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Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward: My 10 Favorite Metal Albums

Drummer shouts out classics including Metallica’s Black Album and Type O Negative’s ‘October Rust’

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.

3

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.

2

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.

1

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.

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