Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Black Sabbath from Worst to First

Black Sabbath have had eighteen total studio albums, five live albums, countless compilations, half a dozen singers, and who the heck knows how many drummers and bassists. The only consistency the band had was Tony Iommi. Now I've always been a big Iommi fan and I always find something listenable on even the worst Sabbath records, but all Sabbath is not created equal at all. I've decided that I would take it upon myself to go through every single Sabbath studio album and do a worst to first list. Now this is only my opinion, but I think I'll hit most of the marks in the right spot. Or at least I hope I will. 

18. Forbidden (1995) - Generally regarded as the worst Sabbath album of the bunch, this is the last studio release under the Sabbath moniker and the one that put the kibosh on any hopes of anymore Sabbath without Ozzy. Now this isn't a horrible or disgusting release, but it's certainly jarring. The band, from what I understand, wanted to make a stripped-down album like the first Sabbath record and they didn't want to take too much time to do it. Obviously, the result was a bit of a misfire. This is a much different band than the original line-up and they just couldn't pull off the "going back to the roots" routine. The poor production just detracts even more from the end result. The few listenable (but not all that great) songs like I Won't Cry for You, ForbiddenKiss of Death, and the rather catchy Rusty Angels are balanced out by a bunch of questionable songs that just don't work. The most questionable song on here is called The Illusion of Power and it introduced the world to Rap Sabbath. Seriously, Ice-T rapped on the song. Now I don't hate rap just because it's rap, but Ice-T's rapping just has no purpose here. It's just novelty for the sake of novelty. Unless you are a seriously die-hard fan like me than say no to Rap Sabbath. 

The Illusion of Power (4:54)
Get A Grip (3:59)
Can't Get Close Enough (4:28)
Shaking Off The Chains (4:04)
I Won't Cry For You (4:48)
Guilty As Hell* (3:28)
Sick And Tired (3:31)
Rusty Angels (5:00)
Forbidden (3:47)
Kiss Of Death (6:09)
Loser Gets It All (2:55) - Japanese Bonus Track

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, Neil Murray, Cozy Powell, Geoff Nicholls
*This song actually has the "f" word in it. Rap Sabbath, right?

17. Technical Ecstasy (1976) - It was really a coin-toss between this one and Never Say Die. I don't hate this one, but it's very mediocre. Bill Ward sings on It's Alright and I do like the song, but I prefer Axl Rose's cover version on GN'R's Live Era album. And I've never said I liked Sabbath cover more than the original before. Now there aren't any songs on here that I really hate, but it's far from my first choice of Sabbath I'd want to listen to. The only really standout song on here is Dirty Women.

Back Street Kids (3:46)
You Won't Change Me (6:34)
It's Alright (3:58)
Gypsy (5:10)
All Moving Parts (Stand Still) 4:59
Rock 'N' Roll Doctor (3:25)
She's Gone (4:51)
Dirty Women (7:15)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, Gerald Woodruffe

NOTE: The cover of Technical Ecstasy is supposed to be two machines screwing on an escalator. 

16. Never Say Die (1978) - I really like the first four songs. The more I listen to this one the more I like it, but I shouldn't have to learn to like anything by the original Sabbath. Even with the few good songs on here I'll always feel that Never Say Die, Technical Ecstasy, and Forbidden could be deleted from the Sabbath canon and the Sabbath canon would be better for it.

Never Say Die (3:50)
Johnny Blade (6:28)
Junior's Eyes (6:42)
A Hard Road (6:04)
Shock Wave (5:15)
Air Dance (5:17)
Over To You (5:22)
Breakout (2:35)
Swinging the Chain (4:17)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, Don Airey, John Elstar

NOTE: The original cover put forth for Never Say Die would eventually become the cover of Rainbow's Difficult to Cure. Which is funny because both covers are equally terrible.

15. Seventh Star (1986) - It's really unfair to rank this one at all because it was not intended to be a Sabbath album and therefore doesn't sound like one. I think it's a bit of a gem and it should be re-released as an Iommi album so it won't have to constantly deal with the "it doesn't sound like Black Sabbath" problem. But because it remains under the Sabbath name than this is where I would have to rank it.

In for the Kill (3:40)
No Stranger to Love (4:28)
Turn to Stone (3:28)
Sphinx (The Guardian) (1:11)
Seventh Star (5:20)
Danger Zone (4:23)
Heart Like a Wheel (6:35)
Angry Heart (3:06)
In Memory ... (2:35)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Glenn Hughes, Dave Spitz, Eric Singer, Geoff Nicholls, Gordon Copley

14. Cross Purposes (1994) - This is the first one on this list that actually feels like a decent Sabbath album. It's not as good as the previous Tony Martin releases, but it's still pretty solid. A few stand-out cuts like Dying for Love, I Witness, and Virtual Death. The rest of the songs are okay, but they aren't anything special. A little sub-par for the Tony Martin era, but it's nothing too egregious. It's light-years better than Forbidden.

