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