Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward: My 10 Favorite Metal Albums
When Black Sabbath‘s Bill Ward learned that 1970’s Paranoid, the band’s classic second LP, topped Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time, he says he took the news in stride. “I just thought it was cool,” he told RS during a recent phone chat. “I can think of a lot of other metal bands. I’m grateful that Paranoid, which is one of the original albums to kind of kick this thing off, was put at number one. In that respect, I think that’s cool.”
As the conversation turned to the metal albums that mean the most to him, though, the drummer became considerably more animated. In the wake of the 100 Greatest Metal Albums list – and after polling icons of the genre including Rob Halford, Lars Ulrich and Ward’s former bandmate Ozzy Osbourne – Ward is the latest musician RS has asked to come up with a similar list of his own. And though he’s been there since metal’s early-Seventies inception, helping to define the style’s rhythmic approach with his hard-hitting yet loose, jazz-informed attack, Ward’s picks are surprisingly up to date, with selections stretching from 1971 through 2017.
The bands on his list span many subgenres, from thrash and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to industrial metal, death metal and more. Ward says that rather than style, it’s a feeling that unites the metal that turns him on. “I can definitely feel it,” he explains. “If I hear a band, if it has that core, it’s gonna reach out, it’s gonna go to dangerous places, it’s gonna be controversial, and everybody’s putting their heart and soul into whatever they’re doing, I’ll make that instant contact. These guys put it all out, and I love that about them … I know what it’s like to put your heart and soul and leave nothing after the concert.”
Here are Bill Ward’s 10 favorite metal albums and his thoughts about each one.
Dead Cross, ‘Dead Cross’ (2017)
I saw Dead Cross last year in Los Angeles and I was just blown away. I was mesmerized. I thought, “My God, they’re fucking incredible.” Now, a new Dead Cross has arrived with Mike Patton on vocals, and I love Mike Patton, all the way back from Faith No More. I only got this record three weeks ago, and so far, it’s just kicking fucking ass. And they’re using sound effects, too, by the way, on this record. Of course, I’m attracted to Dave [Lombardo]’s drumming. There are crescendos, there are battering ram-type drum fills, and lots of tom-toms. Very melodic toms. Just twists and turns in the sound of the band. A lot of speed stuff on this record. It’s just great. Patton sounds great, man. He sounds totally on.
DevilDriver, ‘Beast’ (2011)
I’m a big fan of DevilDriver and I have been since they first started. The reason why I picked this particular album is because there are a couple of songs on there which I absolutely love. “Black Soul Choir,” which is brilliant. “Crowns of Creation,” “Lend Myself to the Night.” This album, Beast is, in my opinion, just a really, really good example of bands that are more melodic that still carry a hardcore backbeat, and that have great guitar players. There’s some wonderful melodies, some really nice melodic things, and these guys actually sing multiple vocals and they harmonize. The whole picture that we get, I think, is really pleasant on the ears.
Fear Factory, ‘Mechanize’ (2010)
The reason why I picked this particular album is because I like the song “Christploitation.” That’s one of my favorite songs. Slowed-down piano, and [drummer] Gene [Hoglan] is just fucking everywhere on this song. … If you want to listen to the future, then listen to Gene Hoglan on “Christploitation.”
There’s a lot of other bands that were putting those kind of [electronic] things into the music. I thought it was done really well. I think if it’s done tastefully, then I think it really works well. I listen to the entire sound and it seemed to fit. Nothing put me out. Nothing was like, “Oh, no, I can’t listen to that.” It all seemed to fit. I don’t have a problem with what Fear Factory are doing. There’s other bands, too, that have been very, very good. Even Slipknot uses a lot of sound effects and things. So, yeah, I just saw it as a blanket sound, and very acceptable as well.
Krisiun, ‘Southern Storm’ (2008)
It’s just a good album. They’ve got some great percussion. “Slaying Steel,” the way that that opens up with the [sings riff], it’s just got all of these great orchestral overtures played on guitar. It draws you in immediately. It’s just great. One of my favorite underground metal bands. All the tracks are really, really good. They’re a great example of heavy metal, or what I consider to be heavy metal.
I don’t know about all this “speed metal” and everything. … It’s all metal to me. Maybe it’s ’cause I’m just getting old. I can’t keep up with all the [categories]. I’m really not bothered. If it punches me in the soul and I get it, then it’s like, “OK,” and I just call it heavy metal. That’s how I see Krisiun.
Oddly enough, one of the bands that I was following was Celtic Frost. Celtic Frost played a song called “Totengott,” [from 2006] and I listened to that and I thought, “Oh, my God, we’ve arrived.” “Totengott,” to me, was one of the premiere heavy-metal songs that I’ve ever heard in my life, period. It was about the same time as Celtic Frost that I came across Krisiun. I put it on and loved it instantly. … I was listening to different bands around that time, like Napalm Death, bands that were a little over-exaggeratedly heavy, a lot of people putting in blast beats and things like that. It’s just cool; it’s whatever they wanted to play. It’s their music, for God’s sake. I wandered down that road for a while and checked out bands. Some of them I liked; some of them I didn’t really listen to anymore. Krisiun has been a favorite of mine for a long time.
