"Black Box: The Complete Original Black Sabbath"

(Rhino/Warner Bros.)

For full track listing, visit

RATING: 10/10

It's this simple: without BLACK SABBATH, you wouldn't be reading this site right now. You would probably have never heard of many of the bands written about here, and in fact, most of those bands probably wouldn't exist. BLACK SABBATH, while they certainly didn't invent hard rock, created the template for what ultimately became known as heavy metal, and every one of the legions of bands that have come into being in their wake owe the Birmingham quartet something, whether it be musically, lyrically, sonically, or image-wise.

Looking back, there's almost no way to measure the impact that BLACK SABBATH has had on rock music, and on popular culture as a result. Acts ranging from JUDAS PRIEST to METALLICA to KORN to DIMMU BORGIR were all directly influenced by the band rightly known as both the fathers of the genre and its greatest treasure. BLACK SABBATH were and are the first and the greatest in their particular subset of rock. It's an insult to both them, and the untold numbers of musicians and fans who were inspired by them, that they have not received their proper and deserved induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

For a long time, it seemed as if Warner Bros. Records was going to ignore their legacy too, dumping the band's Warner catalog onto the CD market in shabby, poor-sounding, featureless editions (British reissues, with slightly better sound and half-decent liner notes, were an improvement, but still no bargain). But Warner — through their Rhino reissue arm — has rectified that with the release of the mostly magnificent "Black Box", which collects the eight studio albums recorded by the classic SABBATH lineup — Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Terry "Geezer" Butler (bass), and Bill Ward (drums) — along with a DVD of early live performances and a classy book featuring extensive historical liner notes, complete lyrics and production credits, a timeline, and a plethora of rare photos. Supervised by the members of SABBATH themselves, "Black Box" is a welcome tribute to the band's landmark output from 1970 to 1978.

There's a little in the way of rarities or extras except for the hard-to-find early single, "Evil Woman", which was replaced by "Wicked World" on the U.S. version of the band's self-titled debut (it seems like there's little out there in the way of unreleased tracks anyway — the SABS were apparently lucky to come up with enough material from album to album, especially as the drugs began to kick in more strongly), but the eight albums restored here have never sounded better. And whether you've heard them countless times before, or have yet to ever check them out, all eight discs are required listening for metal fans. Every doom-laden, distorted riff heard today has its roots in something that Tony Iommi (surely the most underrated guitarist and songwriter of his generation) wrote and played, while every metal singer in the world has learned something from Ozzy's haunted wail or Geezer Butler's bizarre, eerie, metaphorical lyrics.

Listen to "Black Sabbath", with its eerie, desolate vocals and distorted graveyard blues, or "Paranoid" for its apocalyptic future scenarios like "Electric Funeral" and "Iron Man". Put on "Vol. 4" or "Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath" to hear how a band remains heavy yet is able to progress as musicians. And, sure, check out "Technical Ecstasy" or "Never Say Die" — the two final and lesser original lineup discs — for the sound of a band grimly trying to soldier on as their careers and relationships broke apart.

And the songs: whether it's the classics like "War Pigs" or "Symptom Of The Universe", or the lesser-known album gems like "Supernaut" or "Megalomania", these are riffs and lyrics and stylistic endeavors that still sound alive and fresh and pulverizingly heavy.

SABBATH has had its ups and downs over the years, its shining moments ("Heaven And Hell") and its utter failures ("Forbidden"), as has each individual original member. And while hardcore fans can mourn the transformation of Ozzy Osbourne, a metal icon in his own right, into a pop culture commodity, there's no question that he and his bandmates staged their 1998-99 reunion tour with their class, dignity, and most of all, their musical brilliance intact. The enduring power and lasting influence of BLACK SABBATH can never be taken away from, and "Black Box" sums up, in one place, why they remain the greatest heavy metal band of all time.


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