The band emerged from the murky depths of Aston, Birmingham England, a pretty desolate place by all accounts. It was all run-down council estates and steel factories, where all the original four members lived and worked. It was from this environment that the music of Black Sabbath was spawned: the sound of doom, gloom, and despair that would become a key point for all the greatest metal bands that followed in their wake.
The other three members besides Ozzy Osbourne were guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward. For the first decade of their career, Black Sabbath was extremely consistent, spawning eight albums before Ozzy Osbourne left at the end of the 70s, with drug addiction and alcoholism having taken its toll on the wild vocalist. Over the next couple of decades, many other members came and went with only Iommi remaining from the original line-up.
There are a lot of people who are of the belief that there is no such thing as Black Sabbath without Ozzy Osbourne. However, there are also many who believe that vocalist Ronnie James Dio’s stint with the band is superior to the output of the last couple of Osbourne years. There are many more who are of the opinion that anything past the Ronnie James Dio era is best left forgotten. This list will focus on the Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio periods, not necessarily because this writer feels that anything after that is not without merit, it is just that a top 10 list is not big enough to include them among the extremely important releases of the band’s initial years.
10 – Never Say Die
Kicking of the list is the final album from the original Ozzy Osbourne-era released in 1978. By this point they were extremely burnt out, having been consistently touring and recording for the previous eight years. This was their eighth album in as many years. Their live performances were suffering rather badly by this point with their support bands such as Van Halen blowing them away most nights.
Ozzy Osbourne briefly left the band prior to recording the album and they laid a few tracks down with another vocalist called Dave Walker. However, Ozzy Osbourne decided to give it one last try, and this was the result. The album is definitely the weakest from the band’s 1970s period but the title track is a good song, having an almost punk vibe to it. This was possibly an attempt to change their sound to stay relevant within the then-contemporary rock music climate, as punk was starting to make bands like Sabbath look like irrelevant dinosaurs.
9 – 13
Next on the list is the first album that the band recorded with Ozzy Osbourne since 1978 released in 2013 and what seems to be the final Black Sabbath album ever. It was produced by Rick Rubin and for the most part did not disappoint. It was not quite a reunion of the classic original line-up as it did not feature Bill Ward on drums. Instead, his place was filled by Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk. The sound of the album harks back to the classic early releases with cuts such as “God is Dead” having become modern fan favorites. All in all, if it is the last ever Black Sabbath album, there could have been a much worse point to end on.
8 – Mob Rules
Up next is the second album with Ronnie James Dio released in 1981. A solid effort, its sound is much the same as the previous album Heaven and Hell. This is an album where tensions started to mount with the new line-up which led to Ronnie James Dio leaving shortly afterwards. Vinny Appice came in on drums after the departure of Bill Ward and it received a mixed critical reception. Standout tracks include the opening number “Turn up the Night” and the title track.
7 – Sabotage
Up next is what is widely regarded as the final classic Ozzy Osbourne album released in 1975. The album was recorded during legal troubles that the band was having with their former manager Patrick Meehan, the stress of which affected the recording process and was the inspiration for the album’s title. Iommi co-produced it himself with Mike Butcher.
The album is a mix of heavier songs and more experimental tracks such as “Supertzar.” Its highest chart position was number 7 in the United Kingdom. It also managed to gain generally positive reviews from music critics, something which Black Sabbath did not often achieve at the time.
6 – Heaven and Hell
After Ozzy Osbourne‘s departure, the band had to seriously think about where they were going to go. The answer came in the form of Ronnie James Dio, a vocalist who could have sounded any more different from Ozzy Osbourne. As a result, Sabbath sound almost like a completely different band, leaving behind all the doom and down tuned heaviness of the Ozzy Osbourne years in favor of a much more melodic and commercial sounding approach. All in all, 1980’s Heaven and Hell is a classic album that gave Black Sabbath a new lease of life after the two rather messy previous albums. However, Ward would depart after this album due to problems with alcohol addiction.
5 – Vol.4
As the title would suggest, the album at number 5 in this list is the band’s fourth album released in 1972. Drugs played a massive part in the making of this record with many of the lyrics discussing the blur between reality and substance-induced non-reality. An example of a track that highlights this is “Snowblind.” The band is starting to come into their own with this record, getting better as both musicians and songwriters. A song that shows a very different side of the side of the band is the ballad “Changes.”
4 – Paranoid
At number 4 is the band’s second and most well-known album released in 1970 a mere eight months after the first. The album’s first half is a collection of four all time classic rock songs starting off with the anti-Vietnam War epic “War Pigs,” followed by the pop rock classic that is the title track, then being concluded by the trippy “Planet Caravan” and then another all-time classic rock juggernaut “Iron Man.” The album was an improvement on its predecessor, and it is certainly a stronger set of songs, with it being a much more diverse mix than the largely bluesy sounding debut.
3 – Master of Reality
At number 3 on our Black Sabbath albums list is 1971’s Master of Reality. The band amped up the heaviness on this record, with it being the first album to truly pioneer the doom metal sound that Sabbath had such a prominent influence on. Key classics include “Sweet Leaf,” and “Children of The Grave.” Even though the album only has six actual songs it is not by any means a rip-off purchase. Among the other tracks are “Lord of this World,” and “Solitude” where Ozzy Osbourne shows that his range as a vocalist was improving at this point.
2 – Black Sabbath
At the number two spot is the band’s very first record and what most consider to be the first ever Heavy Metal album. It was recorded in a single day over a twelve-hour session. The band’s doomy sound came about as a result of the fact that Iommi had lost the tips of two of his fingers whilst working in a sheet metal factory, which led him to make two false fingertips and down tune the guitar which made it easier for him to bend the strings, thus creating the Black Sabbath sound. When the album was released it was the most extreme-sounding thing that many people had heard at the time.
As well as the music, which was heavier than anything that their peers in Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple had done, the lyrical themes which were full of explicit references to Satan and the occult caused a stir with religious groups. The most significant cut on this album is most certainly the opening title track. Upon its release, the album was met with largely negative reviews from critics. Lester Bangs was particularly scathing in his review for Rolling Stone. However, its legacy has proved these critics to be very wrong indeed, as it created a whole musical genre that has continued to exist 50 years after its release.
1 – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
At the number 1 spot is the band’s fifth album released in 1973. The music continues the dark heaviness of the previous four records but expands upon it, making it the record where the band truly peaked. The title track is by far one of the most epic things that the band has ever written, being one of the most melodic cuts of the Ozzy Osbourne period but one of the heaviest at the same time. The closing track “Spiral Architect,” features a guest keyboard appearance from Rick Wakeman of Yes. Other great tracks on it are “Killing Yourself to Live,” “A National Acrobat” and “Sabba Cadabra.”
It was the first album that saw the band start to receive favorable reviews from the music press. The album was also very commercially successful, reaching number 11 on the US Billboard charts and number four on the UK album charts. The band members themselves have spoken very highly of the album, feeling that it represented an evolution for Sabbath. Iommi described it in his memoir as “the pinnacle.”
Updated June 4, 2023
Top 10 Black Sabbath Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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