There are several reasons why we’re opening this year’s (belated) Dystopian Halloween Party with a guide to the discography of Black Sabbath. First is the most obvious one: while pinpointing the precise “invention” of heavy metal (or any genre) is a fool’s errand, Sabbath were pretty much indisputably the architects of metal’s most Halloween-friendly strain. Plenty of artists in the late 1960s had dabbled in the occult, of course (most notably the Rolling Stones), and bands like Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin, and Grand Funk Railroad were earlier in developing a plodding, high-volume, post-psychedelic take on heavy blues. But Sabbath were the first to marry Satanic anxieties and Gothic horror aesthetics with truly monstrous minor-key riffs, spawning whole generations of future headbangers in the process. Second, on a more personal note, there’s this: Sabbath’s “Iron Man” was one of a small handful of songs that actually scared me as a child, to the point that I had to curtail my habit of listening to classic rock radio after dark (the other songs, in case you’re wondering, were Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My” and–don’t laugh–Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung”).
There’s also a good reason why we’re looking back at Sabbath this year in particular: because the original lineup (minus drummer Bill Ward) is currently nearing the last leg of what has been advertised as their final reunion/retirement tour, billed under the appropriately ominous name “The End.” It is, of course, wise to treat any rock band’s retirement announcement with a healthy dose of skepticism (how many times has KISS promised to call it quits, again?). But let’s be honest: this probably really is the end for Black Sabbath, a band for whom it is no exaggeration to say it’s a miracle that the original members are still alive, much less capable of playing together. It’s only fitting for a group as death-obsessed as Sabbath to be present at their own wake; and even if they do, somehow, lurch back to life in the future–well, zombies are a Halloween staple, too.
So please, as they take their final bow, join us in this exhaustive overview of one of the most important groups in popular music history. And I do mean exhaustive: while the current Sabbath lineup is hitting only the band’s highlights from their tenure with original singer Ozzy Osbourne, we’ve trawled their whole career: including the oft-overlooked period(s) with Ronnie James Dio in the frontman spot, and even their little-discussed wilderness years in the mid-to-late 1980s. I’ll be the first to admit, not all of it is great. But I think what we’ve come up with is a solid mix of recognizable hits, lesser-known gems, and noble failures–and yes, it will provide the perfect soundtrack for your next Halloween party and/or drive through the suburbs in an airbrushed stoner van.