Released on this day 51 years ago, discover how the album singlehandedly formed the metal scene we know today.
From the magnitude of bands within the Metal scene, it is near impossible to find one that hasn’t been influenced by the discography of Black Sabbath. Held in high regard as the founding fathers of Metal Music, it is difficult to comprehend the impact that the Birmingham-based musicians had upon the music industry.
Looking back at their disadvantaged origins and the outrageous range of responses to the release, take a glimpse into how the band formed their debut album and explore why it became one of the most important albums of all time.
10. The Entire Album Was Recorded in Just One Day
Originating in one of the most poverty-stricken parts of the UK, it comes as no surprise that, upon their debut, Black Sabbath had extremely limited funds to create their first album. Still working full-time in their day jobs and striving to create a name for themselves across local venues, the band were only able to afford two days worth of studio time to create their album.
With one of the days put aside for mixing, the band were left with just one session to record the entire album from scratch. Working for twelve hours straight, the constrained time limits meant the band were scarcely able to do more than one take of each track… resulting in numerous mistakes and slip-ups in timing making their way onto the finished product.
9. It Reflected The Harsh Conditions Prominent Across The UK
As mentioned prior, Black Sabbath formed in one of the most poverty-stricken cities in the UK at the time, with Birmingham’s grey, industrial landscape becoming inextricably tied into their sound.
Deviating away from the glamorous imagery of Led Zeppelin and the ethereal, hopeful aura of Pink Floyd, the band constructed a much more brutal and honest representation of the UK at the time.
Not trying to conceal the harsh, restrictive living conditions in which they were raised, it was this blatant honesty in Black Sabbath’s sound that enabled them to, not only appeal to the masses, but also pave the way for a new genre in the process.
8. Many of the Tracks Were Inspired by Literature
Whilst most famous nowadays for creating the genres of both Heavy Metal and Doom Metal, it seems as though Black Sabbath rarely are given the credit they deserve for the lyrical content provided across their discography.
Unjustly shunned by many in the Mainstream and Religious communities, the band’s unorthodox image and associations with drugs often completely overshadowed their talent and sources of inspiration. Conveying a message of much more than simply drugs and satanism, the majority of the debut release came from a much more ‘respectable’ origin of literature and poetry.
‘Behind The Wall of Sleep’, for instance, came from the band’s love of American novelist, H.P. Lovecraft and his mythical novel entitled Beyond The Wall of Sleep. Further, the track, ‘The Wizard’ was created and based upon the character of Gandalf from J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels, The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings.
7. Problems During Recording Session Gave Iommi his Signature Guitar
As mentioned beforehand, the band’s lack of funds severely hindered the amount of time they could put into creating the debut album. However, this didn’t merely result in slight mistakes and blunders on the final takes, it also restricted Tony Iommi from recording on his guitar of choice.
Playing across the UK scene at various venues, lead guitarist, Tony Iommi was originally known for playing a white Fender Stratocaster at every show. Yet upon arriving at the recording studio, Iommi discovered the guitar had a malfunctioning pickup. Unable to sacrifice their already-limited time in the studio, Iommi was forced to play on his back-up guitar which rarely saw the light of day… his Gibson SG. A right-handed model which the left-handed guitarist had to play upside down, it was this stroke of bad luck that resulted in Iommi sticking to the SG permanently… now becoming his signature model.
6. Their Discussion of Taboo Subjects Made Them Known For All The Wrong Reasons
Whilst much of the album gathered inspiration from literature, the band’s infamous legacy came from their discussion of highly restricted topics limited by mainstream media.
Unadulterated and blatant discussions of themes including Satanism, Sex and Witchcraft not only threw the release into a minefield of opposing opinions, but also lifted restraints to many artists about what they could discuss in their music.
‘N.I.B’, one of the band’s biggest hits, explored a story of Lucifer falling in love with a human woman, exploring the question of whether or not a figure of evil could ever transform himself into a better person. Similarly, the self-titled opening track also takes Satanic connotations, exploring a moment where bassist, Geezer Butler, awoke from a nightmare to see a figure clad in black standing at the head of his bed. This was said to occur after the frontman, Ozzy Osbourne gifted the Catholic bassist a 16th-century book on Witchcraft the day prior. It was these unorthodox discussions of taboo topics that immediately threw the band into the public eye and explored new territory, previously unseen in the music industry.
