There’s no band more important to heavy metal than Black Sabbath. Founded in Birmingham, England in 1968 (as Earth), the original quartet — guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Bill Ward, and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne — spent their first decade releasing several seminal and immensely revered records. By pioneering the genre’s propensity for gloomy lyricism, commanding rhythms, distorted riffs, and flashy guitar solos, the quartet put an effectively darker and angrier spin on blues rock, acid rock, and psychedelic rock, setting the stage for countless acts to follow.
Black Sabbath remained commercially and creatively prosperous after Osbourne was replaced by Ronnie James Dio in 1979. In fact, Sabbath’s subsequent years produced some of their most beloved LPs — such as Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules, and Headless Cross — as some new blood helped them carry on their incomparable legacy (Dio, Ian Gillan, Vinny Appice, Glenn Hughes, Cozy Powell, Tony Martin, and both Rick and Adam Wakeman, to name a few). Even their swan-song reunion album with Ozzy, 2013’s 13, was a satisfying and sentimental beast.
In a sense, Black Sabbath were the Beatles of the genre, directly or indirectly influencing every metal musician who heard them. As a result — and also like the Fab Four — narrowing down their legendary catalog to just 10 songs is quite the arduous task.
Fortunately, that’s exactly what we’re here to do! Below, we present Heavy Consequence‘s list of Black Sabbath’s 10 greatest tracks (from early classics to newer gems and a few in-between). Check ‘em out below, let us know what you think, and try not to get too paranoid in the process!
— Jordan Blum,
10. “God Is Dead?”
Without Bill Ward, 2013’s farewell collection, 13, couldn’t quite recapture the full magic of the original lineup; however, the re-teaming of Osbourne, Butler, and Iommi — alongside Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk — still worked wonders. That’s especially evident with the doomy, Nietzsche-inspired “God Is Dead?” Sure, its modern sheen distinguishes it from the band’s 1970s heyday, but it totally nails the sludgy pacing, imposing guitar-work, and panicked singing of yesteryear, too. Beyond merely evoking their prior glory, though, the track excels as one of the best compositions the band ever created. — Jordan Blum
09. “Symptom of the Universe”
The thrashy yet progressive “Symptom of the Universe” is the best example of why Sabotage’s palpable back-to-basics approach worked so well. Honestly, the tune strikes a terrific balance between the relative difficulty and variety of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and the aggressive directness and simplicity of Black Sabbath’s first full-length LPs. In particular, Osbourne’s top-notch abrasiveness, Iommi’s fiery licks, and Ward’s resourceful syncopation make for an unbeatable combination. Plus, the acoustic coda is a wonderfully sleek, mellow, and imaginative way to shake things up. — Jordan Blum
08. “Children of the Grave”
Centered around one of Iommi’s chuggiest and most sinister riffs, “Children of the Grave” is a cautionary tale of a post-nuclear future — one that seemed all too certain when the song was written. Black Sabbath’s warning of atomic destruction was uncompromising and bleak, and metal bands would mine this theme for years to come. With its evil riffs, galloping pace, and death-of-mankind lyrics, “Children of the Grave” laid the groundwork for thrash, groove, and stoner metal in one fell swoop. — Jon Hadusek
07. “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”
Written by Iommi in the dungeons of Clearwell Castle, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” a proto-gothic metal classic that set the course for the whole album of the same name. Everything about it — Osbourne’s range and precision, the sophisticatedly dynamic arrangement, the imagery and rhyming of the lyrics, and even the production — is elevated. Black Sabbath were clearly going for something more multifaceted and artsy here, which makes it all the more fitting to learn that, according to Butler, it single-handedly reversed Iommi’s writer’s block and the group’s doubtful attitude toward their future. — Jordan Blum
06. “Heaven and Hell”
By the time Ozzy Osbourne was ousted from Black Sabbath and embarked on a solo career in 1979, the band was trending downward. Coming off relative disappointments with Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die, Sabbath needed a creative spark. They would get one in the form of ex-Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio. With his soaring high-register vocals and fantastical lyrics, Dio would become one of the most iconic metal singers ever, and his Sabbath debut, Heaven and Hell, stands as arguably his crowning artistic achievement. The LP’s title track best epitomizes the Black Sabbath sound during the Dio years. Faster tempos combined with Dio’s epic delivery conjured a power-metal grandeur that brought the band back to the forefront of the genre it helped invent. — Jon Hadusek
05. “Iron Man”
Paranoid’s second single — originally called “Iron Bloke” and inspired by Butler’s interest in Hammer horror films, environmentalism, and the occult — has always been a fan favorite. After all, its tale of a vengeful time-traveling man who foresees the apocalypse, gets turned into steel, and ironically enacts his own premonition is awesome in every way. From its mechanical opening decree and forebodingly dexterous instrumentation to its catchy vocals and allegorical narration, it’s an absolute belter that does a remarkable job of highlighting each member’s skills. — Jordan Blum
Vol. 4 is often unfairly dismissed compared to Black Sabbath’s first three albums. A murky, druggy haze permeates the record, but what it lacks in standout singles, it makes up for in atmosphere and cohesion. At the center of the disc is “Snowblind,” a not-so-subtle ode to cocaine. Ozzy even whispers the name of the drug during the song itself. Whatever substances were at play, the track remains one of Black Sabbath’s most enthralling, anchored by an ascending riff that flows into a head-nodding groove. Vol. 4 is often cited as a key influence on the modern desert/stoner rock scene, and a cursory listen to “Snowblind” reveals why. — Jon Hadusek
The title track to their second album offers quintessential heavy metal misery. Iommi’s riffs are truly iconic; they’re simple but incredibly impactful, and a rite of passage for all new guitarists. Meanwhile, Butler and Ward keep things going with measured heft, and obviously, Osbourne’s relatable timbre, unassuming melodies, and solemn confessions (regarding depression and hopelessness) are still very powerful. Hell, his closing line alone — “I tell you to enjoy life / I wish I could but it’s too late” — is heartbreakingly emblematic of the genre. — Jordan Blum
02. “Black Sabbath”
This is where it all began for heavy metal: “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath on the album Black Sabbath. Depicting a morbid waking dream experienced by bassist Geezer Butler, the song would become the genesis of an entire musical genre. The opening riff, built on the “tri-tone” — a series of notes known to have occult and Satanic properties — was about the most evil musical sequence you could find on a major label rock record in 1970. Thus, heavy metal was born. Even to this day — whether you’re discussing the origins of black metal, doom, etc. — the imagery and atmosphere of Black Sabbath’s eponymous track remain at the center of this musical style we adore so much. — Jon Hadusek
01. “War Pigs”
“War Pigs” is the ultimate Black Sabbath song, culling all of the band’s trademark elements into a singular dynamic piece. Ozzy is in peak form vocally, and the song’s arrangement encourages the musicians to let loose and rip. The ominous, nearly a cappella verses (“Generals gathered in their masses…”) create a rising tension that slingshots into a feast of Bill Ward drum breaks and smoldering riffs from Tony Iommi. Lyrically, “War Pigs” rings poignant even in a modern context, and its kinetic grooves still pop out of speakers when the song is played on FM classic rock stations to this day. Its longevity and timelessness make it our pick for Black Sabbath’s greatest song. — Jon Hadusek