It’s generally accepted that the first four from the Birmingham purveyors of doom are indispensable, with the quality dropping off after the release of 1973’s ‘Vol 4’ (which itself received the Super Deluxe treatment earlier this year). And while the final brace of Ozzy Osbourne-fronted albums ('Technical Ecstasy', 1976, and '1978's 'Never Say Die') were less focused, 'Sabotage', along with its predecessor 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath', mark the line in the sand for the original era of Black Sabbath.
Judged purely on its opening salvo however, you’d be forgiven for thinking that 'Sabotage' is one of the band’s strongest releases. Kicking off with the driving dirge of ‘Hole in the Sky’ which hits the listener squarely like a tonne of Accrington brick, its clear that this is Black Sabbath in ferocious form.
A brief but beautiful Tony Iommi interlude ‘Don’t Start (Too Late)’ comes next, and that gives way to one of the undoubtable highlights in the Sabbath cannon, the towering ‘Symptom of the Universe’. An epic, and contender for most riffy Sabs number since ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’, it's a towering rollercoaster. With Osbourne wailing at the top of his range and hitting heights that he'd scarcely scale again, a changing pace midway transitions to a jazzy improv outro, that showcases a side to the band that is oft forgotten.
It’s an exhilarating start that runs a gambit of styles, moods, and tempos, but it couldn't last, and the latter half of the album is much less impressive. Experimenting with their sound, highlights however include the dreamlike ‘Megalomania’ and terrifying ‘Supertzar’, complete with orchestra and choir.
You probably already know all that however, and if you do, it’s the unreleased material that will entice, which includes thirteen previously unreleased live cuts that were recorded during the quartet’s U.S. tour for the album. And while we probably don’t need another live version of ‘War Pigs’, to hear ‘Hole in the Sky’, ‘Sabra Cadabra’, and ‘Spiral Architect’ in particular from this period, is a real treat.
Presented, as with the others in the series in a beautifully lavish box, the LP version is spread across four discs, and comes with extensive liner notes in a hard backed book, a replica tour programme, poster and a bonus 7”. It’s a simply stunning package. The set is also available in CD format.
If the chronology continues along this route, Ozzy’s swansong - 1978’s ‘Never Say Die’ - should be due next. It’ll be interesting to see what bonuses come with that one, but until then, crank this up; you’ll never hear Ozzy sing at this range again.
Black Sabbath 'Sabotage - Super Deluxe Edition' is out now, via Warners. Click here to order.