I Witness (4:56)
Cross of Thorns (4:31)
Psychophobia (3:10)
Virtual Death (5:45)
Immaculate Deception (4:12)
Dying for Love (5:49)
Back to Eden (3:53)
The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (4:26)
Cardinal Sin (4:17)
Evil Eye (5:57)
What's the Use? (3:03) - Japanese Bonus Track

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, Geezer Butler, Bobby Rondinelli, Geoff Nicholls

13. Tyr (1990) - Sabbath takes on themes of the Norse gods here for what is probably the most diverse Sabbath album in terms of subject matter. Strangely enough, it feels like a perfect fit for Sabbath. The only song that doesn't really fit the mood of the album is the ballad Feels Good to Me and it's just a bit too sappy for my taste. My favorite tracks are definitely The Law Maker and The Sabbath Stones.

Anno Mundi (the vision) (6:12)
The Law Maker (3:55)
Jerusalem (4:00)
The Sabbath Stones (6:47)
The Battle of Tyr (1:08)
Odin's Court (2:42)
Valhalla (4:43)
Feels Good to Me (5:44)
Heaven in Black (4:05)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, Neil Murray, Cozy Powell, Geoff Nicholls

12. The Eternal Idol (1987) - Tony Martin really doesn't get the credit he deserves in terms of being a singer. Martin stayed with Sabbath longer than Dio and yet he gets nowhere near the same amount of respect. Not that I have a problem with Dio or anything. I just think that Tony Martin doesn't deserve to be forgotten. So far I've ranked pretty much all of the Tony Martin stuff all in a row near the bottom of the pile and that wasn't intentional. It just happened that way and for good reason. No matter how much I want to take a release from the Tony Martin era and place it up in the top ten it just wouldn't fit. If anyone ever doubts that there was greatness in the Martin era than The Shining is the first song I'd recommend. 

The Shining (5:58)
Ancient Warrior (5:34)
Hard Life to Love (5:00)
Glory Ride (4:48)
Born to Lose (3:43)
Nightmare (5:17)
Scarlet Pimpernel (2:07)
Lost Forever (4:00)
Eternal Idol (6:35)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, Bob Daisley, Eric Singer, Geoff Nicholls, Dave Spitz, Bev Bevan

11. Headless Cross (1989) - Just a solid effort all around and a coin-flip better than The Eternal Idol. The title track is just one of those songs that should be much more well-known. It just feels Sabbathy albeit in a eighties kind of way.

The Gates of Hell (1:06)
Headless Cross (6:29)
Devil & Daughter (4:44)
When Death Calls (6:55)
Kill in the Spirit World (5:11)
Call of the Wild (5:18)
Black Moon (4:06)
Nightwing (6:35)
Cloak and Dagger (Picture disc bonus track) (4:37)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, Laurence Cottle, Cozy Powell, Geoff Nicholls

10. Dehumanizer (1992) - The follow-up to Tyr and the last Dio-fronted Sabbath album. The riffs are heavy and crunchy and Sabbath seems rejuvenated. Every song on here is great. I can't help but wonder what Sabbath would have been like if Dio had stayed because after this record he took the basic sound and used it on his solo albums Strange Highways and Angry Machines. It would have been great to hear more Sabbath offerings like this one from the nineties, but it wasn't meant to be. At least there's Heaven & Hell's The Devil You Know to help satisfy my curiosity. 

Computer God (6:10)
After All (The Dead) (5:37)
TV Crimes (3:58)
Letters From Earth (4:12)
Master of Insanity (5:54)
Time Machine (4:10)
Sins of the Father (4:43)
Too Late (6:54)
I (5:10)
Buried Alive (4:47)
Time Machine (Wayne's World Version) (4:18) - US/Japan version only 

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler, Vinny Appice, Geoff Nicholls

9. Born Again (1983) - The only thing holding this back from being higher is the poor production. The songs are just so good and diabolic. It's the perfect Sabbath record... if you can overlook the production. Gillan was a great fit for Sabbath and it's a shame it didn't pan out.

Trashed (4:10)
Stonehenge (1:57)
Disturbing the Priest (5:48)
The Dark (0:31)
Zero the Hero (7:45)
Digital Bitch (3:35)
Born Again (6:30)
Hot Line (4:50)
Keep it Warm (5:34)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Ian Gillan, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, Geoff Nicholls

8. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973) - I must be crazy for putting this one so low, but I have my reasons. It's one of the classic "first five," but to my ears the only thing really great and classic about it is the title song. Pretty much all the other songs are really good, but greatness is what counts from hear on out.

