The latest in Black Sabbath‘s ongoing expanded remaster/reissue series, 1975’s Sabotage sees the band in vicious form, with a set of lawyer-fuelled gripes set to some of guitarist Tony Iommi‘s most energising riff work thus far in the band’s career. Recorded against a backdrop of constant legal hassles, over a period of what vocalist Ozzy Osbourne felt lasted like ‘four thousand years’, the meat of side one, Hole In The Sky, Symptom of the Universe and Megalomania, sees the band inventing eighties metal over the course of twenty minutes of very heavy music indeed.
Here it’s possible to see the band in the grip of anxiety, and, perhaps more pertinently to the sound of the music, cocaine. Gone are the bluesy, weed-influenced jams of the first four albums to be replaced by more direct, cutting and heavy sounds. Megalomania may well weigh in at nearly ten minutes in length, but in real terms it feels like almost a different band to the one that recorded a similarly lengthy Warning in 1969. Indeed, Sabbath may well have invented metal with their debut, but here we see their relationship with the genre mutating into something more sleek, and definitely more dangerous.
Symptom of the Universe is where that development is most obvious, as Iommi umleashes one of his greatest ever heavy metal riffs; here he challenges the band, especially drummer Bill Ward, to move away from the band’s blues and jazz roots to pastures less bucolic; that all three of his bandmates stepped up to the task is of lasting credit to all concerned. The live version included here on the second disc of this reissue simply smokes, and this song, for this reviewer at least, is one of metal’s crucible moments.
Side two of the album was more melodic, more experimental, and goes somewhat against Iommi’s claims that Sabotage was meant to be a heavy metal reaction to the more florid moments of the band’s preceding Sabbath Bloody Sabbath opus, but features genuinely fine material nonetheless; Am I Going Insane (Radio) showed the band were more than just Paranoid in terms of more accessible hard rock, whilst closing epic The Writ saw Osbourne defying band convention by eschewing bassist Geezer Butler‘s lyrical skills to pen a set of lyrics himself.
All in all a great, if somewhat underrated album. I’m not expert enough to determine whether the remaster adds anything to the album’s sound; original co-producer Mike Butcher worked hard with Iommi to achieve the album’s original bright tone, and that certainly remains on the review version I was given.
The live show included with the box set comes from New Jersey on the band’s North American tour of 1975, undertaken before Sabotage was released but containing the audience’s first contact with tracks like Hole In The Sky, Symptom of the Universe and Megalomania, all of which sit comfortably within a set already choc-full of the band’s much loved canon. The performances here are top notch, with Osbourne particularly impressive vocally; this performance has long been available as a bootleg album, but will still be new to many listeners, and certainly represents a chance to hear the band live and in steaming hot form.
The remastered Sabotage is out now.