Sabotage is easily the original Black Sabbath‘s most focused and consistent album, and a logical culmination of all the progressive tendencies that had been steadily creeping into the band’s arsenal. When Sabotage is in metal mode, its aim is true and brutal, perhaps more so than many of the band’s lauded classics, displaying a startling growth in melodic awareness and ambition, and, in many ways, officially handing over the baton of heavy metal to an eager Judas Priest following in their footsteps.
There are four classic songs here, notable for their role within the Black Sabbath canon, and the possibilities they afforded a young heavy metal genre, beyond simple bludgeoning power.
‘Symptom Of The Universe‘ is the down-picked cousin of ‘Children Of The Grave‘, with good claim to being the most metal song the band ever wrote, but it is no mere reprise of the older track; Bill Ward’s frenetic fills punctuating the end of the riff cycle, and Tony Iommi’s evolving guitar chops anticipate the work of a band no less violent than Slayer, still some eight years in the future. Of particular relevance is the use of descending triplets used in the break from the main riff, directly leading into what can only be described as a power metal gallop which Iron Maiden, in turn, would come to own.
‘Supertzar‘ is quite literally the music of revolutions (and, maybe, the real companion-piece to the Mario Bava horror movie the band named themselves after); a quasi-Wagnerian, orchestral sprawl that reverses the triplet formation from ‘Symptom Of The Universe‘ in harmonic crescendo with the accompanying choir. Slayer would play around with this idea in their dissonant, speed-metal fashion, at first tentatively on the main riff to ‘At Dawn They Sleep‘, and then with greater predominance on South Of Heaven and beyond.
‘Megalomania‘ is masterfully built, going against the tradition of Black Sabbath songs progressively retreating in intensity from their initially visceral high. ‘Megalomania‘, instead, starts slow, but then rises and rages, and never relinquishes that momentum. in the process charting the course for all metal to come. Does it make sense to slow down? Does the song need to change tack? What’s the process? Important questions, all, that more bands could ask of themselves.
‘Hole In The Sky‘ is perhaps the ultimate template for all the NOLA-stoner doom breed of bands, and it does carry that Southern-fried flavor more than any other Black Sabbath song, but treated on its own terms, as it should be, it is simple but furious, verse-chorus barn-stormer, and perfectly representative of the Sabbath ethos: “the power of the mighty riff”. A somewhat suspect and hackneyed proposition when taken far too literally by modern bands: the riff is but one component of a metal song, and rarely carries enough currency to offset an otherwise shambolic song construction. Black Sabbath‘s riffs may have had an aspect of the Biblical about them, but this truism is borne out in even their, at times, clunky song writing.
Time has been very kind to to this most architecturally fascinating of Sabbath album, and with a hindsight of forty years, one can begin to see it in the light of its role in shaping heavy metal.