Black Sabbath is a British heavy metal band originally composed of John "Ozzy" Osbourne (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Terence "Geezer" Butler (bass), and Bill Ward (drums).
Black Sabbath formed in Birmingham, England in the late 1960s under the name Polka Tulk Blues Band (soon shortened to "Polka Tulk"), and later Earth. Initially a blues rock band, Earth moved in a darker direction when Geezer Butler, a fan of the black magic novels of Dennis Wheatley, wrote an occult-themed song titled "Black Sabbath" (the song name was apparently inspired by a 1963 Boris Karloff film). When the band found themselves being confused with another local band called Earth, they adopted the song title as their new name.
The newly-named Black Sabbath adopted darker lyrical themes and a slower, ominous style, and became the definitive heavy metal band, often ranked above Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Judas Priest in importance and influence in the genre.
Even though Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and Deep Purple had a profound influence on the emergence of hard rock and heavy metal music, Black Sabbath was the first true heavy metal band. The group found its signature sound almost by accident. After seeing a horror movie together, Ozzy Osbourne reportedly said to Geezer Butler, "If people pay to see scary movies, why wouldn't they pay to listen to scary music?" The band began to purposely write dark, ominous riffs in an attempt to be music's answer to horror movies.
However, much of the group's material featured acoustic guitar, piano, symphnony orchestras, keyboards, and even horns (!). After the band's first three albums, the group became increasingly experimental and progressive, leaving much of their dark metal roots behind.
With an extremely gifted rhythm section and the extraordinary on-stage antics of Ozzy Osbourne, the band enjoyed success with memorable songs and brutal riffs beginning with their first album, the eponymous Black Sabbath (1970). Their follow-up album Paranoid (also 1970) was a tremendous success, bringing them even greater attention in America and the UK.
The content of the songs (both originals and cover versions) from both albums demonstrated a tongue in cheek interest in the occult and black magic. This was a crucial step in establishing the "darkness" and "heaviness" of later heavy metal lyrics, and Black Sabbath was the first group to feature such lyrical content, almost to the exclusion of other topics. Led Zeppelin, The Doors and others might have hinted at magic or the occult, but few contemporaries could match Black Sabbath for directness, such as "My name is Lucifer/Please take my hand" (from Black Sabbaths "N.I.B."). Butler wrote most of the lyrics.
Another innovation was the by-product of an accident: Iommi's fretting fingers were injured in an industrial accident during his early tenure with Earth. He was working in a sheet metal factory at the time and the tops of the two middle fingers on his right hand were sliced off. Initially, he forged himself prosthetics from a melted plastic detergent bottle. The injured fingers were understandably tender, so Iommi downtuned his Gibson guitar from standard E to C#. The resultant slackness of the string allowed him to play with less bother to his fingertips. Butler also downtuned his bass guitar to more easily follow Iommi's playing. The lower pitch often seemed "heavier" or more substantive, and Black Sabbath were perhaps the first popular group to downtune. The practice of downtuning is now common — perhaps even standard — among metal groups.
Black Sabbath released another smash hit in 1971, Master of Reality. This was the first Sabbath album to feature a significant amount of acoustic material ("Solitude" contained a flute solo by Iommi). This was a crucial and often overlooked switch in style by Sabbath, as they are largely known only for their simple, dark riffs from their earlier releases. By the time the band released Black Sabbath Vol. 4 in (1972), they were a full-fledged progressive rock group. Featuring the hit "Changes" (containing only vocal, piano, and strings) and sonic rock anthems like "Supernaut" and "Snowblind," Black Sabbath Vol. 4 was the groups most mature record to date.
By this point, the band was one of the most popular bands in the world, and was a major concert attraction. Arguably the band's creative peak, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973) saw the band work with Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman (who remains a close friend of the band today). The album contains some of the strongest Black Sabbath material, including the acoustic space rock voyage, "Spiral Architect," and the hanutning prog-rock workout, "A National Acrobat."
By 1974, the band was heavily addicted to drugs and experiencing major management problems (the group was managed by Ozzy's future father-in-law, Don Arden). The management problems and then a label change from Vertigo to WWA disrupted the release schedule of the band's new album. Despite the troubles, Sabotage was released in 1975 with continued success. However, drug problems, continued experimentation in their music style (Gregorian chants and a chorale of monks highlighted "Supertzar"), the hard rock scene's changing environment and some internal issues were affecting the stability and output of the band.
