It was Friday 13th, February 1970. Exactly 45 years ago. A band from Birmingham, England consisted of guitarist Tony Iommi, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward was releasing it’s debut full-length album. The name of the band was BLACK SABBATH and so was the name of their first release. For many, this record considered to be the godfather of heavy metal.
The album was recorded on October 16th 1969 at Regent Sound Studios in London. According to guitarist and founder of the band Tony Iommi, the whole album was done in just a single day with the band playing live in the studio and the whole session lasting 12 hours.
“Black Sabbath” was a revolutionary and quite dark record for the time both musically and lyrically. The opening self-titled track, based almost entirely on a tritone interval played at slow tempo on the electric guitar, creates a doomy, mournful vibe while the use of bells, thunder and rain sound effects makes the song even darker.
Key to the band’s new sound is Iommi’s distinctive playing style that he developed after a welding accident at the age of 17 in which the tips of the middle fingers of his fretting hand were severed. Iommi created a pair of false fingertips using plastic from a dish detergent bottle and detuned the strings on his guitar to make it easier for him to bend the strings, creating a massive, heavy sound.
Ozzy’s harmonica on “The Wizard” (a track inspired by the character of Gandalf from “The Lord Of The Rings”), betrays the rock-blues influences of the band. BLACK SABBATH were obviously influenced by LED ZEPPELIN, DEEP PURPLE and BLUE CHEER but, the same time, they were ready to set new standards for volume and heaviness. The dirty bass-lines of Geezer Butler boosted the loudness for good, especially on classic anthem “N.I.B.” where the almost graceless voice of Ozzy singing “My name is Lucifer, please take my hand” was creepy itself.
The lyrics of “N.I.B.” are written from the point of view of Lucifer, who falls in love with a human woman and “becomes a better person” according to lyricist Geezer Butler. Contrary to popular belief, the name of that song is not an abbreviation for “Nativity in Black”; according to Osbourne’s autobiography it is merely a reference to drummer Bill Ward’s pointed goatee at the time, which was shaped as a pen-nib.
When the album released, it firstly received negative reviews from the majority of music critics who described BLACK SABBATH as “A copy of CREAM but worse”! However, the record later recognized as a significant milestone in the development of heavy metal music.
The “Black Sabbath” album cover features a depiction of Mapledurham Watermill, situated on the River Thames in Oxfordshire, England. Standing in front of the watermill is a figure dressed in black. The name of the woman pictured on the front cover is forgotten, though guitarist Iommi says that she once showed up backstage at a Black Sabbath show and introduced herself.
According to feelnumb.com, which featured an article on the album cover, ‘Not much is known about the eerie woman used in the photo other then she was a model/actress hired for the day and her name was Louise.’
The inner gatefold sleeve of the original release was designed by Keith McMillan (credited as Marcus Keef) and featured an inverted cross with a poem written inside of it. Allegedly, the band were upset when they discovered this, as it fuelled allegations that they were Satanists or Occultists; however, in Osbourne’s memoir, he says that to the best of his knowledge nobody was upset with the inclusion.
“Suddenly we had all these crazy people turning up at shows,” Iommi remembered in Mojo in 2013. “I think Alex Sanders (high priest of the Wiccan religion) turned up at a gig once. It was all quite strange, really.” The album was not packaged with a gatefold cover in the US. In the liner notes to Reunion, Phil Alexander states, “Unbeknownst to the band, Black Sabbath was launched in the US with a party with the head of the Church of Satan, Anton Lavey, presiding over the proceedings…All of a sudden Sabbath were Satan’s Right Hand Men.”
Reference: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone Magazine