What are your favourite Black Sabbath songs?
Black Sabbath; what metalhead doesn’t know their name? Even if you’re not a fan yourself, there’s no denying their importance in heavy metal history. For one, they are credited with inventing and pioneering heavy metal as we know it. With a lineup of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward, their first album in 1970 opened with the now-famous ominous three chords using the tritone pattern and Ozzy Osbourne’s mad occultist wail. From there, they would create dozens of classic songs, all driven by guitarist Tony Iommi’s mastery of the heavy blues riff, and Geezer Butler’s imaginative lyricism. They haven’t all been top quality, but the Sabbath machine has put out a total of nineteen studio albums, including this year’s Ozzy reunion album, 13.
Though the band also made fantastic albums with Ronnie James Dio (R.I.P.) as its vocalist, Ozzy is undoubtedly considered the definitive Black Sabbath singer, due to their best period taking place when he was fronting the band, up until his dismissal in 1979. Their focus on occult themes and generally darker lyrical subject matter made them a target for certain activist groups, but the band has never seemed to care, and in the end, they influenced the lyrical creativity of an entire new sound.
We have undertaken the immense task of narrowing down the top 10 Black Sabbath songs. It was a struggle, but we feel we’ve accomplished it.
Black Sabbath’s Discography:
Black Sabbath (1970)
Master of Reality (1971)
Black Sabbath Vol. 4 (1972)
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973)
Technical Ecstasy (1976)
Never Say Die! (1978)
Heaven and Hell (1980)
Mob Rules (1981)
Born Again (1983)
Seventh Star (1986)
The Eternal Idol (1987)
Headless Cross (1989)
Cross Purposes (1994)
10. Into The Void – Master Of Reality
Black Sabbath are credited with inventing, or at least providing the template for, every kind of heavy metal that exists today. Whether that’s true or not, they did have a vast impact on music. With “Into the Void” from the magnificent Masters of Reality album, they created sludge metal. The way that lumbering monster of an opening riff with its heavy tone, shifts into the woozy and crushing main body riff, combined with Ozzy’s trademark screech; create something that is akin to modern sludge and stoner doom metal. It is heavy, slow, and groovy. The brief but oh-so-sweet fast section in the middle gives the song a heightened sense of dynamics, but the star of the track is the sickly and roiling opening part, and the slogging, filthy verse.
This song oozes and creeps through your speakers, coating everything with a tainted film. Ozzy’s voice is quite suited to this song, echoing through the shroud of Iommi and Butler’s instruments. And then the song reaches its final minute. The way they move into the outro solo section is something to behold, conjuring the dirtiest riff on the song thus far, which is saying something. The solo is simple, as was the norm for Iommi in those days, but it made its impact felt. Iommi is one of the most creative guitarists to have lived, and this song is one of the best examples of that.
9. N.I.B. – Black Sabbath
In September, 1970, venerated rock critic Lester Bangs reviewed Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut, lavishing the band with praise, “Well, they’re not that bad, but that’s about all the credit you can give them”. Writing the album off as “stiff recitations of Cream clichés” and “wooden Claptonisms”, Bangs laments that Black Sabbath is “just like Cream! But worse”. Much to Lester’s chagrin, the Birmingham quartet’s brand of occult-inspired hard rock spawned another massive genre and a veritable legion of subgenres and microgenres, spreading from blues-based rock to all manner of previously unexplored dark nooks and crannies.
From its opening bluesy jam to its immensely catchy verse riff, “N.I.B.” has all the trappings of a hard rock classic. One of the least dark and spooky tracks on Black Sabbath, it straddles the line between the established rock form of the day and the nascent metal style showcased elsewhere on the album. Aside from the fact that the lyrics are written from the perspective of none other than Lucifer, “N.I.B.” is predominantly a blues rock jam. By adding a healthy splash of evil, Black Sabbath take a relatively simple love song and elevate it into something greater – this method is in effect across the entire album and provides the basic formula for the forging of heavy metal.
It’s hard not to get sucked in by the bluesy riffs in this song. It’s the fun side of Sabbath. Even if it does sound kind of like a Cream song.