Technical Ecstasy (1976) turned out to be a commercial failure. The album was laden with symphony orchestras, synhtesizers, and even drummer Bill Ward singing a Beatles-esque pop song. Some consider it one of the group's most ambitious records, yet fans of the classic Sabbath formula were disillusioned. After the 1977 tour, Ozzy Osbourne stopped turning up at band rehearsals. The remaining band members even recorded music with singer Dave Walker, formerly of Fleetwood Mac, but Ozzy continued on with Sabbath, releasing the highly controversial Never Say Die! (1978). By far the band's most experimental release, Never Say Die! is widely regarded as an excellent album (some hardcore fans call it their best), but a poor Black Sabbath album ("Breakout" featured a 15-piece horn section). Like the previous album, its sales were unfortunately poor.
Due to internal conflicts and a shown lack of commitment, Osbourne was asked to leave the band in 1979, leading to a surprisingly successful solo career in the long run. Ozzy went on to become one of the most successful artists in the history of heavy metal. He was replaced by former Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio.
History (1980s, 1990s)
Black Sabbath's next album (and first with singer Ronnie James Dio), Heaven and Hell, proved to be a success, and saw the band's highest charting since 1975s Sabotage. It was on this tour that Ronnie James Dio popularized the "horns" hand guesture, which has since become a symbol of heavy metal music in general. The album also marked the inclusion of Quartz's guitarist-turned-keyboardist Geoff Nicholls, who although hasn't been consistantly credited as an official member, and has often been forced to play live shows from backstage for supposed aesthetic purposes, ended up co-writing and staying with the band through all other incarnations. During the tour, drummer Bill Ward quit the band for personal reasons (he had lost both parents in a short about of time, and had some alcoholism problems). Vinnie Appice joined to complete the tour and then record the next album Mob Rules, whose title track appeared in the movie Heavy Metal.
The unauthorized release in 1980 of the live bootleg Live At Last (recorded in the Ozzy era during the 1975 Sabotage tour) prompted the band to properly record a live album on the Mob Rules tour, titled Live Evil. However, during the mixing of Live Evil, internal band problems and nasty accusations developed, which lead to Dio and Appice quitting the band to form Dio. Bill Ward returned to the drum throne and Ian Gillan of Deep Purple fame became the new singer. This line-up recorded the album Born Again, but once again Bill Ward dropped out of the tour, being replaced by Bev Bevan of Electric Light Orchestra. Although the album surprisingly ended up being one of their most sucessful ones to date (hitting #4 in the UK charts), things didn't last, as Ian Gillan left to reunite with Deep Purple. Drummer Bill Ward once again returned to the fold, and the hiring of new singer David Donato was officially announced in 1984. However, Donato was promptly fired after giving an allegedly horrible interview in Kerrang! magazine.
It was at this point that the band's frequent line-up changes, compounded with Ozzy Osbourne's increasing success in his solo career and side-taking from music critics, really ended up putting the band under Ozzy's shadow. Founding member Geezer Butler quit out of frustration and formed the Geezer Butler Band at this time, which didn't end up releasing any albums. The original line-up of Black Sabbath reunited for one three-song show at Live Aid in 1985. After this, Tony decided to record a solo album and enlisted the help of longtime Sabbath keyboardist Geoff Nicholls (who was finally made an official member) and vocalist Glenn Hughes, formerly of Deep Purple and Trapeze. Tony Iommi also got engaged to famous female heavy metal star Lita Ford, and enlisted the help of her band's bassist (Dave "The Beast" Spitz) and drummer Eric Singer, (later of KISS and Alice Cooper) to round off the line-up. However, record company pressure caused the album Seventh Star to be released as Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi.
Early in the tour for Seventh Star in 1986, Glenn Hughes got into a fist fight, and suffered severe blood clotting in his throat which made him lose his voice. An unknown young American singer by the name of Ray Gillen (no relation to Ian Gillan) was tapped for the job and finished the tour. Although the morale in the band was very high when they started recording The Eternal Idol (former drummer Bev Bevan had returned as a percussionist, and a second bassist, Bob Daisley, also joined), the new Black Sabbath hit a devastating series of catasrophes involving mismanagement and financial debt, mainly from poorly planned use of the world's most expensive recording studio. As a result, Ray Gillen left the band during the recording sessions. He later hooked up with ex-Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Jake E. Lee to form the rather successful band Badlands (which would later include Eric Singer).
Singer Tony Martin was brought in to re-record all of Gillen's original vocals on the Eternal Idol tapes, and the album was finally released. Tony Martin proved to be the perfect vocalist for the newly revitalized Black Sabbath. Though he somewhat resembled Dio, Martin clearly had his own style and also contributed some of the group's strongest lyrics.
After the recording of The Eternal Idol, most of the band quit Sabbath, leaving Iommi, Martin, and Nicholls to recruit bassist Jo Burt and former Clash drummer Terry Chimes for the short-lived 1987 Eternal Idol tour.
