Yes, the band created the template for heavy metal and thrash, but even now it’s instructive to acknowledge just how unique Black Sabbath was when it first emerged; how different from anything else anyone was doing. It’s not just that the British group created and defined a whole new type of sound (which in turn splintered off into several sub-genres), it’s that they still make most of what came later so soulless and half-assed by comparison. This is not said to diminish the imitators; it’s meant to emphasize how unbelievably excellent and fresh Sabbath’s work still sounds today. The band’s first eight albums are not an embarrassment of riches; they are a debacle of riches, a travesty of riches.
And yet—and this is the larger and often overlooked point—the music this band made was, for the most part, dead serious: from the live-in-the-studio cauldron of blackened blues debut album, to the riff-heard-round-the-world title track from its follow-up Paranoid (both 1970), this was an act with a considerable chip on its shoulder, and few punches were pulled until singer Ozzy Osbourne, muddled and miserable, was asked to leave in ’79. From its eagerness to take on tough-talking politicians who can never quite find the courage to fight in the wars they start (“War Pigs”), to the dangers of hard drugs (“Hand of Doom”), to the pleasures of soft drugs (“Sweet Leaf”), to the ambivalence of drug-induced oblivion (“Snowblind”), to proto-thrash metal (“Hole in the Sky”), to all-encompassing attacks on the system (“Over to You”)—it is ignorant, even a bit hysterical, to dismiss this group as a simplistic one-trick pony.