10 Best Black Sabbath Songs
Black Sabbath’s historical standing as the definitive heavy metal band is pretty much beyond dispute, but try finding any kind of consensus about the band’s best album, best song, even best singer, and you’ll get a myriad of answers. We know you’ll continue to rant and rave long after you’ve read this list, but here’s our attempt at counting down Sabbath’s 10 best songs. Whether you’re a fan of the Ozzy years or the Dio years, or any of the other various eras of the band, there’s a wealth of material to choose from, making this one of the most difficult Top 10 lists to compile. Hope you appreciate our emotional sacrifice and enjoy the obviously subjective selection that follows. Here’s our list of the 10 Best Black Sabbath Songs:
Full disclosure: our first pass at this list contained nine tunes sung by Ozzy Osbourne, and while we could have comfortably made a case for ten, we decided to mix things up just a little bit. So in the spirit of recognizing the other important vocalists (Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, etc.) who contributed to the legend that is Black Sabbath, even if briefly, we’ll kick things off with the band’s best tune NOT sung by Osbourne or Dio: the moody latter day masterpiece known as ‘The Shining,’ featuring underrated frontman Tony Martin.
‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’
There is a veritable mosh pit filled with towering metal classics from the Ozzy era, elbowing each other for this No. 9 slot, including ’N.I.B.,’ ‘Sweet Leaf,’ ‘Snowblind,’ ’Supernaut,’ ’Into the Void,’ ’Wheels of Confusion’ … you get the picture. So we let them duke it out and it was ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ that emerged out of the scrum, bruised, bloodied, but victorious, thanks to one of the grandest riffs ever conjured by Tony Iommi.
'God Is Dead?'
No metal album in recent years was more anticipated than Black Sabbath's '13.' As the first full-length disc featuring Ozzy Osbourne in 35 years, there was a lot riding on the album for the metal legends -- and with its very first single, 'God Is Dead?,' Sabbath ended any doubts that they were back in fine form. The Grammy-winning song is an epic 9-minute opus that features some monster riffing from Tony Iommi, Nietzsche-inspired lyrics from Geezer Butler and a masterful vocal from Ozzy Osbourne. While people can debate whether God is dead, Sabbath have proven that they're very much alive.
The fact that Sabbath’s definitive, war-condemning epic finds itself all the way down at No. 7 is quite a testament to the band’s colossal influence over the course of metal history. One of the best-ever showcases for Geezer Butler’s evocative lyrics, ‘War Pigs’ explored most every possibility of Black Sabbath’s newly minted sonic template over the course of its eight imposing minutes. In fact, you could even say that, from this point forward Sabbath would spend much of the ‘70s (and beyond) simply picking apart and reassembling its parts into new, exotic shapes.
‘Symptom of the Universe’
That talent for continually revisiting and reimagining heavy metal’s fundamental building blocks, as Black Sabbath had first hewn them from the living rock of, err, rock and roll, arguably achieved its final, universally-worshipped expression of the ‘70s on the group’s sixth studio effort, ‘Sabotage.’ And, specifically, it accomplished this via the galloping onslaught and monolith power chords (not to mention acoustic guitar coda) assembled under the cryptic lyrics of ‘Symptom of the Universe’ -- a beloved song that has since been covered by everyone from Metallica to Helmet to Orange Goblin!
‘Children of the Grave’
Black Sabbath’s awe-inspiring third opus, ‘Master of Reality,’ still wears the doom crown like no other album in history — in part because it contained yet another batch of timeless riff-fests (see ’After Forever,’ ‘Lord of this World,’ etc.), but primarily because Iommi and Butler tuned down their guitar and bass a half step to attain a bowel-rattling rumble. That rumble defines the foreboding opening riff of the next choice in our list of 10 Best Black Sabbath songs, ‘Children of the Grave,’ which simultaneously addresses the dreary aftermath of the flower power era like few other songs ever have.
And if any song can be said to have single-handedly defined the founding tenets of doom metal for the ages, it was ‘Iron Man’ — the ‘Paranoid’ album’s ultimate expression of creeping, crawling, grinding power, topped with a message of doleful vengeance and utter despair. Even when the tune finally lifts its “heavy boots of lead” near the finish line and kicks thing up a gear or two, it is only so that its protagonist can savagely slay all the “people he once saved” and thus seal their doom. Ingrates! In light of all this, it’s only fitting that one of the most iconic songs and riffs of all time has recently enjoyed so much exposure to new fans, via the wildly popular ‘Iron Man’ movie franchise.
‘Heaven and Hell’
Ronnie James Dio’s contributions to Black Sabbath’s second lease on life — following Ozzy Osborne’s departure — simply cannot be underestimated. What the band lost in lovable, everyman charisma (and brute chemical tolerance!) they easily won back in talent, professionalism and, oh yeah, perhaps the finest voice in heavy metal history! More pertinently, though, musically speaking Sabbath gained an unprecedented measure of polish and sheer majesty that elevated new material like ‘Children of the Sea,’ ‘Lonely is the World’ and especially ‘Heaven and Hell’ to new heights of respectability.
Everything about Black Sabbath’s career (and heavy metal in its pure, unadulterated form, generally) begins with Black Sabbath’s eponymous song; and it’s not too big a stretch to suggest the course of metal history would have been set, as preordained by the great horned one himself, even if it had all ended here, too. Thankfully, it did not, and Sabbath carried on defining the primal template for metallic misery established here, forever carving their occult concepts and thundering sound into the collective consciousness. In doing so, it certainly helped to set the tone with storm clouds pouring rain upon listeners’ heads, before those tolling bells, crashing power chords and the devil’s tritone ushered them through the gothic gates and completed their initiation. Hail Sabbath!
Finally, while it is technically a short, sharp shock of an anomaly in the Black Sabbath catalog, ‘Paranoid’ is arguably the group’s best known song to the world at large. Not only has it served faithfully as a reliably energizing, nightly concert encore for the group across the decades, ‘Paranoid’ essentially proved heavy metal would not forever confine itself to slug-like tempos. Plus, the fact that it was whipped up in about as much time as it takes to play the song, just to to fill a hole in the ‘Paranoid’ album sequence, also makes ‘Paranoid’ a perfect, pint-sized parable for Black Sabbath’s career-long “outsider” status with the musical mainstream; frequently dismissed by highbrow critics and music snobs, as though their opinions matter when there’s public support aplenty. In any case, it was obviously Black Sabbath (and their fans) who had the last laugh and the haters who were left feeling … we dunno, ‘Paranoid’?