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (5:35)
A National Acrobat (6:20)
Fluff (4:10)
Sabbra Cadabra (5:55)
Killing Yourself to Live (5:35)
Who are You? (4:10)
Looking for Today (5:00)
Spiral Architect (4:40)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, Rick Wakeman

7. Sabotage (1975) - Another Sabbath album that is almost criminally underrated. This was the last listenable and good release from the original mark and their songwriting was at their peak. I feel this one is more consistent than Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and the songs are slightly better. There's no iconic title track, but with songs like Hole in the Sky and Symptom of the Universe there doesn't need to be one. And how can I forget Megalomania? That's one of my all-time favorite songs.

Hole in the Sky (4:00)
Don't Start (Too Late) (0:49)
Symptom of the Universe (6:28)
Megalomania (9:40)
The Thrill of it All (5:52)
Supertzar (3:42)
Am I Going Insane (Radio) (4:15)
The Writ (8:09)
Blow on a Jug (0:23)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, Gerald Woodruffe

6. Mob Rules (1981) - I really debated if I wanted to put this ahead of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or Sabotage and I ultimately decided to do it. It's really like pulling teeth now to decide. I just feel that this one is ever so slightly better because it just rocks harder. There's nothing progressive about it. There're no trippy songs like Am I Going Insane or Who Are You? It just rocks hard.

Turn Up the Night (3:42)
Voodoo (4:32)
The Sign of the Southern Cross (7:46)
E5150 (2:54)
The Mob Rules (3:14)
Country Girl (4:02)
Slipping Away (3:45)
Falling off the Edge of the World (5:02)
Over & Over (5:28)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler, Vinny Appice, Geoff Nicholls

5. Black Sabbath (1970) - I really don't need to say anything about this one. Four great songs and two great medleys.

Black Sabbath (6:16)
The Wizard (4:24)
Wasp / Behind the Wall of Sleep / Bassically / N.I.B. (9:44)
Wicked World (4:47)
A Bit of Finger / Sleeping Village / Warning (14:15)
Evil Woman (3:25)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward

4. Heaven and Hell (1980) - Again, this is like pulling teeth.

Neon Knights (3:49)
Children of the Sea (5:30)
Lady Evil (4:22)
Heaven & Hell (6:56)
Wishing Well (4:02)
Die Young (4:41)
Walk Away (4:21)
Lonely is the Word (5:49)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, Geoff Nicholls

3. Black Sabbath Vol. 4 (1972) - Don't need to say anything about this one either.

Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener (8:00) 
Tomorrow's Dream (3:08)
Changes (4:44)
FX (1:41)
Supernaut (4:43)
Snowblind (5:28)
Cornucopia (3:50)
Laguna Sunrise (2:50)
St. Vitus' Dance (2:29)
Under the Sun/Every Day Comes & Goes (5:52)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward

2. Master of Reality (1971) - Who'd've thought that a guy coughing would make such a cool intro?

Sweet Leaf (5:02)
After Forever (5:25)
Embryo (0:20)
Children of the Grave (5:23)
Orchid (1:30)
Lord of this World (5:24)
Solitude (5:02)
Into the Void (6:12)

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward

1. Paranoid (1970) - Surprise, surprise! Big shock to see this at number one, ain't it? I know Iron Man and Paranoid get overplayed so much that it's ridiculous, but no matter how many time I hear the songs I still enjoy them.

Luke's Wall/War Pigs (7:55) 
Paranoid (2:47)
Planet Caravan (4:24)
Iron Man (5:53)
Electric Funeral (4:47)
Hand of Doom (7:07)
Rat Salad (2:29)
Fairies Wear Boots/Jack the Stripper (6:13) 

Line-up: Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward


  1. Funny you did this list because I was about to ask you to list your favorite Ozzy era Sabbath albums. Anyway here are my favorite Ozzy era albums - I'll leave it at that for now because I'm not sure where to put the Dio albums in relation to the Ozzy albums, I'll have to think about that.
    1. Paranoid
    2. Master Of Reality
    3-6 are very close
    3. Sabotage (side 1 is so awesome I can overlook the weaker side 2)
    4. IV
    5. Black Sabbath
    6. Sabbath Bloody sabbath (I agree with you on this one that it's a little overrated compared to the others)
    7. Never Say Die (has a certain charm to it)
    8. Technical Ecstasy

    I think I'd put Heaven and Hell at 3

    Note about Born Again - I've heard rumors of a bootleg with alternate versions and mixes that are better than the album versions. I've never found it but I noticed there is a bonus track on the new release of an alternate version of one of the songs. I'd love to hear the alternates.

