Although it was not their last album with Ozzy, Sabotage very much plays as the breaking point for original-lineup Black Sabbath. Already the heaviest band on earth, struggles with drug addiction and legal issues with their record label created the perfect storm for their fifth album to reach unheard of levels of volatility, heaviness, and experimentation. On Sabotage, overblown grandiosity coexists with outright aggression, and unpredictability reigns supreme. I was about 14 when a borrowed copy from my dad’s vinyl collection became the first rock music to legitimately scare me. I haven’t been able to get enough ever since.
Lead song "Hole in the Sky" is one of the band’s most immediate rockers, and the churning, perpetual rhythm of "Symptom of the Universe" is often credited with initiating the thrash metal aesthetic. These guys had always been scary, but it’s clear from the beginning of Sabotage that now they’re pissed off- and it is fucking awesome. It starts getting weird with the aptly-named side-one closer "Megalomania". The track grinds its way into larger-than-life territory via Ozzy’s coked-out obsession with tracking his vocals several times over and drummer Bill Ward’s similar deal with “backwards cymbal” and other effects.
Side two opens with “The Thrill of it All”, which begins as a solid riff-based track but very quickly grows out of itself to the point of pomposity. It, however, gives way to the instrumental “Supertzar”; a grinding instrumental that immediately restores all of the evilness that Sabbath had built their legacy upon. Tony Iommi unleashes one of his darkest guitar riffs, only to be dramatically harmonized by a catholic-esque choir. On a promising album that threatened to blow itself out of proportion, Supertzar is brilliantly placed, bringing the band back to its roots in a big way.
The albums final epic "The Writ" opens with a droning bassline before giving way to a jarringly hostile verse section; which lyrically seems to depict the wrongdoing of the band’s record label at the time. Whatever the case, The Writ ends Sabotage in remarkably fitting fashion. The track plays as much too overblown for the band’s own good, while also devastatingly suffocating in its heaviness. It should also be noted that during the song’s midsection I used to be absolutely sure that Ozzy was chanting “Matt…” which increased its impact tenfold.
By virtue of their own personal undoings as well as unfortunate legal struggles, Black Sabbath solidified their status as heavy metal pioneers with 1975's Sabotage, laying the aggressive and suffocating foundation for thrash, progressive, and doom metal music yet to come.