On This Day (February 13)…Black Sabbath Debuts

February 13, 1970 happened to also be Friday the Thirteenth. There was no better day, then, for Black Sabbath to release their self-titled debut album.

File:Black Sabbath debut album.jpg
Album cover. Retrieved from here.

The debut album was reportedly recorded in around twelve hours the previous autumn with very little rerecording and a few effects added over the top. With it, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward and Ozzy Osbourne introduced their unique style to the world.

Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Bill Ward and Ozzy Osbourne in 1970. Retrieved from here.

Perhaps most interesting of the bunch is the title track, a creepy tale of a figure in black and all that comes of it. Music-wise, it is built around a tritone (an augmented fourth) played on guitar that was tuned down half a step. The tritone is so dissonant that it was avoided for a long time in Western classical music and known as “the devil in music”. Probably the most well-publicized use of this chordal structure is in Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre”, a connection Black Sabbath would doubtless appreciate!

Critical to the original album was quite frosty, with Lester Bangs at Rolling Stone Magazine calling them a ripoff of the recently-defunct band Cream. As with many of the nastier putdowns of those days, his putdown has some rather classist undertones as well, calling the Birmingham-based group “unskilled laborers”.

It nonetheless sold well, hitting #8 in UK album charts and being certified gold by the RIAA just over a year later. Along the way, they it helped birth the genre of heavy metal.

For what it’s worth, Rolling Stone Magazine themselves look back more fondly upon the album, ranking it as the 44th-best debut album of all time and showing once again how time changes many perceptions.

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