Type O Negative, ‘October Rust’ (1996)
The reason why I picked October Rust is, number one, I’m a huge fan of Type O Negative and have been since I first heard them. But one of my favorite songs on this particular album is one that we play every Christmas on our radio show. It’s called “Red Water (Christmas Mourning),” and it’s just a fucking brilliant arrangement. It’s got everything in there. Kenny [Hickey] and Johnny [Kelly] and Josh [Silver] sound absolutely formidable on this track. The way that they put it all together with the sound effects, you can feel the coldness and the chill when you listen to the song. It’s conveyed perfectly. It’s just a very well-orchestrated piece of music. Then, Peter [Steele]’s lyrics are, I think, absolutely outstanding. I think he nailed everything in this song. As he did in a number of other songs, too. There’s something about it that’s really chilling and it has a complete ring of honesty about it. Sometimes, Type O will come out with something completely unbelievable, and this is one of their unbelievable tracks. So that’s particularly why I picked October Rust.
The first time I heard them, I was attracted to them immediately. When I first heard them, it was almost like, “Oh, I feel like I’ve been in this band.” Or I feel like this would be a band I could play in, which is no disrespect to Johnny! Johnny and I are pretty good friends to say the least. But when I first heard it, I thought, “Oh, my God, there’s something about this band which is really, really cool.” At the time, I didn’t know that they were huge Sabbath fans. I found out later.
There’s something very magnetic; they have something that draws you in. I think it’s one of those bands where you either love them 120 percent or you kind of go, “Eh, I’m not sure.” Kind of like Sabbath, actually. … Very loud, extremely powerful. They have all the same things: they leave everything out on the stage and they leave everything out when they record.
They’ve definitely got a sense of humor throughout the band. There’s no question about that. I think it [gets] missed and it’s misunderstood. [There was] a lot of humor in Sabbath. We were falling over ourselves sometimes [laughs].
When Peter died [in 2010], that one kind of knocked me about a lot. … It was unexpected because the path that Peter was on was an upswing and it’s like, “Oh, man, what’s happened?” Yeah, I built a bonfire for Peter and I said some prayers, basically letting him know that the bonfire was to light his way to a new path. I loved him, very much. I admired him. There’s nobody else on Earth like Peter.
Motörhead, ‘The Wörld Is Yours’ (2010)
Brilliant band. I actually like a lot of Motörhead records. The reason why I picked this one is because it was [one of the last major albums] that they did, and it’s quite fitting actually. The track “Brotherhood of Man,” it seems quite fitting in today’s society. It seems more fitting now than it ever was. I play it all the time on the radio show. It’s one of our most-played records.
Lemmy had all the basic gut instincts about what metal is and there’s no question about that. He’s from that fairground way of life. … I saw them in a bar in Worcester years and years ago when they were first setting out – I think it was 1981 or 1982 – and I couldn’t believe the energy. It was fucking unbelievable. You knew that they were gonna be on the move, that they were a big band, that they were gonna tour the world multiple times. It’s just absolutely plain in the way that they were.
I knew Lemmy had been under the weather, but I didn’t know that he was ill enough to pass away. It kind of knocked me sideways and I sat down for a few days; I couldn’t believe that he’d passed away.
Judas Priest, ‘The Best of Judas Priest: Living After Midnight’ (1997)
I love Priest. There’s so much good stuff here: “Turbo Lover” … One track that I like is “[Heading Out to the] Highway.” The way that the band sits and just the backbeat and the guitar groove, it sits in what I can only say is the most perfect place possible. When they picked the time for that, whoever picked it did a really, really good job, because it sits just exactly where it’s supposed to sit.
There’s a lot to talk about with Judas Priest. I think [Living After Midnight is] a great example of their work. “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” I mean, come on. … Give me a fucking break – that’s such a good song. And the feel on that is just unbelievable.
[Sabbath] were who we were and [Judas Priest] were already traveling right along the road, man. They were making their own music and doing whatever they had to do, both Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. They’re self-made bands, and they have their soul and they know who they are, and they know what it is. And what I’m saying by that is they know what metal is. They understand the basic, primal scream of metal. That’s what I get from them. I’ve seen Priest play so many times. If you ever go see Priest, watch them play “Metal Gods.” It’s a fucking anthem. I used to go out at night to see if I could hear them play “Metal Gods,” and that was enough for me. Just like, “Man …” They’re so exciting.
