Black Sabbath just rolled out dates for another leg of their 2016 farewell tour, bringing the grand total to 57 shows. There's just a single stop in their native England, so expect at least a handful more announcements in the future. The gigs are certain to feature massive hits like "Iron Man," "Paranoid" and "War Pigs," but the group's hardcore fans are hoping they also dig a little deeper. We asked our readers to select their favorite Black Sabbath deep cuts, and here are the results.
Black Sabbath may have nearly single-handedly invented heavy metal on their 1970 debut LP, but it wasn't until they dropped Paranoid later that year that a mass audience started paying attention. The title track, "Iron Man" and "War Pigs" were all super popular that year, but the album was quite strong from beginning to end. One of the highlights was seven-minute epic "Hand of Doom." Geezer Butler was inspired to write the song after witnessing soldiers coming back from Vietnam heavily addicted to drugs. They haven't played it since 1978.
In 1975, drugs, booze, legal issues, personality conflicts and simple exhaustion were all beginning to take their toll on the group, and they struggled mightily to get the six-minute "The Thrill of It All" on tape. Once they finally had a version they were pleased with, their tape technician sheepishly told them that a series of beeping reference tones somehow wound up on the master recording. They were forced to redo the entire song from scratch. That might explain why they never played the song in concert even once.
Critics initially greeted Sabotage as a disappointment after the group's brilliant first five albums, but time has been very kind to the LP. "The sound was a bit harder than Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," Tony Iommi wrote in his memoir Iron Man. "And my guitar sound was harder as well. That was brought on by all the aggravation we felt over the business with managements, lawyers and writs." The disc opens with the furious "Hole in the Sky," which sets the tone for the rest of the disc. It was a regular highlight on the Sabotage tour, but they haven't touched the song in concert since 1976.
Geezer Butler is a very soft-spoken guy, but the Black Sabbath bassist is a deep thinker and he worked tirelessly in the 1970s as the group's lyricist. Around the time of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in 1973, he began contemplating the mysteries of life, namely what forces decides which exact sperm gets to the egg. That interesting question is posed in "A National Acrobat," in which he writes in the voice of the omnipotent force that brings about human life. "Well I know its hard for you to know the reason why," he wrote. "And I know you'll understand more when it's time to die." They haven't played the song since 1974, and it's so tough vocally that it's hard to imagine Ozzy giving it a go on tour next year.
Cocaine was all over the rock world back in the 1970s, though not many bands embraced the substance quite like Black Sabbath. Not only did they snort insane amounts of the stuff, they wanted to call their fourth LP Snowblind in tribute to the drug. The label balked and they wound up calling it Vol. 4, but "Snowblind" kicks off the second side. The song is presented as a cautionary tale ("The sun no longer sets me free/I feel the snowflakes freezing me,") but it was really a celebration of their drug of choice.
The three most famous songs in the Black Sabbath catalog are "Paranoid," "Iron Man" and "War Pigs." They're also three of the four songs that appear on the first side of Paranoid, meaning that poor "Planet Caravan" is often skipped over by fans anxious to bang their head to "Iron Man." Those patient enough to let the album roll discovered a lovely, mellow tune (featuring piano by engineer Tom Allom) where Ozzy's vocals are slightly distorted. A new generation of metal nuts discovered the song when Pantera covered it on their 1994 LP Far Beyond Driven.
Black Sabbath decided to switch things up a bit on Master of Reality, their third album, by tuning down three semitones on a handful of songs to achieve a heavier sound. Album closer "Into The Void" was one of them, and Ozzy struggled a bit since he had to sing the complex lyrics very quickly. "Rocket wuhptupittipuh, what the fuck," Iommi recalls him saying. "I can't sing this!" He eventually pulled it off and he's done it more than 300 times since in concert.
Look at the Black Sabbath website and you might think the group has always been a three-piece. There's not a single photo of drummer Bill Ward, even in the archival shots. He hasn't played with the band since their 2005 summer tour, and that's especially sad now they're prepping a farewell tour. His jazz-inspired drumming was a key part of the Sabbath formula. "Supernaut" from Vol. 4 was one of his best pieces, and usually the moment in concert where he'd deliver his drum solo.
The four members of Black Sabbath were so consumed by a lawsuit with their former manager around the time of Sabotage that they wrapped up the album with a nine-minute tune called "The Writ." "It was hard to create in that situation unless we wrote a song about it," Iommi wrote in Iron Man, "which sort of relieved the situation." The lyrics make it quite clear how furious they were at the time. "All of the promises that never came true," Osbourne roars. "You're gonna get what is coming to you, that's true."
"'Symptom of the Universe' has been described as the first progressive metal song," Tony Iommi wrote in Iron Man. "And I won't disagree with that." The highly complex and dynamic Sabotage tune was born out a jam in the studio, which Iommi later supplemented with acoustic guitar parts. The finished product does indeed sound like some of the prog rock that was filling record stores at the time, though with Sabbath's distinctive sound. The group revived it in 2012 after a long absence.