The New European: Precious metal

50 years ago, Black Sabbath released two albums that created a brand new sound.

It was music with cinematic ambition. First torrential rain, then a tolling bell, thunder, and a dissonant, sinister guitar riff which would have been wholly appropriate as the announcement of the entrance of the devil himself.

When Ozzy Osbourne intoned lugubriously ‘What is this that stands before me?/ Figure in black which points at me?’, describing a ‘Big black shape with eyes of fire’, the eponymous opening track of Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut album indeed revealed itself as a horror story on vinyl.

Doom-filled and ominous, that opener still has a spine-chilling power 50 years after its release.

Appearing on Friday the 13th February 1970 and bearing an unsettling, grainy image of a witchlike figure in the woods on the cover, Black Sabbath’s landscape was populated by wizards, devils and evil women.

It was also a record which changed the course of musical history, despite having been recorded in a single day, the band using the time allotted in a London studio to just romp through their live set in the absence of any better ideas, recording live with minimal later overdubs.

Black Sabbath not only announced the band as the third and final part of the holy trinity of ‘heavy’ British bands, alongside Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple; no-one had ever committed anything quite so much like the sonic equivalent of a sledgehammer to tape before and the album would come to be seen as the first heavy metal record…

The New European, 24 September 2020, pp. 33-37.

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