Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Black Sabbath—
Sabotage


Released 1975 on Warner Brothers
The Seth Man, November 2000ce
An album of fantastically undiluted sonic insanity, “Sabotage” is split between elongated, two-part mindfuckers and briefer instrumental/more orthodox arranged songs. But the unyielding two prong epics of “Symptom Of The Universe,” “Megalomania,” “Thrill Of It All” and “The Writ” are not the only places of unyielding heaviosity -- “Hole In The Sky” and the other crazy train to nowhere, “Am I Going Insane (Radio)” are equal parts assault-o-rama lamas on the head’s inner hammer and anvil. This leaves the remaining instrumental tracks of “Don’t Start (Too Late)” and “Supertzar” to operate as (comparatively) calming links.

Outside its tightly-wielded bombast, the most startling thing about “Sabotage” is its production. Even with the addition of mellotron, synthesizer and chorus to the carpet-bombing qualities of Sabbath’s simple yet precise instrumentation, everything hangs together perfectly, and there’s not a wasted moment anywhere on the album. From the opening hum of a turned up amplifier, an unmiked Ozzy screaming “Tch-COCK!” and count off, all explodes outwards from its first moment, “Hole In The Sky.” Ozzy’s vocals cut through everything, and the place he’s coming from is nowhere on earth -- more like a weird, cosmic flat beyond the skies. They’ve already nailed everything on the first track, but it’s only the beginning, as the interrupting “Don’t Start (Too Late)” match cuts to the now-trademark Iommi multi-fingered acoustic respite. But as with all Sabbath acoustic-based instrumentals, you know it’s a set up for something far heavier and pummeling. And here it’s heavier than all expectation as “Symptom Of The Universe” ensues like a tornado wrapped between your ears. Exactly what Ozzy is singing about is still somewhat a mystery (the lyrics out of reach even on the newly-remastered CD on Castle Communications) but it’s so urgently shrill, demented and exacting you go along with it without questioning it for a second. Odd fragments of the previous mise en scene are revisited as the cosmic misfit of the stratosphere screams the invitation to his great unrequited love to “swim the magic ocean I’ve been crying all these years” while Bill Ward’s uninterrupted ride cymbal swishing galore fans out behind Iommi’s SG buzz sawing grind-out that pile drives through everything -- except Ozzy’s vocals. Everything soon raises on a singly-hit power chord that sustains and rides out into the sky beyond the universe, through a black hole and into a parallel universe where Sabbath are now an acoustic calypso band playing for peanuts in white tails and top hats in some dimly lit alternate reality nightclub. So “the love that never dies” that Ozzy was just singing about has carried him this far, and his invitation is one that cannot be denied as the thin veil between reality and fantasy has already been crossed through a grand cosmic turnstile. Gently entering another adjoining space where further non-reality is summoned by Ozzy is the ten-minute epic, “Megalomania.” Cymbals whoosh quietly as muted, sporadic Iommi riffs race by a spinning wheel of alternative realities embedded in a quiz show wheel of fortune, this time stuck on Ozzy’s “I hide/I hide/I hide/I hide myself inside the shadows of shame” line. It builds slowly until a cowbell summons the very edges of sanity to gather at the corners while Iommi keeps precariously balanced on the rim of psychosis but peering over the edge like a Barre Chord Kilroy. On the other hand, Ozzy is stumbling, kicking and screaming “SUCK MAAAH!” right on the edge, daring and taunting both himself and the master of all worlds to kick his ass over the edge permanently. It can only be marked up to Ozzy’s fierce grounding within himself to go up to the face of all that would untether him from his sanity forever to go “STICK MAAAH!” in the manner he does. A struck cowbell signals the onset of Iommi’s guitar lines to bleed and distort a little bit more until finally the last ‘return’ riff gets reduced to a sputtering, effects-laden and crumpled black mass of fried haywired-ness. Geezer’s bass never needed frets and he’s climbing and scaling up and down his 18-string Hagstorm with ease, precision and confidence. By the end of “Megalomania,” Ozzy’s now railing at the void, his vocals pushed to the four corners of the studio (or asylum) when mellotrons shoot up and block his passage at every turn, and everything is trailing from speaker to speaker finding not a whit of peace or solitude anywhere.

It’s an ultimate purging of everything, and...are you ready for side two?

Is anyone? That balancing act behind reality/fantasy and (in)sanity continues for the whole side, but despite the opening chord bombardments, it slips into an all too brief sexed-out bump and grind before the stop and start blastoid-for-the-fuck-of-it guitar and Ozzy’s thrown a “Yeaugh!” in for good measure. The synthesizer near the end is far more integrated than it was on “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” but here on “Thrill of It All” it’s just one of many places where it combines near-perfectly with Iommi’s brutal yet economic riffage.

“Supertzar” is an Iommi-led choral piece that always reminded me of blustery nights of Onion-domed cruelty and snowbound forced marches, so natch The Sabs used it to open their shows for several tours. Mercifully, Spock Wall was one of the men in the studio for this behemoth instead of Bob Ezrin, so even the glockenspiels make sense. From the title, “Am I Going Insane (Radio)” was probably considered as a single release...A single?! What were they--insane?!! Only in that previously mentioned alternate universe of “Symptom Of The Universe” could this song have been a hit on the airwaves in 1975, that ultimate dead spot in seventies rock’n’roll. Although mild application of mega-spruced up synthesizer lines run throughout evenly, it all ends with Ozzy going “Bllaaaaaagggg!” in his padded cell, surrounded by the circular laughter of his band mates. Crossfading out from the derisive laughter is a quiet, phlanged bass alighting on the horizon, sounding like a jew’s harp in its careful, loping approach. Until:

“THE WAY I FEEL IS THE WAY I AM!!!” plus guitar incoming mail decimate the silence with all the force of an anvil dropped off a roof onto a house of cards ten floors down. This is the final purge, known by title as “The Writ” and by vibe as one of the most pulverising tracks ever recorded by anyone. It beats the output of entire genres by a mile. It also makes you wish ‘heavy metal’ would only be applied to such severe manipulation of amps and instruments and used only by people who understood Burroughs’ directed meaning of the term. Oh, it’s a heavy one, alright. And Ozzy’s vocals are about as loud, full and passionate in their discharge as it continues to slash through the already louder and tighter but looser instrumentation. Oh, “The Writ” is impossible to describe but it does end some glorious time later in a repetitive bash out where Bill Ward’s insistently hit cymbals continues for too long -- but not long enough -- against Iommi’s heavy-with-ease coda riffage.

“Sabotage” is a multi-tiered cosmic rant-out and release valve of the highest order. And it was also where Sabbath faced the legal hassles of ex-managers and simultaneously dwarfed them and their silly bits of paper with a flick of their wrist into the tiniest molehill ever...With a blow on their jug, no less.

About the cover: Oh, yeah, heh: the cover. What a fucking howl. A veritable THESIS could be written on it. The group pose in front of a huge and ornate gilt frame mirror emblazoned with the title in bold red letters. They are all wear matching crucifixes, of course. Iommi’s “look” is perfected, and will remain the same forever. Bill Ward stands behind wearing nothing but a black leather jacket and red tights. No moustache, either. And Ozzy’s get up is about as functionless: an ankle-length dashiki and zip up faun platform boots. At far left, Geezer is propped up by the world’s thinnest bumbershoot and the world’s most painfully apparent hard on to ever appear on an album cover for Warner Brothers. Now that’s what I call ROCK.