Henry Rollins once said, “You can only trust yourself and the first six Black Sabbath albums.” He also once said “I have many records, books and films featuring people who have taken their own lives, and I regard them all with a bit of disdain,” so, y’know, maybe don’t take all your advice from the Andy Rooney of Gen X.
It’s taken as the gospel truth that Black Sabbath were the first and perhaps most important band in all of heavy metal. Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, and Tony Iommi all joined together to rock back in 1968 and the world was never the same again. These blue collar schlubs escaped their depressing industrial jobs by creating evil, heavy blues rock in a musical landscape dominated by disgusting hippies. Damn near 50 years later, the sound Black Sabbath pioneered, for better or worse, still maintains a stranglehold over the world of metal. For every Spirit Adrift, there are a billion Goat Bongs.
Over eight albums of wildly varying quality, Ozzy Osbourne assumed Black Sabbath vocal duties as Tony Iommi ran the show. Tensions rose, and in 1979, Ozzy was booted from the band. In his place, a succession of vocalists took over including a future hologram, some Deep Purple cast-offs, and something called a “Tony Martin”. These Ozzy-less Sabbath records are occasionally interesting, but they sound stuck in the 70s, objectively the worst decade of music. Meanwhile, Ozzy got down to business defining the next decade of metal.
Blizzard of Ozz was released in 1980 and completely flipped the script on Ozzy’s work with Black Sabbath. Working with bassist Bob Daisley and guitar wunderkind Randy Rhoads, the band launched a fresh and frenetic take on Ozzy’s career. “I Don’t Know” and “Crazy Train” shoved brilliant riffs straight down the ungrateful throat of the world. “Mr Crowley”, an obvious throwback to Sabbath, upped the ante with frenzied guitar leads that Tony Iommi’s leather-tipped fingers could never duplicate. Rolling Stone wrote of the album, “the songs here are little more than riffs with a vocal line pasted on top,” which sounds fuckin’ awesome, and also describes literally thousands of bands across all genres of metal.
Black Sabbath was an ancient, resin-caked bong. By comparison, Ozzy Osbourne was a shimmering pile of diamond-encrusted cocaine. Every song presented a new opportunity for mind-melting guitar solos and catchy songcraft, tailor-made for kick-ass athletic events. Every middle school marching band on earth forces their piccolo players to mirthlessly toot out Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”. Have you ever heard some tuba-wielding dork blast out a cover of “Crazy Train”? It’s dope.
The follow-up, Diary of a Madman upped the ante even further with Randy Rhoads, at the ripe old age of 25, somehow getting even better at shredding the got-damn geetar. “Over the Mountain” and “Flying High Again”, opened up the record with riffs that still dazzle to this day. How much better could Ozzy’s band get?! The potential was unlimited! Unfortunately, some dickhole pilot decided to get fucked up and kill himself, a make-up artist, and Randy in an idiotic plane crash. Fuck.
Osbourne overcame this tremendous setback by finding replacement guitarists Jake E. Lee and future Sons of Anarchy extra Zakk Wylde, and he continued to crank out hit after hit: “Bark at the Moon”, “Shot in the Dark”, “Miracle Man”, “Hellraiser”, the list goes on an on. For six solo albums, starting with Blizzard all the way up to 1991’s extremely dope No More Tears, Ozzy put out music that was more energetic, more commercially successful, and more jam-packed with sweet widdly-widdly guitar action than anything Black Sabbath mustered after Ozzy’s departure. After this string of solo success, he decided to retire, leave retirement to start nü metal, and eventually usher in the hallmark of the 2000s with reality television.
Conventional metal wisdom will tell you that Black Sabbath is the be-all and end-all of all metal. Conventional metal wisdom will also tell you that you look cool wearing a leather jacket and corpse paint in Florida. Too often, metal fans fall into an echo chamber of opinions. It’s time to question everything. Do you really enjoy Dio’s take on Black Sabbath? Wasn’t Zakk Wylde’s work with Ozzy really, really siqqqq? Was the Black Album really all that bad? Sophisticated listeners will appreciate the foundation that Black Sabbath laid down in the cultural wasteland of the 70s while recognizing that Ozzy’s musical output in the 80s is scientifically better. Simply ask yourself, what’s more appealing? Slow, ditch weed stoner blues or keyed-up, musically extravagant hard rock? The answer is in your heart.