Not Fade Away: Revisiting ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ & the Riff that Saved Black Sabbath
By Brian Ives
In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we look back at Black Sabbath‘s fifth album, 1973’s ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,’ which turns 40 this week.
From 1970 through 1972, Black Sabbath pretty much wrote the book on heavy metal with their first four albums. By 1973, they were certifiable rock stars, with all the cash and drugs that title entailed in the early ’70s. In just a few years, frontman Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist/leader Tony Iommi, bassist/lyricist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward went from having not a cent to having more money than they’d ever known, and learning — as many rock stars before and since have — that cocaine’s a hell of a drug.
When I interviewed all four original Sabbath members about this album for an essay in The Black Box: The Complete Original Black Sabbath (1970-1978), drugs came up often in discussing Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Ozzy told me, “Cocaine was a big thing — the evil f***ing cocaine. We were a rock and roll band meddling with drugs, and we ended up being in a drug band meddling with rock and roll. It took over.”
Geezer Butler, who answered all of my questions via a seven-page fax, noted that their drug usage changed dramatically around this time: “We were using drugs as a necessity rather than for fun, and the cracks were beginning to show.”
To make things worse, Tony Iommi was experiencing writer’s block. The band returned to L.A., where they’d had a blast recording 1972’s Vol. 4. But while that album yielded metal anthems like “Supernaut,” “Under The Sun” and “Tomorrow’s Dream,” this time around the City of Angels offered no inspiration. “We had a huge mansion in Bel-Air whee we all lived while writing and recording Vol. 4, and it was the most fun we ever had,” Butler told me. “It was the ultimate extreme of sex, drugs and rock and roll, but with lots of laughter thrown in. When we went back, the atmosphere just wasn’t there any more.”