Unlike the previous Rhino-released Sabbath collection, this record suffers from some questionable decisions by its compilers.
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There ought to be a law, or a commandment. Something like: Thou shalt not plucketh tracks from any Sabbath album past Sabotage when compiling a one-disc greatest hits collection, and thou shalt choose very carefully from both Sabotage and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, lest ye disenfranchise Sabbath neophytes. After all, only dedicated spelunkers are going to want to venture into the depths plumbed by Black Dio and Black Purple and Tony Iommi”s Traveling Sabbath of Ebon Darkness. If you want the best, then you want Ozzy Osborne cribbing notes from Hammer Studio horror flicks and/or his own experiences with various controlled substances. Rhino knew this back in 2002, when they compiled two discs” worth of Ozzy-era goodness. Twenty-nine total tracks; a mere four from the final two Ozzy albums, and only 10 from the latter half of Ozzy”s tenure. On this greatest hits collection, the ratio”s less favorable– out of 16 total tracks, three are turds from the post-Sabotage era, plus one underwhelming track each from both Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage.
Were I in an Old Testament mood, I”d simply draw the line at Vol. 4 and start turning heathens into salt. Such a demarcation means folks who bought this comp could cut bait with the awesome-beyond-words “Supernaut” and display their devil horns with pride. Tracks like the turgid “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and “Hole in the Sky” sound like watered down Sabbath, especially following various Vol. 4 highlights. Which is a sight better than Sabbath doing their best Cheap Trick impersonation (“Never Say Die”), or Sabbath trying to one-up Blueshammer (as on “Rock “N” Roll Doctor” and “Dirty Women,” both from the misnomered Technical Ecstasy). I guess listeners should be happy Rick Wakeman”s contributions to the band”s gradual decline or the group”s foray into new-wave what-the-fuckness aren”t included.
Regardless of how the compilers try to ruin the party, there”s no denying what Sabbath once was. From the first bell toll of “Black Sabbath” until “Supernaut” fades to black 11 tracks later, the band”s greatness is unmistakable. Iommi must have brought a few extra virgins to the crossroads when he met up with old Lucifer, as the leads to songs like “War Pigs”, “Black Sabbath”, and “Iron Man” are inescapable and eternal. (That the compilers saw it fit to indiscriminately chop two minutes off of “Iron Man” is just another strike against this disc.) The group”s Gothic interpretation of the blooze is all but perfected on the track which inspired their name. Iommi plays a few notes, Bill Ward crashes his cymbals, Ozzy offers some stanzas concerning devil worship, and cathedrals in fog emerge from the speakers. It”s campy as hell, but they play it straight, and it works. Almost 40 years later, the music is still able to evoke this mood perfectly.
Paranoid is the apotheosis of the Sabbath sound, as five minutes on any classic rock station will attest. And there”s a very good reason for that– tracks as played out as “Iron Man” and “War Pigs” still pack a punch, with the production lending the songs a cavernous feel that flatters the group”s deceptively simple instrumentation. After that peak, the group refined their sound, which included both sublimely stupid rock stuff like “Sweet Leaf” and the mellotron-aided piano balladry of “Changes”. And tracks like the unstoppable “Supernaut” and equally great “Snowblind” hold their own against other high points in the group”s catalog. Blame the drugs or plain old sloth, but later attempts to expand the group”s palate weren”t nearly as successful. After Vol. 4, the band sounded less like Sabbath than like a group that either wanted to be Sabbath or be something else. Including back-to-back examples of this mediocrity to close out this retrospective is not the best way to end things. Of course, this compilation is hardly the best way to pay tribute to Black Sabbath. Those with any interest in checking this stuff out would be better served by either seeking out actual albums or spending the extra cash on the aforementioned two-disc collection of Sabbath”s best.