Black Sabbath formed in the 1960s, in 1969 to be precise, the same year Woodstock was celebrating peace, love, and all the other hippy, Age of Aquarius values. Whereas other bands of the day were making upbeat, optimistic music, Black Sabbath hit the scene like a ton of bricks with their dirge-like metalized blues containing lyrics about death, doom, and pessimism. In 1970, Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut album was a shock to the system. They were the godfathers of heavy metal, both traditional and doom metal, and probably influenced everyone who ever detuned their guitar several steps.
But there is also a lighter side to Black Sabbath. It began with their second album, Paranoid, which was released a mere seven months after their debut album. Amidst all the heavy riffs, growling bass, and pounding drum beats, there was one song that stood out because of it’s total lack of those qualities.
“Planet Caravan” was a strange tune with soft bongos, Ozzy’s vocals distorted with some odd effect, and Tony Iommi playing a very haunting melody on acoustic guitar. The song is rather spooky and unlike anything else Black Sabbath did.
Their next album, released 10 months later, was Master of Reality and it followed Paranoid with a similar sound and songs that might have been written in the same session. This time out, there were two short instrumentals, “Embryo,” a 28 second interlude to “Children of the Grave,” and “Orchid,” presented here, was another instrumental, that is a short, but beautiful guitar piece, which was an interlude to “Lord of This World.”
Also on Master of Reality was “Solitude,” another piece reminiscent of “Planet Caravan” if only because it was so much softer than the rest of their repertoire. Again, Ozzy’s standard scratchy screech has been softened to almost a soft croon. It was rumored that Bill Ward, the drummer did the singing for this song, but that belief is unfounded. This song too has an eerie sound unlike their normal fare.
Fourteen months later, Black Sabbath was hitting their heavy metal stride with Vol. 4 and it too has some slow pieces. In fact, one song, “Changes,” was a complete departure for even Black Sabbath’s soft side. There were no guitars, no drums, instead, the song featured Ozzy on vocals and Iommi on piano and melotron.
Also on Vol. 4 Tony provided us with more acoustic guitar magic. This is “Laguna Sunrise,” a hypnotic multi-tracked melody.
Released in 1973 (the band had put out 5 incredible albums in 3 years) Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath rounds out what many consider the essential Black Sabbath catalog. This one had a different sound from their previous efforts with some fuzz effects on the guitars and an increased use of synthesizers (Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman even lent a hand because they were recording in the next studio). Their soft side is again show in an acoustic piece, “Fluff,” which has a Bach-like feel to it. Maybe the melody is borrowed, but Tony puts his own stamp on it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the softer side of Black Sabbath. Next time someone turns up their nose at the name Black Sabbath because it’s too heavy for them, turn them on to a few of these.