Black Sabbath will always be the quintessential heavy metal band; its members helped develop many of the genre’s major conventions, including the blues-rock-derived signature riff, power chording, pronounced guitar feedback and sustain, ponderously slow tempos, wailing melismatic vocals, aggressive posturing, and escapist song lyrics. Frontman Ozzy Osbourne would become the charismatic spokesman for legions of working class youth who didn’t feel comfortable with the more abstract, elitist concerns of progressive rock artists.

Black Sabbath’s original members—Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Terry "Geezer" Butler, and drummer Bill Ward—were all born in Aston, an industrial section of Birmingham, England. While acquainted with each other since childhood, they played in different groups until becoming aware of their musical compatibility. The foursome combined forces in the late 1960s as Earth; however, after being informed in 1969 that a more established mainstream rock act had already staked a claim to the name, they became Black Sabbath.

Steady touring, especially on the European mainland where the group first gained a large following, led to a recording contract with Vertigo. The debut album, Black Sabbath, was released in the U.S. by Warner Bros. (#1871; 1970; #23). It remained on the charts for sixty-five weeks, providing the needed momentum to propel the next LP, Paranoid (Warner Bros. 1887; 1971; #12) to triple platinum status. Although generally damned by critics for their heavy-handed approach, Black Sabbath’s album continued to sell well throughout the 1970s, the following achieving platinum sales: Master of Reality (Warner Bros. 2562; 1971; #8), Black Sabbath, Vol. 4 (Warner Bros. 2602; 1972; #13), Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Warner Bros. 2695; 1974; #11), and We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll (Warner Bros. 2923; 1976; #48).

Osbourne’s decision to embark on a solo career, however, caused many of the group’s fans to defect with him. The group—with Iommi and Butler continuing to co-write much of the material—limped through a transitional phase, first with American Ronnie James Dio (previously with Elf and Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow) as lead singer between 1979-1982 (he would return from 1990-1993), followed by countless other configurations, most notably with former Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan (1983-1984) and a revamped lineup featuring sole original member Iommi and singer Glenn Hughes, whose resume included Trapeze, Deep Purple, and the Hughes-Thrall band (1985-1987).

After more than a year of band inactivity, Osbourne, Butler, and Iommi reunited to headline Ozzfest 1997. Ward was invited to participate in two December 1997 shows in Birmingham; the resulting live album, Reunion (Epic; 1998; #11) earned the group its first Grammy for Best Metal Performance ("Iron Man"). Black Sabbath continued touring through December 1999. As of mid-2001, the band was still together, working on a studio album.

Back to Heavy Metal Back to Table of Contents