Few bands are as revolutionary as Black Sabbath. They basically created heavy metal. A bunch of guys in Birmingham were getting angry at the monotony of their lives and they used loud, aggressive, rocking music to escape that. They’re an inspiration to all of us to channel our anger at the world into art. It will find an audience, because everyone’s angry at the world! Black Sabbath have been on and off for years – kind of like Ross and Rachel – but after a triumphant comeback in 2013, they have sadly decided to close up shop forever with their “End of the End” tour. But at least they’re leaving behind some great albums. Here are all of those albums, ranked from worst to best.
Forbidden sucks. Everyone agrees. The fans, the critics, the general public – Forbidden is simply not a good album. It suffered from last minute changes to the band’s line-up and a mismatched collaboration with some members of Body Count (including Ice-T) and all of the members of the band recording their parts of the album separately – you can’t get any energy or chemistry among the band if they’re not at least all in the recording studio together at the same time. How hard is that? Well, technically, they were all contracted elsewhere, but still! Blender magazine called Forbidden “an embarrassment” and “the band’s worst album.” Ouch!
18. Never Say Die!
Never Say Die! was the last album that Ozzy Osbourne recorded with Black Sabbath until he reunited with them 35 years later. The fact that he’s on his way out is clear from the way the album has been hashed together and it’s being pulled in all kinds of different creative directions. It’s like a latter day Beatles album. The cracks in the band’s dynamic are starting to show. Osbourne later decided he hated the album: “The last album I did with Sabbath was Never Say Die! and it was the worst piece of work that I’ve ever had anything to do with. I’m ashamed of that album. I think it’s disgusting.” He doesn’t remember it fondly, does he?
17. Born Again
The best bands are the ones who meet when they’re nobodies, get together and start jamming, and then go on to become a huge hit as a close-knit group of rockers. That’s how the original line-up of Black Sabbath got together. The worst bands are the ones who are manufactured and put together by producers, like One Direction. Sadly, that’s how the Black Sabbath line-up of Born Again got together. Guitarist Tony Iommi said that the line-up was “put together on paper” by their new management. It was the band’s first and only album with Deep Purple lead singer Ian Gillan, who was chosen because, in Iommi’s words, “his shriek is legendary.” It’s an interesting album, but one that was manufactured by corporate schmoes.
16. The Eternal Idol
Black Sabbath’s The Eternal Idol finds the band at a time when they’re kind of on the ropes. The heights of fame that they had in the 1970s when Ozzy was at the helm had faded away and all that was left of the band’s initial line-up was lead guitarist Tony Iommi. The 1980s were in full swing and cheesy pop music was on the rise. It seemed like Sabbath’s time was over. And then The Eternal Idol came out. It was quickly swept under the rug by rock music enthusiasts and Black Sabbath devotees, but Iommi has since reflected on the album and believes that it deserved a lot more praise, particularly for the track “Ancient Warrior,” and he has a point – it is a great track.
15. Cross Purposes
Not even Ronnie James Dio stuck around for Cross Purposes, so it’s not only Ozzy-less, but it’s also Dio-less. So, considering that, Cross Purposes manages to be somewhat of a success. The critical reception was mixed. Guitar World magazine gave it the number six spot on their list “Superunknown: 50 Iconic Albums That Defined 1994,” but the Rolling Stone Album Guide gave it just two stars out of five and Entertainment Weekly gave it a D grade. For a Sabbath album with Tony Martin on vocals, this one manages to be surprisingly good – but it’s nowhere near the band’s best.
14. Technical Ecstasy
When Black Sabbath decided to shake things up and try something new, they made Technical Ecstasy – an album that departed from the dark and gloomy and angry tone of the band’s previous work. This grew out of fears that the band’s fan base and the press would criticize them of doing the same kind of stuff that they had always done. But they went too far the other day and we got all kinds of weird stuff like “It’s Alright,” a ballad that was written and sung by the drummer Bill Ward. It’s fresh and exciting at first, but it’s also very hit and miss.
Concept albums are always risky. They can either pan out and be totally awesome or they can crash and burn and suck, because a concept album is only as good as its concept. The concept here is Norse mythology. Bassist Neil Murray rejects this idea and says that the album is not connected by the tenets of Norse mythology, but come on. Just look at the title. Tyr is the son of Odin and the god of single combat and heroic glory. And the titles of the tracks are things like “Odin’s Court” and “Valhalla.” It’s definitely a concept album – and as a concept album, it’s a huge success.
12. Seventh Star
Seventh Star is not very Black Sabbath-y. All we have of the original line-up in this one is Tony Iommi on the lead guitar. Everyone else has been brought in afterwards, so it’s not even really technically Black Sabbath material. It’s some other band with a heavy metal style that’s quite similar to that of Black Sabbath and happens to feature Tony Iommi, the guitarist from Black Sabbath. Still, there are some tunes on this album that are very catchy and easy to bang your head to, as well as some that are oddly melodic with a glaze of Sabbath-style aggression.
11. Headless Cross
The first Black Sabbath album to feature legendary drummer Cozy Powell, who has drummed for everyone from Whitesnake to Brian May, Headless Cross marked a major comeback for the band. They’d released a bunch of lacklustre albums in the years since both Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio had left the band, one after the other, and then finally, they came out of the blue with a fantastic later era album that saw them return to form. Tony Martin, who provided the vocals for the album, was so proud of it that, years later, he named his own band after it.