5. The Album Initially Received Terrible Reviews Upon Its Release
It has become clear by now that, from the moment of their emergence, Black Sabbath went out of their way to reconstruct every rule in the music industry. From their controversial subject matter to their desire to represent the melancholy of the world around them, it comes as no surprise that once the album emerged, critics were unable to understand the new sound and, therefore, quick to judge the band as a whole.
Openly criticised as a drug-impaired and less-talented version of Cream, accused of promoting Satanism and creating a sound described as mindless-noise, most of the initial reviews didn’t hold back when it came to ripping Black Sabbath apart.
Although these contemporary reviews tried to force the band into becoming obsolete, the time Black Sabbath spent making a name for themselves in local scenes allowed them to prevail over the lack of critical acclaim. Despite horrific reviews from publications, their small-but-loyal fanbase provided support in excess for the release- allowing the album to sell well despite overwhelming criticism.
4. The Front Cover Was Going To Follow A Completely Different Route
For many years, various rumours circulated about the album’s front cover. The most prominent of which claiming that the woman photographed in the cover was not planned, but was merely a stranger who happened to appear at the time of the photoshoot.
This rumour has since been quashed, with it being revealed that the woman in the photo is Louisa Livingstone, a model who was hired on the day. Yet, what many fans don’t realise is that the initial design for the cover planned to capture Livingstone in an entirely different light.
Photographed by Keith McMillan and located at the Mapledurham Watermill in Oxfordshire, the band attempted to show Livingstone in a much more risqué and sexualised way during the photoshoot. Yet, it was only after a few photos were taken that the band reached the consensus to scrap the more provocative shots and create a more ominous and haunting aura with the model- resulting in what has become one of the most recognisable album covers of all time.
3. The Band’s Signature Sound Came From a Physical Impairment
More than their controversial subject matter, the thing that set Black Sabbath apart from all other bands on the scene was their unique, thunderous sound- now the most vital part of any Doom Metal release.
However, many fans remain unaware that this droning, eruptive sound wasn’t intentional, but rather stemmed from a workplace accident that Tony Iommi endured years prior.
Working in a sheet metal factory when he was 17 years of age, Iommi endured a serious accident whilst at work in which the fingertips of his hand were severed- leaving him unable to play the guitar in a conventional way. Determined not to sacrifice his love for his instrument, the musician instead detuned his guitar so it would be easier to bend the strings and constructed fake fingertips by glueing plastic from bottles of washing-up liquid to his hands. It was this innovative design that became the foundation for Iommi’s signature Doom Metal, droning sound- allowing the guitar to be seen in an entirely new way and offer new playing styles to musicians across the globe.
2. The Album Paved the Way For More Genres Than Just Doom and Heavy Metal
Collectively known as the founders of Heavy Metal and the band that created Doom Metal, the impact that Black Sabbath left from their first release is difficult to comprehend, even half-a-decade after its debut.
With their roots spanning from Blues-Rock, Jazz and Psychedelia, the range of acts that inspired Black Sabbath’s sound allowed them to do more than form a distinctive sound- it allowed them to pave the way for many sub-genres of Metal soon to come.
Conveying the dismal, hopeless and haunting aura from their Birmingham origins, the band have been credited with inspiring the Goth Metal genre with their droning tones and distorted, bone-chilling vocals. Similarly, with their deviation from constraints and thunderous, yet melodic riffs, the band have also been labelled as inspiring genres including both Stoner Rock and Industrial Metal as well as other sub-genres in our diverse Metal scene.
1. It Prevailed Against The Odds to Become One of The Most Important Albums of All Time
As already mentioned, from the moment Black Sabbath announced their emergence, an influx of criticism and outright hate was certain to follow. In a music scene that highly restricted and carefully monitored for anything deemed inappropriate, Black Sabbath were able to break every rule in the book with their debut album.
Discussing taboo topics without concealment and reinventing the meaning of Rock and Metal music, the sound of Black Sabbath was something previously unheard and difficult for critics to comprehend. Yet, due to their line of devoted fans, the album (despite terrible reviews) shot to No.8 on the UK Albums Chart and No.23 on the US Billboard Charts- remaining on the charts for over a year.
As a result of this overwhelming commercial success and excessive support from their growing number of fans, one by one, publications began to rewrite their reviews for the album, gradually becoming more supportive of the band and retracting their initial comments.
Now, held in impeccably high regard by metal fans globally and being credited with inventing Metal music (as well as many of its sub-genres), the album has been mentioned in the book, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and is consistently voted as one of the most important albums in history.
What are your thoughts on the album? Is there anything that we missed? Let us know your thoughts via the comment section!
To check out more about Black Sabbath, check out our piece on their Paranoid album HERE!