Who made it?: Black Sabbath & Mike Butcher (producers); Butcher & Robin Black (engineers); Vertigo (UK), Warner Bros. (US, Canada).
Who’s on it?: Ozzy Osbourne (lead vocals); Tony Iommi (lead guitar); Terry “Geezer” Butler (bass guitar); Bill Ward (drums); Gerald “Jezz” Woodruffe (keyboards).
Recorded at: Morgan Studios, London, February-March 1975.
Released: 28th July 1975.
- Hole in the Sky (4:00)
- Don’t Start (Too Late) (0:49)
- Symptom of the Universe (6:28)
- Megalomania (9:40)
- The Thrill of it All (5:52)
- Supertzar (3:42)
- Am I Going Insane (Radio) (4:15)
- The Writ (8:09)
- Blow on a Jug (0:23)
There’s underrated albums, and then there’s Sabotage. Black Sabbath’s sixth and most overlooked record was made during a very turbulent time for the band. By day, the metal pioneers were engaged in a fierce legal battle with their management. Ozzy later remarked, “I didn’t understand one fucking thing they were on about in court. We were no longer four kids from Aston having fun. We were working to pay our lawyers.” Such unrest is made evident on the last track, “The Writ”, with Butler’s stinging lyrics making the band’s feelings known:
Are you Satan? Are you man?
You’ve changed a lot since it began
Vultures sucking gold from you
Will they still suck now you’re through?
Sabotage was recorded entirely at night, and is a raucous middle-finger to the establishment. The album was a conscious decision to make a hard rock/metal LP in the vein of 1970’s Black Sabbath and Paranoid. Some fans and critics had been unappreciative of their previous effort, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973), which expanded the band’s sound with keyboards, strings and sweeping orchestral arrangements. It’s a classic record – as with most of their output with Ozzy – but Sabotage returned them to the defiant fury of their early masterpieces, while continuing the experimentation to a lesser-degree.
“Hole in the Sky” is the definitive Sabbath album opener in my opinion; Iommi’s pile-driving guitar is as distinct as Osbourne’s unmistakeable vocals. It was an instant gig favourite and it’s not hard to hear why: The riffage is prime Sabbath and the lyrics provide a memorable counterpoint, performed with unfettered power by Ozzy. Sabotage may be his finest hour as a singer, hitting notes he’d only previously hinted at. The seeds of his solo career were laid here. Their legal entanglements might have given the album its claws, but I’d like to think they were merely honing their skills. There’s serious growth here.
“Symptom of the Universe” is atypically fast for the group, but with a macabre riff that brings to mind the new wave of metal that came later; a primary influence on Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?”. The track is practically a summation of their work at the time, mixing crunching power-chords with moments of down-tempo tranquillity that had defined Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. The tone is maintained with the epic “Megalomania”, which runs for over 9-minutes but never outstays its welcome. It is a beautifully layered piece of work that builds to a stirring crescendo.
If there is a misstep on Sabotage, it has to be the poppy “Am I Going Insane (Radio)”, which is a little too heavy on the snyth and is missing a much-needed solo from Iommi. Fan polls have rightly cited it as one of the weakest tunes in their collection, although it’s a classic next to Volume 4‘s “Changes”. Remember that version Ozzy did with Kelly? I’m still trying to wipe it from my mind.
The highlight of the album for me, is “The Thrill of it All”, which has one of the most iconic Iommi intros in their discography. It represents everything that is great about Sabbath – soaring guitar work, impassioned lyrics and a need to rock harder than any other band around. The musicianship is tight and impeccably produced, which is why it’s so disheartening to see Sabotage routinely forgotten in Sabbath retrospectives. It was the beginning of the end for the Ozzy era, which might be why fans give it a hard time, but such backstage drama never stymied their talent. As the years go by, my love for Sabotage only grows. I recommend you give it another spin.
- Sabbath toured to promote the album with Kiss opening, but were forced to cut it short after Ozzy ruptured a muscle in his back following a motorcycle accident.
- Sabotage had taken longer to record and produce than Sabbath’s earlier work, making it the costliest at the time. Their debut, Black Sabbath (1970), had taken only 12 hours to record at the cost of a few hundred pounds.
- “Symptom of the Universe” was re-recorded on Ozzy’s 1982 solo live album Speak of the Devil.
- On some of the vinyl and cassette releases of the album (including remasters), “The Writ” is followed by the hidden track “Blow on a Jug”. It is a brief excerpt of Osbourne and Ward messing about during the studio sessions.
- Following Sabotage, Ozzy would only make two more albums with the band: Technical Ecstasy (1976) and Never Say Die! (1978).