Yes! Ronnie James Dio was back on vocals. Geezer Butler was back on bass. We’d had years of Black Sabbath albums and concerts and tours that didn’t feature any of our Black Sabbath guys, and then almost a decade after either of them had featured on one of the band’s albums, Dio and Butler were back. Tony Iommi was on the lead guitar, too, but he never left. The band spent months of studio sessions working on this album – bootleg recordings of which are still circulated today – to make sure that they could capture the energy of a live performance and give the fan base a basic, stripped down, rocking album. And they delivered!
9. Heaven and Hell
Given that the name of the band is Black Sabbath, you might expect that a lot of their songs are going to have themes about religion. There’s no album by the band with more of a focus on religion than Heaven and Hell, their first album with Ronnie James Dio as their frontman. And while you’d be forgiven for condemning the album for endorsing or at least contemplating Satanism, Heaven and Hell is one of the most electrifying heavy metal albums ever recorded. A lot of diehard fans reject the Dio era tunes as inauthentic Sabbath, but even without Ozzy, you can’t deny that this is some of the band’s best stuff out there.
8. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is one of Black Sabbath’s trippiest and most mind-bending albums. As their sound changed in a more head-screwing direction, the mainstream critics started being a little nicer to the band. And it’s not just the press who loved it either. Other rock stars shower this album with praise. Slash, the iconic guitarist from Guns ‘N’ Roses, is a huge fan of the outro from the title track of this Sabbath album. “To this day, I haven’t heard anything as heavy that has as much soul,” he said. It’s a great album with some heavy, yet passionate tracks on it.
Black Sabbath recorded Sabotage when they were in the middle of an intense legal battle with their former manager, and as always, they channeled their stress and their anger into their art. Only with a band as inventive and brilliant as Black Sabbath could litigation from an old business associate result in the birth of thrash metal. The Sabotage track “Symptom of the Universe” is what led to the development of the thrash metal subgenre. This is yet another example of Sabbath revolutionizing rock music in an increasingly aggressive way. They’re the angriest musical geniuses out there.
6. Mob Rules
Rock legend Ronnie James Dio only ever did two albums with Black Sabbath – this one and Heaven and Hell. Mob Rules was his second and final album with the band, and it’s clear that after his first album, the band started letting him bring in some of his own ideas and stylings, so you can notice a departure from the heavy focus on how awesome Satan is that was on display in Heaven and Hell. The beauty of Mob Rules is that it’s a warning about the futility of anarchism hidden under the shell of a celebration of it. Great album!
5. Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath’s debut album is also one of their best. The album is widely regarded to be the first heavy metal album ever created – AllMusic called it “the birth of heavy metal as we now know it” – so aside from being awesome, it also marks a historical milestone. It was recorded over the course of one twelve-hour session. Tony Iommi said, “We just went in the studio and did it in a day – we played our live set and that was it.” The track listing on the album is incredible. There’s “N.I.B.” and “Evil Woman” and “The Wizard.” It’s a phenomenal album.
Paranoid was Black Sabbath’s second album, so they didn’t have as much creative control as they would’ve wanted. For starters, they didn’t have control over the title. They wanted to name it after their powerful anti-Vietnam War anthem “War Pigs,” but the record label saw more potential for a single in “Paranoid,” so they made them call it that. “Paranoid” has gone on to become arguably the band’s most popular and beloved song. Funnily enough, the band members hate the song. They just hashed it out in less than an hour when they realized they didn’t have enough songs for a new album. However it came to be, “Paranoid” is a great song – as are the rest of the tracks on this seminal album.
In 2013, Black Sabbath got their original line-up back together for the first time in years – well, minus drummer Bill Ward, who was replaced by Brad Wilk from Rage Against the Machine – to create what would turn out to be their final studio album ever, 13. Tracks like “End of the Beginning” and “God is Dead?” and “Damaged Soul” were instant Sabbath classics. It was a fierce comeback for the band, who had been a shadow of their former selves for years. All of a sudden, they came out with some of their heaviest and most interesting music of all time.
2. Master of Reality
With their self-titled debut album, Black Sabbath created heavy metal. With Master of Reality, they explored new sounds and themes and ideas. They’ve done this a few times, with Technical Ecstasy being one notable example, so it can often . But don’t worry, because no new sound experimentation by Sabbath worked out more resoundingly well than Master of Reality. They ended up created even more genres, like doom metal, stoner rock, and sludge metal. Every track on this album – from “Sweet Leaf” to “Children of the Grave” to “Into the Void” – is a trippy mind bender that takes you on an odyssey of sound. It’s truly astounding stuff.
1. Vol. 4
Ever wondered why Black Sabbath’s fourth studio album has such a simple title? Well, that’s because they wanted to name it after the track “Snowblind,” but since that’s a very thinly veiled reference to the band’s heavy cocaine use, the record label made them change it. Vol. 4 was Sabbath’s first album to be produced entirely by the band themselves, which meant that they had almost full creative control (over everything but the title). It’s a wacky album. The band were snorting mountains of cocaine in the recording studio. They regularly had speaker boxes full of coke brought into the studio. “Cornucopia” was recorded when the band members were “sitting in the middle of the room, just doing drugs.” But as it turns out, all of the band’s coke-fueled antics were worth it, because it gave us their greatest album of all time. “Supernaut” is a favorite of many rock legends, from Frank Zappa to John Bonham, while “Changes” showed us a more sensitive side to Sabbath.