My first big dive into the world of Black Sabbath was when I was 13. For Christmas my parents bought me my first major stereo system, an all-in-one Soundesign stereo with turntable, AM/FM receiver, dual cassette deck and 10-band graphic equalizer. It was all encased in a faux wood cabinet(on wheels no less) with two tower speakers. It was pretty much garbage, but to me it was everything. I think they’d realized by this point I wasn’t growing out of the rock and roll phase and knew I’d graduated from the single speaker GE boom box I’d gotten two years prior. With this Soundesign stereo I was rocking with the big boys.
I remember the next day going to Butterfly Records and buying my own vinyl records. The first two I bought were Judas Priest’s Screaming For Vengeance and the self-titled Vinnie Vincent Invasion album. Priest was a classic, VVI was not. But there was another piece of music history I’d received on Christmas morning. In my stocking was a cassette of The Best Of Black Sabbath. It was one of those after market tapes that is 3rd or 4th generation quality you’d find at Hook’s Drug Store or in a gas station next to some stuffed animals or multi-colored Katanas. It was not an authorized release, but it had an amazing album cover. A skull on what looked like a candlestick being held by Ozzy’s hand. It was dark as hell and I was gonna listen to that cassette until it stopped playing.
I indeed played that tape till it ceased to exist. It had great songs, but as far as having a variety of song, six of the 10 tracks were all from Paranoid. Nothing from Master Of Reality or Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, one from Vol. 4 and one from Sabotage. The one from Sabotage, “The Writ”, really stuck out for me. The low key bass line which would then blow up into this cacophony of noise while Ozzy screamed like a banshee. It was a feast for the senses. But then it had two or three different time changes and movements. It really felt like this orchestrated piece. On a cassette full of highlights it stood out.
As I got older I started collecting those individual Black Sabbath records. What I found out was that while they continued to write great songs, they didn’t get any better at making great sounding albums. The band suffered from lousy production(and drug abuse.) It was disappointing that songs like “Into The Void”, “Supernaut”, and “Megalomania” sounded like they’d been recorded in cardboard boxes with Radio Shack mics.
Fortunately the powers that be have found it in their wisdom to revisit these albums and give them the proper sonic treatment they deserve. Sabotage is the latest and man oh man, it finally sounds as rich and heavy as it deserved to back in 1975.
If you’re a fan, then you already know these songs. “Hole In The Sky”, “Symptom of the Universe”, “Megalomania”, “Am I Going Insane(Radio)”, and of course “The Writ”. The sonic difference is like going from a 27″ Zenith tube TV to a 4K 70″ big screen. These songs pop. “Hole In The Sky” has a heaviness to it that that muddied production from 1975 just couldn’t create. “Megalomania” explodes from the speakers throughout it’s nearly 10-minute run time. The difference is jaw-dropping, honestly.
Revisiting this album I’m also struck by the track “Supertzar”, which with it’s stacks of vocals almost gives the song an Italian giallo vibe. A coming together of metal riffs and chorale music is something to behold.
Black Sabbath albums after Master Of Reality have a reputation of going down in quality. I think there’s something to that statement, with the band’s deep dive into substance abuse, in-fighting, and general butting of heads. But I also think it’s easy to overlook some gems in the catalog. Thanks to these sonic adjustments and fidelity tinkering these great heavy metal tracks are getting their due respect. Sabotage, for all its shortcomings and internal band struggles, is a pretty amazing record.