Remember The First Time You Heard…Black Sabbath?

Seventh Star

Seventh Star (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Black Sabbath’s Seventh Star is not the most obvious starting point for a rock fan to be introduced to heavy metal’s most iconic band.

Growing up in a religious household presented the odd challenge for a young heavy metal fan not necessarily seeking ways to aggravate his parents.

I had a number of damage limitation strategies. (Kids reading this: take note…) Most obviously this would entail not buying records by bands with swear words in the title (such as The Crucif—): partly because of the needlessly offensive name but mainly because with a name like that I knew they were probably dreadful. Don’t know. Never heard them. Didn’t need to.

Controversial record sleeves could be overcome in three ways. I had a Mamas Boys album that featured a topless girl on the cover. That sleeve got unglued, turned inside out, and reglued.

I tackled the problem of Iron Maiden’s Number of The Beast by taping it off a friend. Piracy I know, but having a foot-square picture of a grotesque zombie operating a marionette Satan would have led to far too many questions – and potential future censorship. It scarcely mattered that Maiden were about as satanic as a pint of jellied eels (actually scratch that – they taste evil – let’s go with “as satanic as a pint of Fullers ale”). You have to pick your fights.

For the slightly grim, but less overtly satanic covers (Iron Maiden’s Killers for example) the whole thing was neatly sidestepped by buying the cassette. The visual impact of axe-wielding zombies is generally diminished when they are only three inches high.

Black Sabbath, however, presented their own problems. Whilst their album covers were inoffensive enough (not counting the sartorially offensive Bill Ward’s red trousers on Sabotage and the artistically offensive Born Again cover), just having the legend “Black Sabbath” on the cover put me off truffling out the back catalogue. Why would a band with a name like that NOT be into worshipping the devil and stuff?

Of course it turned out Sabbath were far more interested in extolling the virtues of healthier pursuits such as pacifism (War Pigs), metal robots (Iron Man) and er, cannabis (Sweet Leaf) than worshipping imaginary red-coloured beings with forked tails and goat’s horns on their heads. Satanists? Hippies, more like. Indeed, the lyrics of After Forever might sit quite comfortably in a copy of Hymns Ancient and Modern, (sample: “I have seen the light….God is the only way to Love”) just as long as you wrote a soul-sappingly dreary piece of hymnal organ music to accompany it in place of Iommi’s riffage and ignore the disparaging reference to the Pope…

It took a five star review of the Seventh Star album in Kerrang! magazine to unleash the moths from my wallet and encourage me to buy a Sabbath record for the first time – and without having heard it or any other Sabbath song first. On cassette.

It’s an unorthodox way to be introduced to the band. I hadn’t heard the Ozzy era stuff at this point.

It begins with a series of crashing snares, a thunderous chugging riff and the not insignificant pipes of Glenn Hughes roaring “THUNDER! Shatters the dawn! Raging With Fury! The King blah blah” (Note: He doesn’t actually sing “blah blah” but it’s difficult to work out exactly (is gone?) – and I’m not sure I’m missing out on anything much. Anyway – it’s pretty full on stuff – about being in for the kill, battles, bleeding and dying… What’s not to like?) Then comes a most amazing Wah Wah driven solo from Iommi and – well – heck, if you don’t want to listen to the thing by now I don’t know what else I can say. It’s as much fun in three and a half minutes as you’ll ever hear in a rock song.

The album itself began life as a Tony Iommi solo album, to be slotted in whilst Iommi awaited Ozzy to rejoin Sabbath post Live Aid, but when that didn’t happen the record was rebadged “Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi” at the record company’s behest (they weren’t silly – I doubt I would have bought a Tony Iommi solo record at the time – I’d never heard of him).

As a result, it is probably the least Sabbathy (yes, that is a word) record ever released under the name. It’s slightly glossier in the way that ’80’s metal tended to be and certainly more up-tempo. But it was well timed. Slow Sabbath riffs were unfashionable in a world where Iron Maiden had sped everything up, Deep Purple had made a comeback and Metallica were breaking into the mainstream with something called Thrash Metal. It would take Nirvana to make Sabbath riffs fashionable again.

In this record Glenn Hughes reminded everyone what an amazing voice he has, something The KLF realised when they asked him to sing on their America: What Time Is Love? single. Sadly Hughes’ drug problems were an issue at this time and he lasted no more than half a dozen shows on tour with Sabbath before Ray Gillen was brought in to replace him. It is Gillen’s soaring voice you hear on the bonus live tracks on the Deluxe Edition (the quality of recording of which is laughably bad – like a C- audience bootleg tape in mono – all that is missing is someone saying “excuse me mate” over a quiet bit – amazing it is on an official release).

Hughes and Gillen. Both amazing singers who recorded an album each with Sabbath – only one of which was released and only one tour between them!

But the album is a great Iommi showcase. The fantastic Heart Like A Wheel stands apart from the up-tempo stuff as a slow grinding blues with further Wah Wah based soloing of the highest order. Danger Zone and Turn To Stone rock hugely and there’s even an MTVesque ballad in No Stranger To Love.

I know this album isn’t the most highly regarded in the Sabbath canon. I know that there’s something special about those early Ozzy albums. This isn’t as good as any of the first half a dozen Sabbath records. But whether it’s because it is the first one I heard, or because it is so different to the rest, or because of Glenn Hughes, or just because there are some great songs on there, Seventh Star remains one of my favourite Sabbath records.

Record #108 : Black Sabbath (featuring Tony Iommi) – In For The Kill

Footnote: Hughes and Iommi recorded a further album together in 1996 called The Dep Sessions.



