4 out of 5 stars
Black Sabbath had quite a run extending from the unexpected success of the band’s 1970 debut to this, the outfit’s sixth release in seven years. Although there were still two more to come with the original foursome, Sabotage, released in 1975, is generally considered the last of the initial lineup’s notable albums. As the title implies, it was recorded during a stressful time when the members were suing former manager Patrick Meehan and tensions were running high. Those issues also made it the longest to record; the foursome took a year to craft its seven tracks (an eighth is only 45 seconds).
Still Sabotage was a striking set that returned the group to a less prog influenced sound than Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973). Much of this is back to the roots heavy riff rocking with sizzlers such as the scorching opening “Hole in the Sky,” the crunchy “Symptom of the Universe” and the oozing sludge of “Megalomania,” as powerful as anything in their catalog to date. But they also pushed their established envelope, specifically by bringing in a choir and orchestra for the unusual “Supertzar,” an experiment combining unlikely classical and metal elements that largely worked. The jury remains out for “Am I Going Insane (Radio),” a clear attempt to create a hit single complete with synthesizers and a catchy chorus that would generate crossover airplay, something Sabbath had never seen. It failed on about every level, but does show a willingness to try something new while keeping the lyrical darkness that remains Sabbath’s calling card.
Twin centerpieces “Megalomania” and “The Writ” clock in at over eight minutes each, yet never feel overlong or repetitious. The latter even includes an acoustic interlude with what sounds like a harpsichord and mandolin section that flows remarkably well between the complex, pummeling licks.
This “super deluxe” edition features the usual remastered sound and two discs of live performances from the associated 1975 American tour, most previously unreleased. Three tunes from Sabotage appear with the rest of the time given over to touchstones like “War Pigs,” “Children of the Grave,” “Iron Man,” and a frantic, closing “Paranoid.” Guitarist Tony Iommi is featured in a taut, creative and impressive eight minute solo section that displays his talents, not just as a six string shredder but a musician who can effortlessly shift from earth shaking intensity to delicate finger picking. A 16 minute “jam” (not a word you expect to see used in the same sentence as Black Sabbath) is much better than you’d expect, especially because the required for the era drum solo is held to just over three minutes.
Since the selections were cherry picked from various shows, the playing and performances are likely the finest from the tour. The audio is tough and punchy with clean separation that leaps out of the speakers. Only Ozzy Osbourne’s insistence on introducing every song slows the momentum.
A short, seven minute CD single of just two songs pushes the platter total to four. It might be geared towards collectors, but those tunes– both radio edits– could easily have been tacked onto the initial album which only runs 44 minutes, lowering the $50.00 list price of this package.