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 1. Black Sabbath



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A tolling bell cuts through a torrential thunderstorm. Then, a trudging, three-note riff is capped with a sinister guitar trill. As moody drum fills tumble ominously, a powerful, nasal voice sings, "What is this that stands before me?/ A figure in black which points at me." The year is 1970 and the horned beast of heavy metal has just been born: Black Sabbath have arrived.

Musically, Sabbath's inception marked the moment when rock, blues, psychedelia and the occult fused into a powerfully volatile medium. The band's appeal was largely due to the disparate voices and collective might of its members. Vocalist Ozzy Osbourne looked like a disillusioned hippie gripped by madness and consumed by hatred, but he sang memorable melodies with a fatalistic sneer that resonated like a rock through a window. Guitarist Tony Iommi (who'd lost the tips of three fingers in a factory accident, inadvertently spawning the band's down-tuned sound) drew influence from Led Zeppelin, Cream and Blue Cheer and amped up the sound with extra distortion and chugging power chords; bassist Geezer Butler played imaginative counter-lines to the riffs and drummer Bill Ward made sure the music felt like thunder. Together, Black Sabbath were the sound of the world in flames — a working-class shout from the industrial hinterlands of Birmingham, England, to the post-Altamont generation, challenging them to accept a life of chaos and embrace the wreckage.

In addition to being heavy and menacing, Black Sabbath were also incredibly prolific. The band released its classic first four albums in a mere two-and-a-half years. Four more LPs with Osbourne followed before long-simmering tensions led to his departure from the band; he was replaced by Ronnie James Dio, who recorded two impressive albums with Sabbath before leaving to form the eponymously named outfit that continues to this day.

Sabbath persevered through the '80s and '90s, releasing albums and touring with a variety of vocalists, but none could recapture the majesty and insanity of the Ozzy years. Finally, in 1997, Ozzy convinced Iommi and Butler to reunite with him to headline the heralded Ozzfest; Ward was on board for reunion shows at the end of that year, which were released as a live LP, Reunion. The drummer's participation in Sabbath tours has been on-again off-again, and the band's plans to record a new studio LP have yet to reach fruition, but all four members took the stage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony earlier this year for the long-overdue induction of this most quintessential heavy metal band.




Black Sabbath (1970), Paranoid (1971), Master of Reality (1971), Volume 4 (1972), Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973), Heaven and Hell (1980), Symptom of the Universe: The Original Black Sabbath (retrospective).





"They were and still are a groundbreaking band. Even though they haven't released any new music in ages, you can put on the first Black Sabbath album and it still sounds as fresh today as it did 30-odd years ago. And that's because great music has a timeless ability: To me, Sabbath are in the same league as the Beatles or Mozart. They're on the leading edge of something extraordinary." — Rob Halford, Judas Priest

"To create something from nothing is impossible (unless you're a wizard). So what Black Sabbath did was magic. These four wizards from Birmingham created a genre of music that didn't exist before Tony Iommi put tipless fingers to fretboard and changed the world. It's as if the notes were just floating around in the ether waiting to be heard until Tony, with the power of his hands, plucked them from limbo to share their doom-onic song with all of us. Sabbath channeled those notes into five perfect albums of pure heavy metal. It's theirs. They own it. Everyone else that followed — Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Pantera (all great bands in their own right) — are just leasing." — Scott Ian, Anthrax

"The heaviest, scariest, coolest riffs and the apocalyptic Ozzy wail are without peer. You can hear the despair and menace of the working-class Birmingham streets they came from in every kick-ass, evil groove. Their arrival ground hippy, flower-power psychedelia to a pulp and set the standard for all heavy bands to come." — Tom Morello, Audioslave/ Rage Against the Machine




Do Sabbath also top your list? Check out reader top 10s and share your own thoughts in You Tell Us.




NEXT: Slayer's Kerry King says, 'I still get giddy when we go on tour with [this band].' ...
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