums deserve such high rating

I think about half of Black Sabbath albums deserve such high - or even higher - rating.


I agree
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10.09.2019 - 00:58
Marcel Hubregtse
Grumpy Old Fuck
Written by nikarg on 09.09.2019 at 23:15

Written by Bad English on 06.09.2019 at 11:35

Only first 2 bs albums deserve such high rating

I think about half of Black Sabbath albums deserve such high - or even higher - rating.


Agreed. For one Master Of Reality and Vol. 4 are already better than the first two.
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Member of the true crusade against European Flower Metal

Yesterday is dead and gone, tomorrow is out of sight
Dawn Crosby (r.i.p.)
05.04.1963 - 15.12.1996

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10.09.2019 - 00:59
Marcel Hubregtse
Grumpy Old Fuck
And Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is also better than the first two.
----
Member of the true crusade against European Flower Metal

Yesterday is dead and gone, tomorrow is out of sight
Dawn Crosby (r.i.p.)
05.04.1963 - 15.12.1996

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