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Buyer's Guide: Black Sabbath

In 2004, Classic Rock ran this guide to the music of the iconic metal pioneers

Black Sabbath were responsible for many things: they were malevolent devil worshippers; they were evil incarnate; they turned generations of morbid teenagers into ghastly vampires; they practised black magic and got quite good at it. Or maybe not. The truth is, the Sabs began in Aston, Birmingham at the tail-end of the 1960s as a band called Polka Tulk (after a local Indian clothing emporium). By early ’69 they had wisely changed their name to Earth. Some commentators say they were originally a blues band; others claim they were a jazz-fusion outfit. What is for sure is that their Zapata-moustachioed six-stringer once played in Jethro Tull for three weeks or so.

How the four band members – singer John Michael Osbourne, guitarist Anthony Frank Iommi, bassist Terence Michael Butler and drummer William Thomas Ward – stumbled on to the unique, doom-laden, bludgeoning sound of Black Sabbath has, in my view, never been satisfactorily explained. Jim Simpson, who ran a Midlands club called Henry’s Blues House and became Sabbath’s manager, once claimed the group were influenced by Kansas City swingers the Count Basie Orchestra. It seemed as likely a clarification as any. The Sabs were also responsible for introducing me to heavy metal. I remember it vividly. I was visiting my aunt and uncle in Maidstone, Kent and went shopping one late summer’s afternoon in 1971. Gazing into a record-shop window, a rather prosaic purple-and-black-coloured album sleeve with swirly writing on it caught my attention. I don’t know why, but it seemed to beckon me like the twisted fingers of a wicked witch’s hand. It turned out to be a record called Master Of Reality – and for whatever reason, I knew I had to purchase it. Immediately, instantly and without further delay.

I wasn’t at all familiar with Sabbath’s music; I didn’t even know Master... was the band’s third album. As I handed over my precious shillings-and-pence to the store proprietor, little did I realise that a never-ending spiral down into the murky depths of metaldom had begun. I was just 16 years old. Oh no, please God help me. There was no turning back.

SUPERIOR Heaven And Hell Vertigo, 1980

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