8. Hand Of Doom – Paranoid
The first song on this list from the marvellous Paranoid album, “Hand of Doom” is another one of Sabbath’s multi-section, lengthier fares. It starts really slow and quiet, only the work of Geezer Butler and Ozzy Osbourne carrying the first two minutes of the song. From there, the riffs Iommi throws out are great metal/blues riffs as ever (as is usual with Iommi, let’s face it he is a veritable god). After a few minutes of alternating between pure intensity and slow, burning grooves, we see how well the three instrumental members of the band can work of each other, and how tight they are as a unit in a solo section where everyone is playing something different.
Also, it might be fair to say that this, along with “War Pigs“, is one of Ozzy’s best performances as a vocalist. His range is used very well, and he actually proves there’s some power behind his voice.
The song goes through multiple tempos, and is one of the most dynamic Black Sabbath songs. The build-up to the end, and then the quiet finish is one of the bands finest moments. “Hand of Doom” is a fantastic song, from a fantastic album.
7. Electric Funeral – Paranoid
The rechristening of Earth as Black Sabbath marked a commitment to the creation of dark music – music that spoke to the same recesses of the human mind as horror films. Horror is, at its core, a theater of fears, most notably humankind’s greatest fear: the fear of death. Heavy metal music began thusly, as an exploration of fear, death, and mortality.
“Electric Funeral”, quite appropriately, is a dirge. As the founding fathers of doom metal, Black Sabbath certainly know how to lay down a crushing groove. This song oozes darkness from every note, delivering on the promise of mother-frightening evil that most metal fans treasure. It is far from a surprise that, along with a few other choice Sabbath songs, “Electric Funeral” created the template for an entire subgenre of heavy metal.
The battery-in-the-back of this song’s deliciously demonic sound is its seriously enviable guitar tone. The main riff drips with malice, worming its way into the listener’s head, while Ozzy’s mournful voice preaches about the coming nuclear annihilation. It’s one of those irresistible riffs – one of those riffs that entice you to sing along even when there are no lyrics. Even when it fades out, its presence remains.
6. Iron Man – Paranoid
It can be claimed without accusations of hyperbole that “Iron Man” boasts one of the most iconic chord progressions in the history of rock n’ roll. Iommi and co. lay down riff after memorable riff, from the instantly recognizable opening to the closing leads. If one were to search for a prototype of heavy metal, “Iron Man” would be a safe place to start.
Although there are plenty of good things to be said for complex forms of heavy music, there is a perfect simplicity at the core of this song. It has no extraneous elements, no superfluous fluff: it flows from one section to another seamlessly, keeping the listener entranced throughout. Anyone who can avoid headbanging while listening to “Iron Man” must possess some sort of genetic immunity to metal.
Even today, “Iron Man” resonates as a fantastically catchy metal song and easily earns its place as one of the exemplary pieces of the Sabbath oeuvre. This track ages so well, Busta Rhymes and Ozzy teamed up in 1998 for a remix called “This Means War”, on Busta’s excellent E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event). It’s pretty cool, in a weird way, and helped introduce one young fifth grader to greatness of heavy metal.
5. The Wizard – Black Sabbath
“The Wizard” doesn’t quite sound like other Black Sabbath songs. It has the dark, foreboding quality that is characteristic of the band, but it is much closer to a traditional blues song. Crushingly heavy guitar riffs are blended seamlessly with harmonica in a way that few other bands at the time (or even now) could achieve. Early heavy metal was basically loud, distorted blues, and this song has always been a very clear example of Black Sabbath’s roots in the genre. That influence has been all but forgotten in the evolution of metal, and even in the doom subgenre spawned by the band, but this song in particular preserves the legacy of blues in heavy metal.
Lyrically, the song is much less sinister than it sounds. Loosely based on Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, the wizard inspires people and protects against demons and evil spirits. The protagonist in the song was also meant to represent the band’s drug dealer. I think that is a surprisingly accurate modern depiction of a wizard/shaman/holy man. This may not be the heaviest or most catchy Sabbath song, but it will always be a classic.
Blues is to heavy metal as __________ is to drug dealer.