Black Sabbath has long been regarded as one of the heaviest of heavy metal bands. After 40 years, their monstrous riffs still echo through the brainpans of hard rock fans worldwide. Sabbath were always a lot more than just a heavy rock band; acoustic interludes, jazz phrasings, pop melodies and blues riffs are just a few of the textures that can be found in their music. Still, their overall sound has always been rather unrelenting.
Here’s a list of some of the songs I think cement Sabbath’s much-deserved reputation as the heaviest in the land.
1.) “Into the Void” – from Master of Reality, 1971
If I had to pick just one song to make a case for Black Sabbath’s unmatched heaviness, this would be it. This single song has more top of the heap metal riffs than most guitarists come up with over the course of a career. As is often the case, Tony Iommi leads the pack here with a tone and an attack that make listening to this song akin to being slowly encased in molten iron (um, in, y’know, a good way). The chemistry of the band is not to be discounted here, however;without Ozzy’s voice crying in the wilderness and the inimitable rhythm section of Bill Ward and Geezer Butler simultaneously plodding and swinging, the track’s heaviness would be less by half. Advances in technology have naturally made it easier to get heavier and heavier guitar tones or production sounds, but the key to why this stuff still sounds alarmingly heavy even today lies in Iommi’s insane hand vibrato, along with the chemistry with the rest of the band.
2.) “Iron Man” – from Paranoid, 1970
Overplayed? Maybe. Still, even though the riff to this classic is one of the first things every rock guitar player learns (along with Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”), and is burned into the brains of rock fans around the globe, it never sounds as heavy in your head as it does when you actually listen to it. This is heavy almost to the point of parody, and is, therefore, awesome.
3.) “War Pigs” – from Paranoid, 1970
Another big hit, and from the same record, but “War Pigs” likewise demands inclusion. The opening chord alone qualifies this song for the heaviness hall of fame.
4.) “The Writ” – from Sabotage, 1975
Some of Sabbath’s heaviest songs come from this underrated album, including “Hole in the Sky”, “Symptom of the Universe” and “Megalomania”. All of those probably belong on this list, but “The Writ” comes off as the heaviest of the bunch to my ears, if only for the anguished emotional punch it packs. Often overlooked is just how much Ozzy’s vocals add to the actual heaviness of the Sabs’ densest material.
5.) “Falling Off the Edge of the World” – from the Mob Rules, 1981
I had to include something from the Dio era and it was a toss-up between this and “Follow the Tears” from the 2009 album, “The Devil You Know”. That album, however, though recorded by the same personnel as “The Mob Rules”, was released under the band name Heaven & Hell, not Black Sabbath. So, I’m calling this tough choice on a technicality here. Either of these tracks are mind-numbingly heavy, though, and make a strong case for Iommi and Butler’s ability to dish out world-class heaviness even with two very different players on drums and vocals (Vinny Appice and Ronnie James Dio, respectively). Another strong contender would be “I” from 1992’s “Dehumanizer”.
In the end, it’s really hard to pick five as the definitive heavy moments for these guys. I do think, though, that if you listen to these five songs back-to-back, you’ll see why people consider Black Sabbath to be one of the heaviest bands of all-time.