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Black Box: The Complete Original Black Sabbath (1970-1978)

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★★★★½
(136 Reviews)

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  • Black Sabbath didn’t have the revolutionary recording techniques or melodic sophistication of Led Zeppelin, but in terms of sheer brawn, Sabbath is right up there among the greats. No classic-rock collection is complete without at least two or three of these eight records, and if you want the complete lexicon of heavy metal, you will find it here.This package is well conceived, classily packaged, with a velvet hard-covered book and the eight albums in Digipak format. Sabbath records in CD format never had much in terms of notes so the format is suitable. You will also get the complete lyrics in the book. The history of the band, written by Chris Welch and Brian Ives, is scanty and contains very little that you won’t find elsewhere (I actually found the liner notes to the Reunion live double CD more informative), but they are at least reverent enough about their subjects. Here is a disc-by-disc rundown:1. Black Sabbath: The debut album, ridiculed by critics, a dark-horse favourite among fans despite two very long, rambling jams. But worth it for ominous title track “Black Sabbath” alone, and “The Wizard” shows that this band wasn’t too bad at blues, its original chosen music style, either.2. Paranoid: This record is so legendary that in a way familiarity breeds contempt, but you still can’t deny the power of Tony Iommi’s massive guitar riffs. The underrated Geezer Butler/Bill Ward rhythm section comes into its own on “Paranoid” and the painfully slow groove of “Iron Man”, and Iommi’s crushing guitar tone keeps the very long “War Pigs” in focus.3. Master of Reality: Not one of my favourite Sabbath albums, this album was hurt by the muffled recording but remains a landmark nonetheless. The guitars on “Children of the Grave” remind me a little of Deep Purple, and “Into the Void”’s central riff is pretty much the blueprint for most of Slayer’s music in the past 20 years. Tony Iommi stretching out into melodic, quiet material on “Orchid”, “Embryo” and “Solitude” shows that this band was more versatile than given credit for.4. Vol. 4: Featuring one of the brasher mixes in this batch, Vol. 4 takes time to grow on you. “Supernaut”’s panoramic harmonized guitars are one of Iommi’s finest moments, and “Cornucopia” juxtaposes a deceptively cheery vocal melody with evil riffs and lyrics.5. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath: A metal classic, with the propelling title track being the standout. “A National Acrobat” utilizes a twin-guitar assault soon to be appropriated by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and “Spiral Architect” creates a fantastic sense of mystique.6. Sabotage: My personal favourite, this one contains the ten-minute tirade “Megalomania”, where Black Sabbath demonstrates how to write an immensely heavy slow part, then launches into one of its most searing rifforamas. “Hole in the Sky” is manic, and “Symptom of the Universe”’s megaton riff may well be the song that gave birth to the immensely influential Metallica rhythm guitar sound.7. Technical Ecstasy: Weaker than all the rest, this album seems to find the band losing its identity. Both sonically and arrangement-wise, Sabbath actually sounds a little like Blue Oyster Cult! If there’s one Sabbath record that sounds like it aspires towards arena rock, this is it — and it doesn’t suit the band well.8. Never Say Die!: The recording has improved marginally. “Breakout” is a great guitar track, and the title track points to the direction Ozzy Osbourne would take with his solo material.9. The bonus DVD: Those who have seen Black Sabbath’s black-and-white music video for “Paranoid” (yes, it exists) know that this band was very bad for the music-video treatment. Ozzy tends to stand around bobbing his head, and the band is rooted to the spot (when your drummer’s your most active performer, you know you’re not tailored for the camera). But the performances — live takes of “Iron Man”, “Paranoid”, “Black Sabbath” and a bizarre cover of “Blue Suede Shoes”, juiced up with cheesy ’70s effects — have a naive charm to them. Geezer’s bass is seriously out of tune with Iommi’s guitar, though. I also wish they would have included that black-and-white video of “Paranoid”.This boxed set is a great acquisition for collectors, superior in packaging than the earlier boxed set, The Complete ’70s Replica CD Collection. Better priced, too. Granted, it’s not for the casual peruser, and newcomers should probably just pick up Paranoid, Sabotage and the debut for an overview, but fans of the band who don’t own all these records can now pick them all up in one fell swoop. The price works out to less than if you picked each record up on its own, even though all these records can now be found in the bargain bin, and you get the bonus book and the DVD to boot.

    Posted on November 15, 2009