In Criminally Slept-On, Schuler Benson takes a look at some of the most underrated tracks from his favorite prolific bands’ back catalogs.
I believe Black Sabbath are the quintessential heavy metal band. They ushered in a sound that went on to inform not only their contemporaries, but no less than every single band that’s ever graced the genre. I’m a second-generation Sabbath fan; my dad started me on this shit early, and the joy of taking music that was handed down to me and making it my own is one of my most beloved memories involving both music and family. This is an interesting time for Sabbath, and for fans of the original Black Sabbath lineup. Three original members, singer Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and guitarist Tony Iommi, are currently in the midst of “The End,” a global trek that’s being billed as the Ozzy-fronted lineup’s final live tour. As a celebration (and surely to generate even more interest), the band has also released an accompanying The End EP, an eight-track disc featuring four unreleased songs from the band’s final album, 2013’s 13.
While my old man believed Sabbath stopped when Ozzy initially got the boot in ‘79, as I grew older, I found out that there were multiple permutations of the band, and that the group’s musical style varied wildly from one singer to the next. I discovered the Dio-era stuff in my early 20’s and was immediately hooked. I combed through the Martin, Gillan, and Hughes output as well, finding some stellar hits, as well as some pretty abysmal misses. And interestingly enough, as canonized as the band’s original lineup has become, there are fans out there who’ll swear up and down that the shit the band did with Tony Martin was miles ahead of Master of Reality or Sabotage. That kind appreciation is part of what makes the band so legendary: across a couple generations, every listener can find something about the Sabbath of the day that’s uniquely theirs. In the spirit of celebrating their mighty swansong (or so they say, at least… we’ve heard this before) and of enjoying the entirety of the band’s seminal recorded output, the next three editions of Criminally Slept-On will be devoted to different eras of Black Sabbath, and to maybe finding a couple songs you might’ve missed along the way. SIX WEEKS OF SABBATH, MOTHERFUCKERS! Get stoked. And, of course, there’s nowhere to start but with Ozzy.
1) “Isolated Man”
The End CD’s are being sold exclusively at Sabbath’s final shows, and they’re already a hot commodity; if you look on eBay right now, you can find them being sold for upwards of $150. They’re $30 at the show, so the mark-up is obscene, but that’s the kind of frenzy Black Sabbath generates, even when these guys are pushing 70 years old. I’ve had the chance to hear the four 13 outtakes several times, and I’ve gotta give a shout-out to my bro, Roy Lee, for scoring me a copy at the Minneapolis show. Honestly, all of these songs would’ve been good enough to make the album’s final cut, but I can see them being left out for sequencing reasons, and just for general run-time limitations. I’ve chosen “Isolated Man” because I think it’s clearly the disc’s stand-out track. Ozzy’s got some phlange effects going on his voice that sound downright menacing, and there’s a growl to the bass and guitar tone that’s as mean as anything from the band’s initial run in the 70’s. Maybe don’t get your balls busted for $150 online, but if you’re too far away to make one of the final tour dates, stream this shit on YouTube. It’s definitely worth hearing.
2) “Dear Father”
13 got a number of reactions among my friends and me. While I loved the record and felt the new songs were definitely strong enough to live up to the hype, several dudes thought the music sounded tired and forced. I picked “Dear Father” because it’s not only my favorite track on the album, it’s also the one I’d consistently point to in protest against anyone who’s calling this shit played-out. Iommi’s riffs are still sharp and catchy as hell, Geezer’s lyrics are as morbid and damning as ever, and in a refrain near the five-minute mark, we get one of Ozzy’s most impassioned screams in ages. The album ends with the same storm and tolling bell that introduced the world to Black Sabbath on their first record. Fitting and poetic.
3) “Selling My Soul”
Following the final Tony Martin-era album, 1995’s widely shit-on Forbidden, plans were underway for the original Black Sabbath lineup to get back together and play some shows. The result was 1997’s double live album, Reunion. It featured some spirited performances of material from the band’s first seven albums, and each member’s performance was positively on fire. In addition to the live songs, Ozzy and Tony got together to write two new tracks. The first, “Psycho Man,” made a significant impact on rock radio and felt like a promising return to form for fans of the Ozzy-era doom and gloom. The second track, “Selling My Soul,” didn’t get quite as much love. It’s inferior to “Psycho Man” in that it’s not quite as memorable. But it’s still got some solid hooks, and boasts what was essentially the Ozzy lineup’s beefiest production up until that time. I’ve had conversations with fans of the band who didn’t even know this song was out there. It is. Give it a shot.