Categories: Heavy Metal

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60 replies

  1. I love this album. Always have! This wasn’t my first Sabbath though, that would have been Born Again. Back then I didn’t know who Ian Gillan was. To me he was “That guy from Black Sabbath”, and to me Black Sabbath was, “the band with the moustaches and singer with the long black hair.” No idea they had any relation whatsoever to Dio and Ozzy whom I also liked.

    But yeah, I love this record, and I agree about it being an Iommi showcase. I recall finding a Guitarspeak CD many years ago that had an Iommi solo track on it, and it struck me as very Seventh Star in direction. “Miranha” I think it was called?

    Cheers!

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  2. I always loved Black Sabbath but only had a few albums. As for records with swear words, I’ll never forget first playing Queen’s “A Night at the Opera.” The first song, “Death on Two Legs” Freddie sang, “and now you can kiss my ass good-bye.” I RAN over to the record player and lowered it. Luckily no one in my family heard it. But I did get in trouble when my step father found my Creem magazines for having bad words in them. I couldn’t read them again until I was 15 or 16. Great post!

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  3. I was a late Sabbath fan, didn’t hear them until 1980 and it was their forever famous “Paranoid” album. I saw them on this tour and while they were good, they only played an hour and fifteen minutes. Roy Gillen was a good vocalist, especially on the Dio era songs.

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  4. My first Sabs album was the Ozzy-era We Sold Our Souls comp but I didn’t have any problem stomaching later lineups.This is just an amazing record full stop. Hughes is incredible on this and Iommi’s lead playing was just getting better and better. He was always known for the riffs, of course, but in the 80s he really came into his own as a remarkable soloist too.

    So glad you mentioned Bill Ward’s trousers (or tights?) on Sabotage. Quite simply the most disturbing thing ever captured on an album cover.

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  5. I was lucky that my parents let me listen to pretty much anything; the only exception I can think of is my mom refusing to let me buy Venom’s “At War with Satan” because of the upside down cross on the cover.

    My introduction to Sabbath was through Ozzy’s “Speak of the Devil” album. (For a while, I even preferred those versions to the originals), and I honestly can’t remember at what stage of my Sabbath discovery I was when I heard “Seventh Star”, but I remember being shocked at how light “No Stranger to Love” was and I dismissed the entire album quickly.

    Reading your article made me want to revisit it though. 🙂 Thanks!

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    • I heard Venom once. It didn’t encourage a second listen. Glad you are giving this one another listen – be interested to hear how you get on!

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      • I did play it again, and I’m still lukewarm towards it. It’s midly interesting for the opportunity to hear Iommi do something a little different, but to me the songs just aren’t there. And apart from Black Country Communion, which I adore, I’ve never liked Glenn Hughes, and on this one he’s a turn off for me. 😦

        As for Venom, they sounded really intense back then, but in retrospect, they were just a very sloppy version of Mötörhead, with a fake Satan fetish, and inferior songs.

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      • I’m with you on Venom… a fair summary I would say.

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  6. I don’t have any Sabbath albums but, having recently discovered Iron Maiden (I had known about them almost as long as they have existed, but had never heard a song by them) some people have convinced me that some Sabbath might be worth checking out. I have heard a handful of Sabbath songs, of course. I recently read a couple of longer articles about Black Sabbath. As you mention, they are always in the list of devil-worshiping rock musicians, but according to the articles actually the opposite was true. Apparently they did have one paranormal experience and got scared out of their wits and took up the crosses as a serious Christian talisman against the evil powers.

    Actually, Bill Ward’s trousers (actually his wife’s tights) aren’t that bad. Actually rather tame for the 1970s. What about mid-70s Rush, with Peart sporting a huge moustache and wearing a kimono?

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    • Aren’t that bad? ! Really?! Hmmm…
      I think it’s up there with the Rush kimonos. (you’ve probably read my “Ten worst dressed rock stars” post – see the index).
      If you start listening to Sabbath – start with Paranoid and go chronologically from there. Stop at Sabotage. Listen to the first one. Then go to Heaven and Hell. Then Seventh Star.

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    • I would say that Bill’s red trouser were, like the man himself, lovably shambolic at least. And I suppose they were worn out of necessity (because he didn’t have any trousers on?!) which you can’t say about Rush’s awful kimonos. Did you ever see any photos of Rush with make-up on? Just the thought of it makes me shudder…

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  7. Great write-up. When I revisited the Sabbath catalog earlier this year, I was only familiar with the Ozzy & Dio-fronted albums. I had never heard any of the others, and my expectations were low.This one was a pleasant surprise. It may not have sounded like the Sabbath people were expecting, but it’s a great ’80s album nonetheless and I’m only sorry it took me so long to discover it.

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    • Hey Rich – I remember your review and was hoping you’d like if – it has stood the test of time better than some I think…

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      • I couldn’t agree more. I based my comments on the post Dio-albums on digital copies I made from a friend’s CDs a few years ago, so I still need to get a few of them on CD for my collection. I might have to get some of the deluxe editions, if I can find them at the right price.

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    • Hey Rich! Shameless self promotion alert! I just reviewed 1989’s Headless Cross yesterday, with Cozy Powell and Tony Martin.

      KamerTunesBlog (by Rich Kamerman) commented: “Great write-up. When I revisited the Sabbath catalog earlier this year, I was only familiar with the Ozzy & Dio-fronted albums. I had never heard any of the others, and my expectations were low.This one was a pleasant surprise. It may not have sounded”

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  8. I just fell into Sabbath with the friends I had…my first concert was Ozzy w Randy and 2nd was BS Mob Rules Tour. I do remember BS, Paranoid, Master of Reality, Sabotage and Sold Our Soul…all being around when I was young.

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