It’s December and the year is now coming to a close. With new releases drastically slowing down, it’s the perfect time of year to take a step back and jam some of metal’s most classic and influential bands. For the rest of this month, the Ride into Glory team will be looking at some of our favorite songs from metal’s finest artists.
When it comes to bands of this caliber, it’s hard to pick a favorite album let alone a song! It’s not easy to single out one song as “better than everything else they did”, so most of us decided to approach this discussion from a completely sentimental perspective. Asking ourselves: “what is that one song of the band that I have the strongest emotional connection?”, it was suddenly easier than comparing songs as if there can be an objective quality ranking. These bands are titans of heavy metal for a reason and you can expect to read about our personal connections and anecdotes related to them in this series.
This week’s article is about Black Sabbath. It’s only fitting that we end the series by talking about the band that started the whole genre! We’d love to hear what your favorite tracks from this band are as well and why in the comments below.
Iron Man (Marco)
If I were to pick my favorite Black Sabbath track based on performance, memorability, or songwriting it would probably be “Heaven and Hell” or “National Acrobat”, but “Iron Man” is actually my personal favorite. I know, I know. Black Sabbath have such a huge, expansive discography so why such a basic, “mainstream” pick like “Iron Man”? Well, much like Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper”, this is one of those heavy metal songs that pretty much everyone knows and in my case, it was one of the very first metal tracks I ever heard. It’s one of the reasons I became obsessed with heavy metal and that to me is priceless. The emotional importance of this song places it at the top for me, no question about it.
A National Acrobat (Rhandgar)
Something common in the history of humanity is that first attempts are revered because they opened the way for next generations to build upon, not that they were the best: I assume the Wright Brother’s vehicle was fairly crappy compared to today’s planes – they are nevertheless some of the most respected and important names in aviation. I imagine you’re thinking of an obvious exception now. If not, take another look at the page. Black Sabbath were there at the beginning, before everyone else, creating something which they possibly had no idea could lead to fifty years of new generations picking up instruments, all kinds of subculture people gathering around, thousands of teenagers recording demos with home equipment in their bedrooms, and us here talking about it. And yet, even then, they didn’t only open the gates for constant improvement, they already created some of the best of this whole heavy metal thing. I could pick a song for introducing me to the idea of simple, catchy guitar melodies (“oh so this is what you call a riff, huh…”), for being the most majestic song about this carousel of life, for showing heavy does not mean extreme, or for opening up the world of occult and esoteric. But my pick is one that summarizes why side A of Sabbath Blood Sabbath is my favorite thing they’ve ever done: “A National Acrobat”, because holy shit that main riff… and those leads in last two minutes…
Children of the Grave (DeathoftheSun, Dzorr)
DeathoftheSun: While Master of Reality wasn’t my intro to Black Sabbath, it was the album single-handedly responsible for changing metal from something I really liked to an obsession, and in particular it was “Children of the Grave” that flipped things. Once the build-up ended and the whole band came in playing that riff, that was it. Nothing else I’d heard packed that same kind of punch. And if the first part of the song hit instantly, it wasn’t long before another new standard was established via the devastatingly heavy slow bridge. Over two decades later I can still remember sitting there in a daze, not even sure how to process what I’d just heard, but it was clear that I had to hear it again, and if anything similar existed I’d have to track it down.
Dzorr: It’s hard to believe the first six Black Sabbath albums came out in such quick succession, each being a classic in their own right and taking the band’s sound to new heights. Master of Reality has always been my favorite, with “Children of the Grave” being my pick for best Sabbath track. To me, this song showcases everything great about the band. There’s something about being warned about the dangers of thermonuclear war juxtaposed to the groovy riffs of Iommi and bass lines of Butler. The track is one of Sabbath’s fastest and has a very hypnotic quality to it, largely repeating itself other than for the sudden ominous synth interlude and the fantastic solo Iommi closes it off with. This is Sabbath in their prime and it’s glorious.
