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From Birmingham to Black Sabbath, The Kings of Heavy Metal Twisted Thread

From Birmingham to Black Sabbath, The Kings of Heavy Metal

Black Sabbath Band Merchandise

When it comes to the discussion around the beginnings of heavy metal Black Sabbath is a band that can not be overlooked. Some would say the British band who formed in the 80s’ were actually one of the first heavy metal groups to exist and like many bands of the time have gone on to shape what heavy metal is today. To date, the group have gone on to sell over 70 million albums worldwide and have gone platinum and gold-certified more than once, which credits them with the most commercially successful heavy metal group of all time. 

You can buy official Black Sabbath merchandise from the Twisted Thread website.


Polka Tulk to Earth

Originally formed in Birmingham, England, in 1968, the band took shape when bandmates Tony Iommi (guitarist) and Bill ward (drummer) decided they wanted to form a blues-rock band. They found Geezer Butler (bassist) and Ozzy Osborne (vocalist) and decided on the name, Polka Tulk Blues Band. They added extra sometimes side members guitarist Jimmy Phillips and Alan Clark on saxophone and shortened their name to Polka Tulk. Tommy Iommi became concerned the two latter members weren’t taking it seriously so the group pretended to break up and reformed as a new group called Earth.

The new group recorded several demos, ‘The Rebel,’ Song for Jim’ and ‘When I Came Down’. ‘Song For Jim’ was for musician and band manager Jim Simpson who offered the group their first show at his club, Henry’s Blueshouse, the gig went well and he agreed to manage the band. By the end of 1968, Iommi left to join Jethro Tull but it was short-lived as he didn’t love the direction the band was headed.


"It just wasn't right, so I left", Iommi said. "At first I thought Tull were great, but I didn't much go for having a leader in the band, which was Ian Anderson's way. When I came back from Tull, I came back with a new attitude altogether. They taught me that to get on, you got to work for it."



Becoming Black Sabbath

Whilst touring England the band discovered they were being mistaken for another very different band called Earth. It was while watching people wait in line for the horror movie Black Sabbath, that Osborne and Butler came up with the song ‘Black Sabbath’ which pushed the band into a darker direction. This was compared to where music was in the 70s, extremely different. Lead singer of Judas Priest, Rob Halford, claims it was the evilest song ever written. The new sound was one the group were taken with so they decided to change their name and make music that was in essence, the musical equivalent of horror films.

The band first performed under their new name in August 1969 and released a cover of ‘Evil Woman’ by Crow. Live on Top Gear, the group performed ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘N.I.B’ and a few other songs, none of the songs was commercially successful but they still were signed to a record label and were given two days in the studio. They released their first album, Black Sabbath in 1970 and it hit number 8 in the UK charts. Though critics didn’t get it or like it, it still sold well, is now certified platinum and is now commonly referred to as the first-ever heavy metal album.

Only four months later the band were back in the studio to record their second album, Paranoid. The well-known lead single, ‘Paranoid’ was written very last minute as they did not have enough songs for the album. Iommi started playing the guitar lick and it took all of 20 minutes to make. Released officially in September of 1970, it went to number one. Now with a bit of leverage, the group headed for the United States and played their first show in New York. The album had no radio play but still reached number 12 and went on to be hailed as one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time. It is ranked at 131 in Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time. The second single from the album, ‘Iron Man’ also bombed commercially but is now one of the songs the band is known best for.



Master of Reality and Black Sabbath Vol 4. 

Following the chart success of their second album, the band were able to quickly jump into the studio to record album number three. In 1971 the band released Master of Reality which reached the top ten in the United States and home in England and eventually went platinum in the 1980s then double platinum in the 2000s.

The album had a mix of acoustic songs and singles like ‘Children of the Grave’ which critics hated. Regardless, the album still made 300 on Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. After touring the album in 1972 the band gave themselves a well overdue break. The same year they started work on their next album but was full of issues as members of the band faced substance abuse issues.