However, a significant degree of band stability finally came back to Black Sabbath by 1988 with the staying of Tony Martin & Geoff Nicholls, and the addition of loyal drummer Cozy Powell, who replaced Terry Chimes. Powell, a legendary drummer, had had success with his own band, as well as with Rainbow, Whitesnake, and ELP. With bassist Laurence Cottle replacing Jo Burt, Sabbath released the critically acclaimed Headless Cross album in 1989. An MTV video for the title track recieved considerable airplay, and was released to mostly positive reviews. After the Headless Cross sessions, Laurence Cottle was replaced by veteran bassist Neil Murray (a former bandmate of Cozy Powell's in Whitesnake). Sabbath released Tyr in 1990, cosnidered by many to be one of the best Sababth albums released in the post-Ozzy period. The group toured extensively throughout 1990 and 1991, as sales for the highly praised Tyr album continued to rise. Then the reunions happened.
Tony Iommi cleaned house in 1992 to reunite the clasic 1980s lineup of Black Sabbath. Foudning member Geezer Butler, along with Ronnie James Dio and Vinnie Appice, joined up with Tony Iommi once again (this was the same line-up from 1981's Mob Rules and (1982's Live Evil) and together they recorded Dehumanizer (1992). Playing to larger audiences then they had in nearly a decade, the rejuvinated Sabbath enjoyed renewed success with the powerful Dehumaziner album and tour. It was around this time that Ozzy Osbourne announced his retirement from music. He kindly requested that Black Sabbath open up for him on his last two shows at Costa Mesa, after which would be Ozzy's solo set, and the night closing with a reunion of the original Black Sabbath line-up. Dio refused to participate, pointing out that the shows were booked without ever asking him, that Ozzy had strongly slagged him and the band in past interviews, that that Black Sabbath shouldn't be anybody's opening act.
At the eleventh hour, Dio quit to return to his highly successful solo band, and Rob Halford of Judas Priest was brought in as a last-minute replacement (specifically for this event only). In the end, Ozzy decided not to retire (following his "No More Tours" tour with the hilariously titled "Retirement Sucks" tour), and contracts were all ready for a new album and tour from the original Black Sabbath line-up, but then Osbourne decided at the last minute that he didn't want to do it.
After the Dio/Halford debacle, Vinnie Appice was replaced by former Rainbow drummer Bobbi Rondinelli. Vocalist Tony Martin and keyboardist Geoff Nicholls returned to the band and Black Sabbath recorded the superb Cross Purposes, the first Black Sabbath album to feature founding bassist Geezer Butler since 1983's Born Again. Cross Purposes Live, a CD and video combination, was released in late 1994, after which Bobbi Rondinelli left the group mid-tour. His replacement for the rest of the tour was, surprisingly, original Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward. After the tour, both Ward and Butler parted ways with Iommi, Martin, and Nicholls.
Another reunion was on tap in 1995. This time the Tyr era group would again join forces, as drummer Cozy Powell and bassist Neil Murray rejoined Iommi, Martin, and Nicholls for the Ernie C.-produced Forbidden. To this date, Forbidden remains Black Sabbath's most recent full-length studio album recorded by any line-up. After the recording of the album, Cozy Powell left again and was replaced for the tour by a returning Bobbi Rondinelli.
In 1996, Castle Records remastered and re-released Black Sabbath's catalog on CD up through Eternal Idol 1987, and a 1988-1995 compilation titled The Sabbath Stones was released to finish Tony Iommi's contract with the record label.
In 1997, Ozzy Osbourne launched his wildly successful Ozzfest metal festival tour, which he headlined on a nightly basis. For the last part of his set each night, he was joined by Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi for a rundown on several Sabbath classics (Faith No More drummer Mike Bordin was on drums). However, in December 1997, original drummer Bill Ward joined forces with Osbourne, Iommi, and Butler to reform the original Black Sabbath for the first time since 1979.
With the full original line-up now together, they recorded the double live album Reunion in 1998, which included two brand new studio songs. Due to health reasons, Bill Ward was replaced on the 1998 tour by former Sabbath drummer Vinnie Appice, but Ward returned to the band the following year. The original Black Sabbath remains together to this day.
Black Sabbath has since released at least one authorized double-CD compilation, one double-CD live compilation, and an eight CD box set. The band had writing sessions together in 2001, and played one new song ("Scary Dreams") on the subsequent tour. However, a new studio album has yet to be released. The band intially began work on a new album in 2001 with legendary producer Rick Rubin, but Ozzy's solo contract has delayed and perhaps killed further progress on the album. The band took three years off before returning to the road in 2004 to headline yet another Ozzfest tour, celebrating their 35th anniversary.