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Black Sabbath

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Bio - Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath has been so influential in the development of heavy metal rock music as to be a defining force in the style. The group took the blues-rock sound of late '60s acts like Cream, Blue Cheer, and Vanilla Fudge to its logical conclusion, slowing the tempo, accentuating the bass, and emphasizing screaming guitar solos and howled vocals full of lyrics expressing mental anguish and macabre fantasies. If their predecessors clearly came out of an electrified blues tradition, Black Sabbath took that tradition in a new direction, and in so doing helped give birth to a musical style that continued to attract millions of fans decades later.

Black Sabbath, sometimes simply called Sabbath, is a British heavy metal band originally composed of Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass), and Bill Ward (drums). Black Sabbath formed in Birmingham, England in the late 1960s under the name Polka Tulk Blues Band (soon shortened to "Polka Tulk"), and later Earth. Initially a blues rock band, Earth moved in a darker direction when Geezer Butler, a fan of the black magic novels of Dennis Wheatley, wrote an occult-themed song titled "Black Sabbath" (the song name was apparently inspired by a 1963 Boris Karloff film). When the band found themselves being confused with another local band called Earth, they adopted the song title as their new name.

The newly-named Black Sabbath adopted darker lyrical themes and a slower, ominous style, and became one of the definitive classic heavy metal bands, often ranked alongside Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Judas Priest in importance and influence. Some have gone so far as to argue that Black Sabbath "invented" heavy metal. While this may be overstating the case, there is little argument that Black Sabbath was a profoundly important group in the music's development.

A versatile group with many signature sounds, Black Sabbath are regarded as a primary source for many subgenres of heavy metal music, including doom metal, death metal, and stoner metal. With an extremely gifted rhythm section and the extraordinary on-stage antics of Ozzy Osbourne the band enjoyed success with memorable songs and brutal riffs beginning with their first album, the eponymous Black Sabbath (1970). Their follow-up album Paranoid (also 1970) brought them greater attention in America and the UK. The content of the songs (both originals and cover versions) from both albums demonstrated an interest in the occult and black magic. This was a crucial step in establishing the "darkness" and "heaviness" of later heavy metal lyrics, and Black Sabbath were among the first groups to feature such lyrical content, almost to the exclusion of other topics. Led Zeppelin, The Doors and others might have hinted at magic or the occult, but few contemporaries could match Black Sabbath for directness, such as "My name is Lucifer/Please take my hand" (from Black Sabbaths "N.I.B."). Butler wrote many of the lyrics.

Another innovation was the by-product of an accident: Iommi's fretting fingers were injured in an industrial accident during his early tenure with Earth. He was working in a sheet metal factory at the time and the tops of the two middle fingers on his right hand were sliced off. Initially, he forged himself prosthetics from a melted plastic detergent bottle. The injured fingers were understandably tender, so Iommi down tuned his Gibson guitar from a standard E to C#. The resultant slackness of the string allowed him to play with less bother to his fingertips. Butler also down tuned his bass guitar to more easily follow Iommi's playing. The lower pitch often seemed "heavier" or more substantive, and Black Sabbath were perhaps the first popular group to down tune. The practice of down tuning is now common — perhaps even standard — among metal groups. Black Sabbath released a further three albums, Master of Reality (1971), Vol. 4 (1972), and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973) before management problems and the a label change from Vertigo to WWA disrupted the band's release schedule. Sabotage, was released in 1975. Technical Ecstasy (1976) and Never Say Die! (1978) were the last two albums with Ozzy, and are generally seen as inferior to the first six.

Rumors that Osbourne was to leave the band were proved true in 1979 (Osbourne formed Blizzard of Ozz, swiftly renamed to Ozzy Osbourne Band). He was replaced by Ronnie James Dio but Osbourne's departure was clearly the end of an era for the band. Black Sabbath's first album with Dio, Heaven and Hell, was surprisingly successful, but their second, Mob Rules, was mediocre, and Dio left. The band engaged Ian Gillan of Deep Purple for the record Born Again, but that lineup didn't stick either. At this point, Tony elected to record a solo album and enlisted the otherwise unnotable Glenn Hughes. This record featured no other original members of Black Sabbath, but record company pressure caused Seventh Star to be released as Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi. Black Sabbath's next singer was Tony Martin, with whom they released The Eternal Idol, Headless Cross, and Tyr; then Dio returned for one album, Dehumanizer; back to Martin for Cross Purposes, Cross Purposes Live, and Forbidden.

Since Sabbath's last studio album in 1995 (Forbidden), it's been a collection of live albums and greatest hits packages (see album list below), and appearances at various Ozzfests (1997, 1999, 2001, & 2004). Sabbath has promised a new studio album since 2001, but it has yet to materialize. One song from the writing sessions for that album (Scary Dreams) was played live during Sabbath's set on the Ozzfest 2001 tour). In 1985, the original members of Black Sabbath reunited for the Live Aid benefit concert. In 1992, the 1980-1982 version of Black Sabbath reunited and toured for the album Dehumanizer. In 1992, the original members of Black Sabbath played three songs after one of Ozzy Osbourne's "retirement" concerts in Costa Mesa, California. In 1995, the 1989-1991 version of the band reunited for the album and tour for Forbidden. In 1997, the original members of Black Sabbath reunited, toured and released Reunion. In 1999, 2001, and 2004, Black Sabbath reunited and toured on Osbourne's Ozzfest.

They are claiming to release an album featuring new material in 2005. The band rarely received any critical praise ("blundering bozos" was one description) and Osbourne's vocal talent can be safely labeled as exuberant, but highly limited. Nonetheless, they are widely acknowledged, influential pioneers in the heavy metal field. Some of the incidents and characters in the spoof rock documentary This Is Spinal Tap are based on Black Sabbath. For example the Stonehenge stage set idea in the film was taken from a real stage used Black Sabbath for their Born Again Tour. Black Sabbath had a unique sound that emerged from diverse influences. Tony Iommi was greatly influenced both by Hank Marvin's playing on Cliff Richard and the Shadows' heavy-guitar based recordings and by jazz guitar, particularly that of Django Reinhardt. Bill Ward has also expressed a fondness for jazz music in general, and for drummer Buddy Rich especially; this jazz influence may be heard on some of Ward's playing with Black Sabbath. Early incarnations of Black Sabbath merged elements of blues, jazz, and rock and paid their dues playing cover versions of songs by heavy rock acts including Jimi Hendrix, Blue Cheer, and Cream.

Heavy metal began coalescing long before Black Sabbath arrived on the scene--Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who and the Kinks had all made contributions to the fledgling genre. But Sabbath added some entirely new twists. Instead of focusing on virtuosic displays and high-concept songwriting, the Birmingham, England quartet stripped it down to a sludgy, throbbing, primordial ooze balanced by front man Ozzy Osbourne's deep affection for pop hooks.

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