This one was probably the hardest of the series to actually do – Sabbath is my favorite metal band and there’s probably a couple dozen songs you could pick off the first six albums as the choice. But I was in the mood most aligned with this song so here it is. The band’s loving ode to coke, with some of Iommi’s absolute finest riffs and Ozzy’s typically spirited, memorable vocals going along with the rest of the band. The way Ward plays off Iommi’s opening riff is another reason why Sabbath were the finest band of their day; they do it in a manner that’s effortless at this point.
The riff that drives the bridge of the song is something special – this strangely crystalline, effortlessly textured riff that gives way to Ozzy’s “My eyes are blind but I can see…” verse. It’s a powerful riff in how effortlessly memorable it is and in how it captures a mood – the enveloping feeling of gradually sinking into the morass of coke addiction and the sheer, defeated inevitability of its arrival. In its own way it influenced shitloads of metal bands after – you can tell where bands from Cirith Ungol to Celtic Frost to a few of the second wave bands suddenly got their muse from. The whole song is brilliant, of course – a god tier band at the peak of their form.
Black Sabbath (Brandon Corsair)
This is the heaviest song ever written. I can’t put it any more simply than that. Black Sabbath here had figured out how to build tension and with one of the most simple riffs possible they defined and perfected metal on the first song on their first album, setting a standard that nobody has beat across decades of genre evolution, increasing distortion, and downtuning. The way the song builds is just eerie, from the first tolling bells to Ozzy’s tormented scream- “What is this that stands before me?” Black Sabbath is what heavy metal means to me, and though I’ve come to love a whole lot of the stuff, none of it has ever topped this song, and none of it ever will.
Heaven and Hell (Quorton)
What are the odds for such a fundamental band like Black Sabbath to write a song that seems to hit new heights in a genre a decade after they did it for the first time? “Heaven and Hell” is epic heavy metal. It is enchanting, gripping, and breathtaking, naturally because of the composition genius of Tony Iommi, but also because of the so obvious in hindsight inclusion of Ronnie James Dio on vocals. The combined result takes me to some imaginary lands but with the darkness and heaviness that was not usually included before. The sheer heart Dio did put into this song is also overflowing on every second, being the track where he was given enough lyrical freedom to pour everything in he wanted to say about pursuing dreams and being vigilant of those who want to fool you. A lot of tracks could qualify as the best of Black Sabbath, but it was clear to me, from the very first thought, that in picking a favorite, it had to be “Heaven and Hell”.
Headless Cross (Nkane92)
As a huge fan of the Ozzy and Dio years, “Headless Cross” blew me away when I heard it. Being a power metal nerd who likes Sabbath and doom, this was the perfect mixture for me. Tony Martin brought a new energy for Sabbath in the late 80s, and with Cozy Powell, a favorite of mine, this lineup created some of the best Sabbath material after Dio’s departure. This song is among them with its big chorus and harmonies but also its sinister tone with Iommi’s guitar and the atmospheric synths. The song tells a story of a village befallen to a plague, hoping that they can be saved, only to see their village crucifix break in half as the omen of what is to come. While the lyrics have a theme of despair and defeat to them, Martin’s voice is full of passion and dynamics as he can spring from a softer tone to those high notes in an instant. Also a huge fan of the production that shows off Cozy’s thundering drums and keys that are not obnoxious. “Headless Cross” is Sabbath’s take on late 80s metal mixing in some power and epic elements to create such a wondrous piece of music.
Hand of Doom (Boone)
A master class example of their collective songwriting ability, “Hand of Doom” has got to be one of the most underrated cuts of Black Sabbath’s entire discography. The sluggish, bassy intro slowly growing to a full band jam and being capped off by Geezer and Bill Ward pummeling you into the dirt for the climax of the song only to leave you as it began, now understanding the initial punch-drunk stupor create seriously one of the most intense songs you’ll ever hear, if at the proper volume. This song was particularly formative for me in exploring deeper cuts and more unorthodox song structures because I was (and continue to be!) so blown away by it, despite never hearing it or anything like it on the radio. It’s wild how one fateful buy at a Half-Price Books can set you down the path of unrelatable music taste for life, but here we all are reading Ride Into Glory…