The drummer, Ward, was particularly critical of the album. The band called it Snowblind, after their song about cocaine but the record label changed it Black Sabbath Vol 4. Again, critics did not receive it well but it still made gold in the United States. Back on tour across Europe and Australasia, the band had made the big time. 


Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage

Shortly after, the band were back to make their next album in LA, now fully equipped with a new musical era, fatigue and issues with drugs, they were unable to finish any songs. When after a month they couldn’t complete any new music, they returned to England and rented a castle to record in, hanging out in the dungeons. This is where Iommi came up with the rif on ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ and set them off in a new direction.

This new sound on the album "Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath" including synthesisers was the first time the band received positive reviews from the media. It was hailed as a massive success and helped them launch further into the American music market.

In 1974 they launched on a tour alongside the likes of  Deep Purple, Eagles, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Rare Earth, Seals & Crofts, Black Oak Arkansas, and Earth, Wind & Fire. It was broadcasted on TV and lead to them eventually signing with new management which was contractually illegal, leading to Ozzy Osbourne being handed a subpoena on stage.

In 1975 they began work on album number six in England which Rolling Stone said, "Sabotage is not only Black Sabbath's best record since Paranoid, it might be their best ever.” It was the first of their albums to never achieve platinum status in the united states and features fan favourites, ‘Am I Going Insane’ and ‘Hole in the Sky’. They toured the album with KISS but had to stop as Osbourne ruptured his back in a motorcycle accident.

You can buy official Black Sabbath merchandise from the Twisted Thread website.

Osbourne Is Out 

In 1976 the band started to make their next album, Technical Ecstasy which proved difficult. Osbourne considered himself growing tired of the band and was in an insane asylum by the time the album was finished. Critics considered it the unravelling of the band judging by the music and was the second album in a row to flop commercially.

After the album was toured, and just before the recording of the next album, Osbourne quit the band. He was quickly replaced by Dave Walker who had been part of Fleetwood Mac and Savoy Brown. In 1978 they performed with him for the first time on BBC. This didn’t last long as Osbourne rejoined the band just before he was due to record his first solo project. Iommi explained,

 "He wouldn't sing any of the stuff we'd written with the other guy (Walker), so it made it very difficult. We went into the studio with basically no songs. We'd write in the morning so we could rehearse and record at night. It was so difficult, like a conveyor belt, because you couldn't get time to reflect on stuff. 'Is this right? Is this working properly?' It was very difficult for me to come up with the ideas and putting them together that quick."

For five months the band tried to get it together for the album, Never Say Die! But the drugs overtook their productivity. Turning up to the studio they would have to pack up and go home because they were all too stoned to work.

Released in 1978, the album also flopped, reviews picked up on the lack of focus of the band as a result of substance abuse. Two songs, ‘Never Say Die’ and ‘Hard Road’ made it to the top 40 in the UK. The band toured the album but critics said the performance was uninspired and boring, compared to their show mates Van Halen.

The group returned to LA to record yet another album but Osbourne was fired from the band when it became apparent his problem with drugs and alcohol was hindering the group.



Replacing Ozzy Osbourne


Daughter of Black Sabbath’s manager, Sharon Arden suggested that Ronnie James Dio would suit the position left by Osbourne. At this point, Don Arden was still trying to get Osbourne to return. When Dio joined the band to record their next album the change in sound was very apparent. Geezer Butler also left the band at this time and was replaced by Geoff Nicholls from Quartz.

The band began recording Heaven and Hell and released the album in April 1980 to positive acclaim, critics calling it the best album to date. It became the highest-charting album of the bands since Sabotage. Touring the album proved intolerable for Ward without Osbourne so he quit the band after a show on the tour. The band’s challenges didn’t end here, during a concert in Milwaukee the crowd dissolved into a riot which caused $10,000 worth of damage to the arena and 160 arrests.