Slipknot, ‘.5: The Gray Chapter’ (2014)
I was gonna pick [Slipknot’s] first album [1999’s Slipknot], but I thought, “No, let’s go with the last album that they did.” The reason that I picked it, primarily, is because of Corey [Taylor’s] lyrics. I was talking to #3 [percussionist Chris Fehn] only a couple of days ago – he’s a really close friend of mine. I was talking about Corey’s lyrics, about how I’m amazed by every time I played the album, I learned something more. It’s the way that Corey will give you a barrage of lyrics, and then become subdued. There are some really hardcore lyrics on this album. I’m not saying that there weren’t before with Slipknot; they’ve always been a hardcore band, period. But that’s what drew me to it, and that’s what brought me to the decision. There’s excellent playing from every member of the band, as well.
Recently, I played “XIX” and “Sarcastrophe,” which I think are both great tracks. But I like “XIX.” It’s a great example of Corey’s lyrics, and I like the way he twists and turns, and he’ll come out with something that’ll be quite unexpected. And “The Negative One,” I just love that; “The Devil and I.” I’m still digesting a lot of this album. There’s so much. I listen to this album over and over and over again. It’s just really, really good.
Metallica, ‘Metallica’ (1991)
I love the Black Album because I think it was the beginning of something, primarily. I’d met Metallica, and I’d heard Metallica before that, but when I heard the Black Album, I actually had a response rather like I did with Sgt. Pepper. When I heard Sgt. Pepper for the first time, I sat down – along with a lot of other people – and listened to it over and over and over again. I did the same thing with the Black Album. The Black Album is very, very listenable to me, and it was easy on my ears, easy on my heart, and it was easy on where I was at. I felt very, very grateful that an album like the Black Album had come out, because I felt like it was the beginning of a new road and I felt like there’d been some gaps or some things that were kind of severed after [Black Sabbath’s] Heaven and Hell. There were other things that were happening, but I just couldn’t get it on with any of the stuff in that short period. Then when the Black Album came out, it reunited me with metal. So it’s an important album for me. I love every track on it.
The biggest one, of course, would be “Enter Sandman,” which I think is just absolutely fucking brilliant. “We’re off to never-never land.” I mean, come on. … It’s just like, “Yep.” The way that it’s played and the way that he laughs – very sinister, very nice. “The Unforgiven,” “Wherever I May Roam,” “Don’t Tread on Me,” love it. I think every track on there is really well done.
Black Sabbath, ‘Master of Reality’ (1971)
I like every single Sabbath album that I worked on, but I just happen to like Master of Reality. … I liked it because the band was, by that time, very much a completely on-the-road, touring band. We hadn’t come off the road for several years and there’s a maturity about it. I’m not saying that the other two – Black Sabbath and Paranoid – weren’t mature. I think they were, actually. But there’s something about Master; there’s something different about it. It’s always been one of my favorites. I just happen to really, really like that album.
I really like “Children of the Grave.” I think that’s a really good song. One of the things I like about [it is] the way that we used the keyboard in the center. It was almost like a church organ, kind of doom-y, gloomy organ that we laid down. Very hard riffs, very heavy-laden part right in the center of the song. I love the lyrics; I think the lyrics are great. We were stepping out into new places lyrically.
The groove on “Children of the Grave” is great. I love the groove, and I love playing it live, too. I could feel the power of everybody else in the band and I could feel me playing it, too. It was a double-bass-drum kit, with timbale-playing. There weren’t timbale overdubs, either. I think I actually played them in with the track as we were going. But I thought it was outstanding for its time. It sounded just right.
We have “Into the Void” on this album as well. It’s great on Master of Reality or when we played it live; it’s an incredible song to play. I think it’s a real favorite for a lot of the fans, and also for the band as well.
“Sweet Leaf” is great. It’s tongue-in-cheek, kind of stepping out a little bit. I remember when we wrote that at Kingsley Ward’s place down in Monmouth, Wales. I remember when we first put that together and it just fell together really nicely. That’s where we were at that time. Marijuana was extremely popular. I guess it is these days, as well. I wouldn’t know, to be honest with you – I kind of left that world a long time ago – but back then, I thought it was an honorable song to be participating in.
“After Forever,” I thought we were very risqué lyrically with that. We had the lyric in there, saying, “Would you like to see the pope at the end of a rope?/Do you think he’s a fool?” I thought, “Oh, my God, we’re gonna get murdered here for saying such things.” But we actually said that and it went on the record, and I think that was a very controversial song, especially for its time. I like that we were stepping out and breaking musical rules or lyrical rules saying “you can’t go there” or “you can’t touch that.” I thought that was quite courageous actually.
It does [have a pro-Christian message]. When we were defending the song back in the early Seventies, we would say, “Well, listen to the rest of the lyrics and they’re actually quite meaningful,” in terms of having harmony among different people and different races of people and so on and so forth. It was actually supposed to be that kind of a song. But it also asks questions, and it asks quite deliberate questions.