Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sadness kills the superman: SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH


While I expect most folks' point of entry into the world of Black Sabbath came through the radio staple studded Paranoid or possibly the We Sold Our Souls For Rock 'n' Roll compilation, I came in the side door via a TDK-90 dubbed with Sabbath Bloody Sabbath on side one and Sabotage on the reverse (today I still anticipate the tape garble that existed on that copy's "Symptom of the Universe"). I don't remember much about the guy in my 10th grade art class who made the tape for me, other than that he wore a Slayer cap every day which he refused to remove. I think we initially bonded over a shared affection for Ummagumma though, so it makes sense that he chose these kaleidoscopic albums from the middle of the Ozzy years rather than the aforementioned Paranoid or perennial catalog favorite Master of Reality to crack open my cranium to the Sabbath oeuvre.

One thing missing from that tape and well worth taking a look at is Sabbath Bloody Sabbath's killer cover art from illustrator Drew Struzan. A guy on the front is about to be consumed by demons while another on the back is dying or recently dead in bed surrounded by loved ones - but I've always seen it as the same guy, from different perspectives. The original gatefold (reproduced in the 1996 CD booklet along with lyrics and requisite live shots) features the four Sabsters in weird poses superimposed over what appears to be the bedroom of some old manor house. Mysterious, creepy stuff that really adds to the character of the album.

"Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" opens things with a towering grinder of a riff that could only emanate from the hands of Iommi before the track unexpectedly slips into an arid chorus of jazzy acoustic picking, a harbinger of the light and shade sensibility permeating the LP. Lyrically Geezer has the listener staring down a gun barrel of clinical depression, "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" serving as an incantation for the band's loyal army of dead end kids lost amidst this world of deception - extra points for Ozzy's defiant "You bastards!" pre-solo time. Even on this clear remaster the frothy low gear chording of the tune's second half serves as glorious sonic quicksand leading into its frantically whirlpooling end. 

Stately and ominous, "A National Acrobat" follows, it's harmonized main theme lending gravity to words of wisdom from a disembodied soul destined for eternal reincarnation - "the unborn child that never was conceived." Wild stuff. The track closes with a rapid succession of contrasting movements, like a crash course in Sabbath riffology. The instrumental titled "Fluff" could be seen as just that, featuring only Butler and a ruffle-cuffed Iommi laying down multiple overdubbed acoustic guitars, piano and harpsichord. It's a simple moment of pillowy beauty that at the very least gives the eardrums a chance to recover, though I hear it as an essential ingredient to the album's overall flavor profile, helping to draw out those other moments of ornamental eloquence that pop up throughout.

Amps buzzing again, "Sabbra Cadabra" begins life as a sweaty boogie rocker straight from the Foghat/Humble Pie playbook (if one given an extra malevolence when rendered by the Sabbath gang) before Rick Wakeman drops a sheet of Moog conjured ice all over the song's minor key breakdown for a sudden shift in atmosphere. "Sabbra Cadabra's" groovy finale has some buried electronically treated vocals that I mistakenly heard as a flute solo on my old cassette copy.

"Killing Yourself to Live" opens the album's second half steady and confident despite its burned out theme, Iommi's guitars bubbling underneath with a light tremolo effect, Ozzy's stereo panned "smoke it... get high!" ushering in a tempo shift into a rolling phrase that slowly peels back the blinds of reality. A bluesy shuffle that could've been lifted from the band's first album carries the tune home with some mad licks from Tony. "Who Are You?" may be the album's most unique number, replacing guitars with a layered, automated synthesizer melody that plods along like a sci-fi death march. Directed at some unseen god/overlord/oppressor, the tracks electronic foreboding extends through the moonlit piano/mellotron interlude inserted in its center.

Bill Ward's snare rolls drive along the music-biz lament "Looking for Today" which features an appropriately catchy melody, and like the title track eases into an acoustic chorus, this time featuring a flute in the distance. The lyrically rich "Spiral Architect" is set up with a brief classical guitar intro before electrics and acoustics combine on the songs vibrant main riff, one that signals the album's grand finale is underway. Tympani and strings appear and create an air of expansiveness swirling around the songs central theme of grounding oneself in a world gone mad, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath closing out with a break in the clouds, a final push forward to continue the fight.

No comments:

Post a Comment