Upon returning from this tour the band started on their next album, Mob Rules. Received badly by critics and well by fans, over time people were more receptive to the album and it was eventually certified gold. In between the touring and the new albums, the band’s old record label in the UK had released a live album, without the band’s permission. Unhappy with the record, the band decided to record another version recorded whilst touring the States. During this process, tensions rose with Dio, who Iommi and Butler accused of raising the vocal volume. Dio also wasn’t happy with the artwork and in secret, was recording a solo album.

Things fell apart during the recording of Live Evil, Dio wanted different things with his vocals, the band wanted other sounds as well. Dio left the band in 1982, Live Evil was released in 1983 but was overlooked as Ozzy Osbourne’s album Speak of the Devil came out at the same time. 

Back to Square One

Back to having no drummer or lead singer, Iommi and Butler began searching for replacement members for their new album. They landed on Ian Gillan formerly from Deep Purple as the lead singer and a now sober Bill Ward back on drums.

 "That was the very first album that I ever did clean and sober," Ward recalled. "I only got drunk after I finished all my work on the album – which wasn't a very good idea... Sixty to seventy per cent of my energy was taken up on learning how to get through the day without taking a drink and learning how to do things without drinking, and thirty per cent of me was involved in the album."

Released in 1983,
Born Again was received negatively, Gillan not suiting the band’s dark image. Ward quit the band again as he said the idea of touring made him fall apart and was replaced by Bev Bevan formerly of Electric Light Orchestra. They toured the album which included the iconic story of the Stonehenge set piece. Butler said, 

“We had Sharon Osbourne's dad, Don Arden, managing us. He came up with the idea of having the stage set be Stonehenge. He wrote the dimensions down and gave it to our tour manager. He wrote it down in metres but he meant to write it down in feet. The people who made it saw fifteen metres instead of fifteen feet. It was 45 feet high and it wouldn't fit on any stage anywhere so we just had to leave it in the storage area. It cost a fortune to make but there was not a building on earth that you could fit it into.”



After the Born Again album tour, Gillan returned to Deep Purple and Bevan also left as he felt like hired help, not part of the band. The lead singer role was filled again by David Donato from LA and Ward back on drums again. It didn’t last long, Ward left again saying this band was not Black Sabbath. Butler also left when the album with Gillan which wasn’t supposed to be a Black Sabbath record, was given to Warner Bros who did indeed sell it as a Black Sabbath album. With only Iommi left, the band was put on hiatus.

In 1985 the band agreed to reform for the Live Aid performance, for the first time since 1978 the original group appeared together. Working on his solo work Iommi released Seventh Star which Warner Bros refused to call Iommi’s solo album and it was negotiated that the album would be by Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi. It was received terribly, sounding nothing like Black Sabbath.

With a new line up that made little sense to fans they were about to head off on another tour, the new project should have been hailed as Iommi’s solo project but calling it Black Sabbath put it in the grave. Only days before the tour was about to start, replacement singer Gareth Hughes got into a fight with the production manager and splintered his orbital bone, affecting his ability to be able to sing. Vocalist Ray Gillen was brought in but over half the dates were canned because of bad ticket sales. 


The Eternal Idol, Headless Cross and Tyr

In 1986, a version of Black Sabbath returned to the studio to record again. Although it was filled with issues from day one. New producer Jeff Glixman left, there were issues with the second producer, the replacement bassist left, the new vocalist left and to top off the mess of even having members, the band agreed to play six shows at Sun City in South Africa in the middle of apartheid-era which reflected poorly of the band.

Bev Bevan who joined the band again refused to play the shows and was replaced by Terry Chimes, formerly of the Clash. Somehow, after a year working on it, Black Sabbath released The Eternal Idol in 1987. Critics said it was “Black Sabbath by name only” and the only good part of the album was Iommi’s guitar playing. They were due to tour it but all European dates were cancelled after the South African dates were played. After the album bombed, they were dropped by Vertigo Records and Warner Bros.