  2. I know this is an old post but I use your worst to first lists as a reference source.

    I just picked up the deluxe edition of The Eternal Idol (I've got some more of the deluxe editions on the way too). There are two bonus tracks, one being "Black Moon" which is also on Headless Cross but #2 bonus track is "Some Kind Of Woman" and is pretty interesting. It's a much faster tune than you would expect from Black Sabbath. It almost sounds like it could have been an Aerosmith tune. But I like it. I looked and it's on You Tube if you've never heard it before.

    1. I gave the song a listen. Hadn't heard it before. Pretty surprising and different. Got a Whitesnake/Van Halen kind of vibe as some on the video page mentioned. I like it, too. Still kind of jarring to hear Iommi play a riff that isn't at least a tad bit "doom-ish."

  3. I picked up the deluxe edition of Master Of Reality. So here is what I think of the deluxe edition:

    Master Of Reality is my favorite Black Sabbath album(at least, today it is. some days it's Paranoid) so I was very curious about disc 2. I won't bother to review disc 1 other than say every song is 5 star great. One thing I will bring up is that this deluxe edition is from Sanctuary and sounds a little different than the "Black Box" version I have. I'm not complaining, both versions are great and a massive improvement over the original cd release from the 80s. The difference is the Sanctuary edition is a little muddier sounding. This may be exactly how the vinyl was (muddy sounding was very popular in the 70s, thanks to the Stones). I don't know because my vinyl is long gone. I prefer the cleaner sounding "Black box" version but like I said, I'm not complaining, just saying there is a little difference.
    Ok, on to disc 2. First off there is a fantastic previously unreleased song called "Weevil Woman '71", which I'm sure would have had a different name had it made the album. The song isn't quite finished but it's not a rough demo either. It has a great heavy riff and would have fit perfectly on MOR. MOR has a short running time, so it seems strange this didn't make it. Anyway, the $16.00 I spent was worth it just for this song. The rest of disc 2 consists of early versions of MOR songs and is for fans only because nothing on disc 2 is better than what's on the original. But for us fans, there's some interesting stuff like alternate lyrics on a couple of songs and SLIDE GUITAR and piano on Lord Of this World. Solitude is interesting too because the vocals are more out front than on the MOR version and almost sounds like a different song. The instrumental of Children is good too. Anyway it's an interesting listen and the unreleased song is great.

  4. I bought 3 deluxe Black Sabbath releases from a seller on ebay for 19.99 each with free shipping. Just got them today so I'll have some comments in the coming days on them. The really funny thing that I just realized is I bought 3 different Sabbath cds that contain 4 different singers and none of the singers are Ozzy. What I got are Seventh Star, Mob Rules and Born Again. I have one quick comment about The Mob Rules. I did a quick listen of the bonus tracks (there are two, a live die Young and a demo/soundtrack version of The Mob Rules) and there is the most awesome version of the song, The Mob Rules you will ever hear. This was a version that appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Heavy Metal. In the liner notes, they explain that the movie people wanted a song so Sabbath did a demo of Mob Rules and sent to the movie people and if they wanted it, they would do a finished version. The movie people loved the demo so much that they didn't bother asking for a finished version and used the demo in the movie. Sabbath said that when they were making The Mob Rules album, they tried but could not produce another version as powerful as the demo. See if you can find that version on youtube and listen to it (If you haven't already), it's freaking great.

    1. I believe I've heard that version of The Mob Rules. The deluxe version has the Heavy Metal version of Mob Rules? Looks like I'll have to get that. I don't have any of the deluxe editions yet. When I do I'll revise my list to include the bonus tracks and include my thoughts on the bonus material. I probably should list the bonus material anyway considering that I did so on the Deep Purple list even though I haven't heard ALL of their bonus tracks yet. But I'll wait until I can get them.

  5. Thoughts on the deluxe edition of Mob Rules":

    Disc 1 - The remaster of this is probably the same version as "The Rules Of Hell" box set and subsequent cd releases. I bought the "Rules Of Hell" when it came out and got rid of my earlier versions. The sound is excellent. In addition to the official album, there are two excellent bonus tracks, A live version of "Die Young" and the magnificent demo/sountrack version of "The Mob Rules".

