By Peter Lindblad
|Black Sabbath's sixth studio|
Born out of anger and frustration over ongoing litigation with former manager Patrick Meehan, 1975's Sabotage, perhaps the most underrated of Sabbath's acclaimed "first six" albums, was recorded at Morgan Studios in London. The whole soul-sucking process seemed to take an eternity, as Ozzy would lament in his autobiography, saying that "Sabotage took about four thousand years" to make. Ozzy got so fed up by the whole experience that the singer, who rarely wrote lyrics for Sabbath, penned what amounted to a scathing "diss" track with "The Writ," which asked if Meehan was actually Satan or a man and posited the confrontational query: "What kind of people do you think we are? Another joker who's a rock and roll star for you/Just for you." It was a rhetorical question for Ozzy.
Hyperbole aside, the interminable sessions for Sabotage, only made more exhausting by the band's legal entanglements, caused no shortage of headaches. Butler is quoted in the liner notes to Reunion, the band's 1988 live album, as saying that "music became irrelevant to me." And yet, it's clear from listening to Sabotage, even all these years later, that Black Sabbath put a great deal of care into making it. Although intent on continuing down a primrose path that would lead them further into prog-rock temptation – "Supertzar" is practically a choral piece, with grand arrangements and the London Philharmonic Choir wailing and moaning in sinister fashion in chasing a striking Iommi riff like spectral hunting dogs – Sabotage is a record that has a hot temper, the very title suggesting that Sabbath was sick and tired of being screwed over. And raw emotions have often fueled great rock 'n' roll.
Frayed nerves and all, and perhaps on the cusp of a collective nervous breakdown, the original Sabbath lineup muddled through Sabotage's difficult birth and, in the process, broke new ground in terms of songwriting structures and musical innovation. Although not exactly immediately accessible, Sabotage has endured, slowly becoming a fan favorite, even as everyone laughed at its ludicrous album art and Bill Ward in his red tights. An arty concept gone horribly wrong, although, to be fair, this seemed to happen a lot with Sabbath, the cover of Sabotage ranks right up there with those of Paranoid and Never Say Die! for sheer absurdity.
It's a journey with odd detours, including the completely out-of-character synth-pop flatulence of the universally hated "Am I Going Insane." Thankfully, it's the only real misstep here, although another confounding turn takes place after the opener "Hole In the Sky" essentially draws up the blueprints for stoner metal, with its heavy swing and charged, churning riffage. In a bizarre bit of sequencing, an instrumental titled "Don't Start (Too Late)" follows, allowing Iommi to display his prowess on acoustic guitar, as he pieces together complex little puzzles with an easy, smooth dexterity that proves, once and for all, that he's more than just a master of riffs. Which is great, except that any momentum gained from "Hole In The Sky" is stalled momentarily for an interlude that probably should have arrived in the middle of Sabotage, rather than at the beginning.
Enter "Symptom of the Universe," the proto-thrash beast that seeks and destroys, inspiring Metallica and the rest of its ilk to rise up from the gutter and revolt against everything '80s glam-metal represented. Trace the origins of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and here is where you end up, and yet, somewhere along the way, Sabbath decides the track needs a jaunty acoustic jam that seems to fly directly in the face of its evil, menacing riff.
All of this kind of works in a weird way, but upon its release, Sabotage must have been somewhat off-putting, although the forceful, straightforward push and solar-powered flashes of "The Thrill Of It All" and "Megalomania" seem to suggest a more grounded Sabbath that has freed itself from the shackles of doom and gloom. And then there's Ozzy's blazing vocals on "The Writ," so powerful and commanding. Of course, Sabotage precipitated a sad decline, their creative powers eroded by drug use that was the stuff of legend. They would recover, but not until Ronnie James Dio arrived. Sabotage was then, in some regard, a link to past glories, a life line for fans who wondered afterward if the old Sabbath was ever coming back. These days, even if it's not on the level of say Masters Of Reality or Vol. 4, it's damn close.
– Peter Lindblad