After resigning to I.R.S Records Iommi decided to produce the next album all by himself. He got Cozy Powell on drums, bassist Laurence Cottle and got to work. Headless Cross released in 1989 was called the best Ozzy-less Black Sabbath album to date. It didn’t chart well and the album tour tickets did poorly and was cancelled after eight shows. The second part of the tour went a lot better, charting well in European countries, the band were one of the first to play in Russia after it was open to western acts. In 1990 they released Tyr which was the first Black Sabbath to not crack the Billboard 200. The tour bombed and was the first one to not include US dates. 

You can buy official Black Sabbath merchandise from the Twisted Thread website.


Another Year, Another Band Line Up

In 1990, Ronnie James Dio and Geezer Butler rejoined the band, alongside Cozy Powell on drums. However, Powell was replaced by Vinny Appice when he broke his hip and was unable to drum. The album had a lot of issues, a strained relationship with Iommi and Dio and re-writing of songs. Finally, Dehumanizer was released in 1992. Commercially, it was the most successful album the band had done to date. Reaching 44 on the Billboard 200 and a top 40 rock single, ‘TV Crimes’. They began touring the album in December and at the same time Ozzy Osbourne announced his retirement. He invited the band to open for his band. Dio refused and many years later said, 

I was told in the middle of the tour that we would be opening for Ozzy in Los Angeles. And I said, "No. Sorry, I have more pride than that." A lot of bad things were being said from camp to camp, and it created this horrible schism. So by [the band] agreeing to play the shows in L.A. with Ozzy, that, to me, spelled out reunion. And that obviously meant the doom of that particular project.

Dio quit the band, the night before they were due to perform for Osbourne and Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford jumped on the mic. For the first time since 1985, the band performed as whole again and opened the door to a proper reunion as an entire band. All of them apart from Osbourne agreed and so the plan to reunite fell flat. 

Another Hiatus

Under the pressure from their label, the band who hardly resembled Black Sabbath at this point were forced to make a 17th album, Cross Purposes. Reviews were mixed, some calling it garbage and some saying it actually sounded like a proper Sabbath album. It just missed the Top 40 in the UK reaching number 41 and 122 on the Billboard 200 in the U.S.

The album toured with Ward jumping back on drums for five shows and Geezer Butler departing due to not enjoying the music. For their now 18th album, Forbidden, the line-up changed around again. Ward was out again, Cozy Powell and Neil Murray were back in and the album a flop. The tour also was a flop and Iommi put the band on another hiatus and worked on a solo album.

In 1997 Iommi had officially disbanded the current Black Sabbath and made way for a proper reunion with Ozzy Osbourne which had been in the works since 1992. 


The Second Reunion

Iommi, Butler and Osbourne officially reunited to headline Ozzfest, eventually, Ward joined again on drums. They recorded the momentous occasion of their show in Birmingham and released a double album called Reunion. The album went platinum and saw the group win their first Grammy for Best Metal Performance for ‘Iron Man’, 30 years after its first release.

In 1999, following a U.S tour, the band went on another hiatus while they worked on solo projects. In 2001 they reunited to work with esteemed producer Rick Rubin. The project was halted when Osbourne had to finish his solo album. In 2002, MTV’s The Osbournes debuted and was a massive hit. It also introduced them to a new audience and some re-records of albums were done.

In 2004 the band reunited to headline Ozzfest. In 2010, they were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. There was also a compilation made from across all the years Ronnie James Dio was a part of the group. Due to its success a side group formed with Iommi, Dio and Appice called Heaven & Hell. At the same time, Ozzy Osbourne sued Iommi for illegally claiming the name Ozzy Osbourne. It was noted that Iommi had been the only constant member for 41 years and members relinquished the name in 1980. Osbourne asked for 50% ownership but hoped all four members would get ownership. In 2010 the band released a single with Metallica and in the same year the lawsuit was dropped out of court in a settlement. 


The Third Reunion

Although members publicly said there would be no reunion, they were all rehearsing by the end of 2010. In the same year, former member Ronnie James Dio passed away. In 2011 it was officially announced, