The Late Movies: Black Sabbath and the Birth of Heavy Metal


On February 13, 1970, a band from Birmingham, England, called Black Sabbath released their self-titled debut album. Sure the forty years since then have been rough (i.e., singer Ozzy Osbourne's turn as a reality TV star and musical output over the last 10 years), but that doesn't take anything away from Sabbath's legacy or our celebration heavy metal's birth.

Black Sabbath

The first track off the debut, the song that started it all, is driven by a guitar riff that uses an interval called a diminished fifth or tritone (the interval spans three whole tones). It's also known as diabolus in musica, or "the Devil in music," as it suggests an "evil" or "scary sound." Since its use in "Black Sabbath," the interval has become fairly commonplace and almost cliché in heavy metal riffs.

Children of the Grave

One of Sabbath's faster and more musically aggressive songs doesn't lose any effect even when played under a rainbow prop by guys in yellow Capri pants and fringed shirts. Now that's metal.


Live from the Never Say Die Tour in 1978. If you watch some old Sabbath performances and then shows from Ozzy's solo days or the Sabbath reunion, you'll notice somewhere around 1980 or 1981, he stops hanging out on the side of the stage and moves to the center. According to Ozzy, he took the side of the stage because of his stage fright, but Randy Rhodes (who played guitar for Ozzy early in his solo career) convinced him that the singer should be in the center.

Black Sabbath Superfan

Here's your typical Black Sabbath fan boy in his natural habitat, a record store signing. I'd like to think that I would be above reacting this way in the same situation, but I can't make any promises.

Into the Void

Live in Pittsburgh, 1999. This is my favorite Sabbath tune and definitely one of my "desert island songs." I always wish that Ozzy would just shut up and let the band play the intro, though.

Fairies Wear Boots

Live in Paris, 1970. According to guitarist Tony Iommi, the song's title and lyrics come from a night when Ozzy and bassist Geezer Butler standing around outside smoking and saw fairies running around in boots in a nearby park. I can think of no better way to keep kids off drugs than making them listen to Ozzy speak for 5 minutes or walk up a slight incline.

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