A Beginner's Guide to Black Sabbath

Is Black Sabbath the greatest heavy metal band ever?

There’s a strong argument they are. But even if you deny them the top metal spot, their influence is undeniable. Black Sabbath is credited with the creation of heavy metal. They introduced goth aesthetics into pop culture. They willed into existence a generation of music nerds that we now call “metalheads.”

This Sunday, January 7, is the 47th anniversary of their album Paranoid. It’s the most important metal album of all time but it barely scratches the surface of Sabbath.

Their second studio album, Paranoid was released in 1970 and went gold in the U.K. and four times platinum in the U.S. Rolling Stone Magazine said it “changed music forever” and Time Magazine called it the “birthplace of heavy metal.”

This album is the bible to any metal head. If you’re having trouble getting into Sabbath, here are some easy ways to start your journey and eventually pledge your damned soul to the Prince of Darkness.

1. Greatest Hits: 1970-1978

Okay, I know everyone is going to whine about this one, but it really is a great start. Whenever I’m trying to play catch up with a band that has a million hits and beloved albums that are always argued over which is the best, I go straight for the greatest hits album. It’s totally cheating, but if you didn’t cheat at least once on a test in high school, then you probably shouldn’t be listening to Sabbath anyways.

With the Greatest Hits album you can listen to why they got so big in the first place. The one on Spotify is good, but it’s far from perfect (the lack of “Symptom of the Universe” is glaring, for example, and it only covers the Ozzy years) Once you figure out your favorite track you can continue to the album it came from and thus the Sabbath door has opened.

2. Paranoid

Usually, that door opens people to Paranoid. This album has their biggest hits, “War Pigs,” “Iron Man” and the title track, but don’t skip killer deep cuts like “”Fairies Wear Boots.”

While it’s the first time Iommi and company refine their signature sound, it’s actually not as heavy as their other albums. For example, their “comeback” album 13 from 2013 is just extremely metal, if you know what I mean. It’s filled with tons of heavy guitar riffs and long, menacing solos that can stretch out to practically halfway through the song.

3. Masters of Reality

If you don’t get pulled right to Paranoid, I mean, follow your heart. But I would pull out Masters of Reality next. It’s their shortest album, only a little over half an hour, but it lingers with you forever. With two albums under their belt, you can hear the band hitting their stride. From “Sweet Leaf” to “Children of the Grave,” this is a blistering collection of classic riffs.

4.Heaven And Hell

Next up you should grab Heaven And Hell. This was their first album after they gave Ozzy the boot and hired elfen rock god Ronnie James Dio as their new frontman. Though I love good old strung-out Ozzy, Dio clearly energizes the band. In no time at all, you’ll be throwing up the devil horns—which, by the way, Dio probably invented.

Sabbath is still metal and menacing even without Ozzy. If you miss Ozzy, you can always check out his solo stuff. Or watch him on The Osbournes if you feel so inclined (though I highly suggest only watching it after you’ve had a full-fledged Sabbath obsession; otherwise his duet with his daughter Kelly on “Changes” won’t have the same impact).

5. Black Sabbath

Now you’re ready to take on their debut album. The self-titled album wasn’t their most popular, but it perfectly reveals a band experimenting with a sound that no one had ever heard before. The track “The Wizard” experiments with their more bluesy influence, with lots of harmonica and more melodic riffs. And “NIB” dives into a more psychedelic side. However, metal undertones are still prevalent throughout the entire record.

The album overall is a little hard to listen to at first because they haven’t quite pegged down their vibe and the recordings are low budget. But it’ll grow on you. And with this album, you can learn to appreciate them for the gift they brought to the world—metal.

Congrats. You’ve taken the first steps into the wild ride of becoming a Black Sabbath fan.

Soon you’ll earn the right to shorten the name and start calling them Blabbath and be part of the arguments about which albums were their best.

recommendations