Novelist William Burroughs may have coined the term “heavy metal,” but it was Black Sabbath who gave that phrase its musical signature. Rife with thunderous bass lines, sledgehammer percussion, and, most importantly, some of the most menacing guitar riffs ever committed to tape, Sabbath’s music remains the standard for any band intent on exploring the darker side of riff-driven rock. The band’s new album, 13, finds original members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler joining forces with RATM drummer Brad Wilk for a modern-day reinvigoration of their vintage sound. Below, we examine key moments in Sabbath’s four-decade-plus career.
Tony Iommi Refuses To Let Accident Derail His Guitar Ambitions (Mid ‘60s – 1968)
Left-handed guitarist Tony Iommi loses the tips of two fingers on his right hand in a workplace accident. Undeterred, he fashions plastic thimbles to serve as replacement fingertips. He, drummer Bill Ward, bassist Geezer Butler and singer Ozzy Osbourne form a band called Earth in 1968. Iommi leaves the group and joins Jethro Tull in December of that year, but returns to Earth just one month later.
A Horror Film Helps Give Birth To A New Style of Music (1969 -1970)
Osbourne and Butler write “Black Sabbath,” a song inspired by a 1963 horror film starring Boris Karloff. Earth decides to adopt the song’s title as their new band name. The track’s ominous sound pushes the group in a new, dark direction. In February 1970, Black Sabbath releases their self-titled debut album, recorded live-in-the-studio in a one-day marathon session. Just four months later the band records Paranoid, a milestone in heavy metal. Released in the U.K. in October 1970, the album reaches Number One on the British charts.
Black Sabbath Solidifies Its Place As Rock’s Darkest Metal Band (1971 – 1972)
Sabbath’s third album, Master of Reality, achieves gold status within two months of its release. The follow-up, Black Sabbath Vol. 4, fares nearly as well. While the band is often maligned in the press, the band gets strong support from legendary rock critic Lester Bangs, who writes in Creem: “Despite the blitzkrieg nature of their sound … they are a band with a conscience who have taken it upon themselves to reflect the chaos [around them] in a way that they see as positive."
Ozzy Osbourne Says Goodbye, Launches Solo Career (1973 – 1978)
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, the band’s fifth album, becomes the first Sabbath LP to feature synthesizers. Two additional studio discs, Sabotage and Technical Ecstasy, follow in relatively quick succession. Formulating plans for a solo project, Osbourne leaves the group in late 1977, but returns within three months to record the ironically-titled Never Say Die! album. Following a subsequent tour - -which features an upstart band called Van Halen as opening act – Osbourne is ousted from the group and launches his solo career in earnest.
Ronnie James Dio Steps Up and Delivers (1979 – 1982)
1979 sees the release of Heaven and Hell, recorded with Osbourne replacement Ronnie James Dio, formerly of the band Rainbow. Ward quits Sabbath in November 1980 and is replaced by Vinnie Appice. Mob Rules is released in 1981. The period marks a change in musical direction, due in large measure to Dio, whose approach to vocals contrasts markedly with that of Osbourne. The new lineup fractures in November 1982, with Dio and Appice departing.
“Live Aid” Brings the Original Band Together, Briefly (1983 – 1985)
Black Sabbath records and releases Born Again with former Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan. Though the LP isn’t intended as a “Sabbath” project, the record company insists the band name be retained. In March 1984, following a Sabbath tour, Gillan leaves to rejoin Deep Purple. The following year, the original Sabbath lineup is invited to perform a three-song set for a “Live Aid” concert in Philadelphia. The event marks the first time Osbourne, Iommi, Ward and Butler have performed together in more than six years.
Tony Iommi Singlehandedly Keeps Sabbath Alive (1986 – 1996)
Beginning with 1986’s Seventh Star, a pattern ensues wherein Iommi records with a revolving cast of vocalists, including Glenn Hughes, Ray Gillen and Tony Martin. A variety of drummers and bassists are employed as well. Dio and Butler return to the fold in 1990, resulting in the release of Dehumanizer in 1992. A reunion, of sorts, of the original band occurs at an Osbourne “retirement” show in November of that year, when Iommi and Butler join Osbourne onstage for a brief set. Two more Sabbath albums – Cross Purposes and Forbidden, both featuring Martin on vocals – are subsequently released.
Metallica Inducts Sabbath Into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame (1997 – 2006)
All four original members reunite for two shows at the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham, England, in December 1997. The resulting double live album includes two new studio tracks. Iommi, Osbourne, Butler and Ward enter the studio in the spring of 2001 to record a new album with producer Rick Rubin at the helm, but the sessions are aborted. Five years later, the band is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Sabbath Suffers a Tragic Loss (2007 – 2010)
Rhino Records issues Black Sabbath: The Dio Years, a compilation culled from the four Sabbath albums that featured Ronnie James Dio. The set includes three new songs by the newly reunited Iommi, Butler, Dio and Appice. The lineup tours, not as Black Sabbath but rather as Heaven and Hell. Under the new moniker, the band release their debut studio album in 2009. Tragically, on May 16, 2010, Ronnie James Dio dies from stomach cancer.
Original Members Reunite, For Real This Time (2011 – early 2012)
On November 11, 2011, Iommi, Butler, Ward and Osbourne announce they are reuniting, not just to tour but to record a new studio album. The excitement surrounding the news is tempered just two months later, when word comes that Iommi has been diagnosed with lymphoma, and will need to undergo substantial treatment. In February 2012, Ward announces he will not participate in the reunion unless a “signable contract” is presented. In May, at the 02 Academy in Birmingham, the band performs their first concert since 2005, with Tommy Clufetos handling drum duties.
A New Sabbath Album, 13, Marks A Return To Glory Days (Late 2012 – present)
In June 2012, Sabbath begin work on the new album, with Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine on drums. Rick Rubin gets the nod as producer. The following January, the band announces that the title of the album will be 13. The first single, “God is Dead?,” is released on April 19. A second single, “End of the Beginning,” is featured on the TV crime drama “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” on May 15. 13 hits record stores on June 11.