A Look Back at Black Sabbath’s Debut Album
This essay first appeared in Best Classic Bands.
Steppenwolf may lay claim to the first use of the phrase in a song, but a strong case can be made that Black Sabbath was the undisputed progenitor of “heavy metal thunder.” Every defining characteristic of the Birmingham, England band’s self-titled debut would become a hallmark of the oft-maligned genre. And while critics often gave Black Sabbath short shrift during the band’s initial run, hindsight has proven that the group’s body of work between 1970 and 1978 is as impressive a collection of albums as one is likely to find in rock history. And it all started with 1970’s Black Sabbath.
Though the band formerly known as Earth wouldn’t display much in the way of imagination in the titling department – both the album and its opening track share a title – the music is startlingly original. Opening with a sound effects collage straight out of a “Hammer Horror” film – torrential rain, resounding thunder, ominous tolling of bells – “Black Sabbath” lets the sound effects continue for more than thirty seconds before unleashing a molten riff. That three-note riff is built upon the so-called “Devil’s interval” (also known as the flatted fifth, or more dramatically, diabolus in musica), a musical device dating back to the days of Wagner and Beethoven. Like those composers, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi uses the interval to connote doom and evil.
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About the Author
With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. After a stint as Editor-in-chief for a national music magazine, Bill launched Musoscribe in 2009, and has published new content every business day since then (and every single day since 2018). The 4000-plus interviews, essays, and reviews on Musoscribe reflect Bill's keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz, and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill's work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print. He regularly hosts lecture/discussions on artists and albums of historical importance (including monthly events Music to Your Ears and Music Movie Mondays), and is a frequent guest on music-focused radio programs and podcasts. In Spring 2023 he is co-teaching a history of Rock 'n' Roll at UNC Asheville's College for Seniors. He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues -- more than 30 to date -- and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's final album. His first book, Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2018, and in paperback in 2019. His second book, Disturbing the Peace: 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave, was published in 2021 by HoZac Books. His third book, What's the Big Idea: 40 Great Concept Albums will be published in 2024. Read even more about him here.