    Disc 2 - A real treasure. This is a re-release of a limited edition live album called "Live at Hammersmith Odeon." They only issued 5,000 copies, so it was rather rare until now. I have a slightly illegitimate copy of the original , so now by purchasing the new version, I can happily say I'm legal again. This is a great live disc and I think it is better than "Live Evil". I wish they would have left the Ozzy songs alone but I have to say that Dio does a killer N.I.B. I just don't like anyone but Ozzy singing "War Pigs" or "Black Sabbath" though. There are two things I hate on live albums, drum solos and sing-a-longs with the audience. Those things are fine when you are there in person but I really hate listening to them on my cd. Almost every live album has one or both of these irritating features. This one is no exception as Sabbath chooses one of their most awesome songs, Heaven And Hell to screw up with a sing-a-long. Sadly, I don't think I've ever heard Dio do a version without it. Other than that, this is fucking awesome and Dio is fucking awesome. LOOK OUT!

    Highly recommended.

  6. One more note about Mob Rules disc 2:

    I put my copy of Hammersmith and the new disc 2 in my cd player and noticed the running time on the new disc is around 9 minutes longer but it has the same number of songs. I've listened to the new disc a couple of times but nothing really stood out that seemed to be added. Maybe there are 9 more minutes of audience singing in "Heaven & Hell" because when I get to that part I just hit the next track button. I think maybe the original disc has some Dio banter edited out but 9 minutes is a lot of banter so maybe a couple of songs were edited a little on the original but I didn't really notice anything.

  7. Thoughts on Born Again deluxe edition:

    Disc 1 - This is a very under appreciated album. There's some great stuff here but the album suffers from production problems. I think the deluxe edition is a bit of an sound improvement to my previous version but it still has issues. I think my biggest issue with it is that Ian should be more out front in the mix. He sounds buried in the mix as well as sounding like someone put a towel over my speakers. Think back to the problem that caused the split with Dio, when Tony and Geezer accused Dio of sneaking into the studio to change the mix and get his vocals more out front. Well, maybe Dio should have sneaked into the studio and adjusted Ian's vocals too.

    Disc 2 - There's a very good previously unreleased song called "The Fallen" and a longer version of "Stonehenge." There is an excellent live show featuring 3 1/2 (The Dark is the 1/2) Born Again songs. The live version of Zero is slowed down a little and very heavy (and awesome). Hearing Sabbath play "Smoke On The Water" is pretty cool too.

    I have a friend that saw this version of Sabbath when he lived in New Jersey (I think he saw them in Philly). He swears they did "Space Truckin'" but I've never found any mention of them doing that song anywhere. I think my friend may have been the one "Space Truckin'" at the show.

  8. Thoughts on Seventh Star deluxe version:

    What I thought of it in 1986 – I absolutely hated this when it came out. This release caused me to basically ignore the Tony Martin era that came after this. I hated the music of the mid 80’s with it’s keyboard heavy slick production sound. It seemed like all of my favorite 70s artists were churning out this type of music to try and stay modern. In 1986, I was already irritated that Black Sabbath had dumped 3 great singers in the past few years and approached this release with skepticism. The first two tracks probably sealed the deal as far as my hatred for this release was concerned and I’m not sure if I ever listened to anything past those first two songs. The two songs, “In For The Kill” and “No Stranger To Love” sounded to me at the time like Kenny Loggins should be singing them for a cheesy 80’s movie soundtrack. So basically, I was like, fuck-em if they are going to keep changing singers and churning out soundtrack music.

    What I think of it in 2012 – I’ve given this a pretty good listen and I have to say that it’s not as bad as I thought it was in 1986. I think the first couple of tracks on an album are crucial in determining whether people are going to give the album a chance or not and my hatred of those two songs probably clouded my view of the rest of it. I’m still not crazy about the first two tracks (I only throw up a little now instead of projectile vomit when I hear them – also, I realize that many people like “In for The Kill” and think it’s a great lead off track, I just don’t happen to be one of them) but there’s some good stuff on the rest of the album, especially “Danger Zone” (which just happens to be the title of a Kenny Loggins soundtrack song – I can’t shake the Kenny Loggins tie-ins here) and Seventh Star. I still don’t consider it great Sabbath but it’s not too bad after all.

    Disc 2- This is a bootleg quality concert featuring Ray Gillen (Glenn was too coked up for the tour). I didn’t think I was going to like it after reading the comments on Amazon about it. Everyone complains about the poor sound quality and the sound is bad but if you give this a chance, it’s really an excellent performance. Ray Gillen does some great vocals on the old Sabbath songs and Tony’s playing is gloriously heavy. They only do 2 Seventh Star songs but I probably would have preferred to hear all of the Seventh Star songs live like this instead of the studio versions. I may have even liked "In For The Kill" live. A real pleasant surprise and a gem of a show.