Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
Sometimes, out of chaos something wonderful springs. This is certainly the case with ‘Sabotage’ the latest release from the ongoing Black Sabbath super deluxe reissue series.
Born during a time of massive turmoil for the band as they fought a particularly nasty legal battle with their former manager Patrick Meehan, it’s an album that is full of some of their angriest yet most outstandingly creative work.
The fact that Sabbath were able to write at all with all the external pressures happening is something of a miracle, but the band seemingly channelled all the frustration into what is considered one of their finest works.
As with the rest of the reissues, there’s never been a better time to dip into the albums than now, the remasters adding a freshness and clarity to the music, subtle nuances clear for the first time. Whilst purists might argue that Sabbath’s doomy metal is meant to be heard through a thick sludge, these mixes bring a new light to the recordings that should please both the committed and the casual.
As well as the original album, the release adds a pair of discs covering a fiery date of their 1975 US tour and a fourth in the form of a reproduction of the Japan only edition of the ‘Am I Going Insane’ single.
Rolling, heavy and magnificent, ‘Hole In The Sky’ opens the album and pretty much sets the standard for everything to come, Tony Iommi’s central riff like being hit by a wrecking ball. If there was this seething mass of anger towards what Meehan was putting them through here, the band channelled it with an eviscerating force as all four members seem to be at the peak of their dark powers.
The brief acoustic interlude ‘Don’t Start (Too Late)’ acts as a momentary respite before the utterly titanic ‘Symptom Of The Universe’. Rightly regarded as one of Sabbath’s finest creations, the track is a monster in every aspect, its primal hard rock boogie intro turned up to maximum volume as Iommi’s guitar snarls, Bill Ward and Geezer Butler take flight and Ozzy unleashes one of his most unhinged vocals, the whole subsuming to the psychedelic outro section.
Following that was always going to be a hard task but ‘Megalomania’ rises to the challenge, its journey into the twisted psyche a heavy-duty delight. There’s a touch of mid 70’s Elton John styled glam rock, albeit it scuzzed up and extra weight added, in ‘The Thrill Of It All’ and ‘Supertzar’ ups the ante even more, its extraordinary choral work meets dark atmosphere still showstopping.
Whilst the single ‘Am I Going Insane’, presented here in radio edit form, was pretty much ignored at the time its nevertheless a very fine track, the quartet producing one of the most commercial and accessible pieces to date. Rammed full of melody and, again, going for a bit of a glam feel, this rocks but does it in a way that wouldn’t put it poles apart from what Sweet were doing at the time on the ‘B’ sides of their hit singles.
Closing track ‘The Writ’ ends the album on suitably agitated note, the rare Ozzy penned lyrics coruscating and ripping into their former manager in no uncertain way, the band pouring out their fury into a real maelstrom. Interestingly, the mid-section seems to bear a remarkable resemblance to Alice Cooper’s ‘Only Women Bleed’, ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’ having been released the same month as Sabbath were finishing recording ‘Sabotage’.
The sixteen tracks that make up disc two and three of the release show the visceral power of the band as they hit the road on the their North American jaunt, dipping into a career spanning set that covers some of their very best tracks. From ‘Supertzar’ through to ‘Paranoid’ you get to see what the band were truly capable of, a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut crushing all in their path, the recording far superior to the 1973 recording ‘Live At Last’.
With hindsight, Sabbath could have blown away this earlier ‘bootleg’ release from the vaults of Meehan as another piece of payback against his former associates if they’d brought out it at the time, predating the eventual release of ‘Live At Last’ by five years. With the ‘Am I Going Insane (Radio Edit)’ single backed by ‘Hole In The Sky’, this in itself is a little gem and certainly a nice piece of memorabilia for the set, the whole adding up to a great package for collectors.
One of the most important bands in popular music culture, Black Sabbath led the field from the very start and ‘Sabotage’ shows exactly why. The undisputed kings of heavy metal, you can’t get finer. Go and buy this now.