Monday, 9 November 2015

Symptom of the Black Sabbath (Sabotage 1975)

From the Alan Freeman Playlist

Black Sabbath - Sabotage (1975) (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

In his biography, Iron Man, Tony Iommi said of Black Sabbath‘s sixth album, ‘It felt like we were being sabotaged all the way along the line and getting punched from all sides. We were constantly in some problem or another with management or somebody … That’s why … the album is called Sabotage.’ Rightly believing the previous album to be inferior, he is alleged to have told Steven Rosen in the nineties that, ‘We wanted to do a rock album – Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath wasn’t a rock album, really.’ One of the best tracks on the ‘rock album’ and one of the best ever by the band is Symptom of the Universe.

Symptom of the Universe is a track with a number of changes. The intro consists of the preceding track, Don’t Start Too Late, a quiet acoustic guitar instrumental from Tony Iommi, which segues into the thunderously heavy opening riff of Symptom interspersed with Bill Ward‘s rolling drums. At around the two-minute mark, the riff changes again for another heavy one and then switches back. Throughout, Ozzy Osbourne‘s voice is at its most maniacal. At just over three-and-a-half minutes there is another riff, presaging Iommi’s massive guitar solo. Almost a minute later Symptom becomes acoustic again, this time with vocals and a separate lyric. Iommi’s guitar playing on the coda is Spanish-influenced. This final passage is like the intro to Fairies Wear Boots, in that it was created independently in a jam session and tacked onto another track. As with Fairies, it works.

Geezer Butler‘s lyrics are mostly nonsense, although it is fair to say the Symptom of the Universe is love, ‘A symptom of the universe, a love that never dies.’ All of the verses are fantastical or dreamlike, with their mention of supersonic years, electrifying enemy, the Moon, silver tomb, seven-hundredth unicorn and magic ocean. From verses four to three, the first person and his love escape to their dreams and find happiness. Hence, the quieter detached playing of the final, almost separate, passage.

Symptom of the Universe is very heavy as is much of the Sabotage album, with Hole in the Sky, Megolamania and The Writ. To describe the song as an early example of ‘thrash metal’ or NWOBHM, as is popular these days, is errant nonsense and is like suggesting The Beatles were an early Brit-pop band. It seems amusing that someone at the record company thought it would be a good idea to release Symptom as a single. Unsurprisingly, it was not a hit. Equally funny is shredder Yngwie Malmsteen‘s comment, in an interview with Nick Bowcott of Guitar Player in 2008, in which he said that, ‘Tony’s use of the flat fifth [in Symptom of the Universe] would have got him burned at the stake a couple hundred years ago.’

Unfortunately, by the mid-seventies Sabbath were being ripped off by their manager, Patrick Meeehan, and their record label, Nems. Sabotage turned out to be their last great album with the original lineup of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward. Fans had to wait for Ronnie James Dio and Heaven and Hell, in 1980, for the band’s salvation.


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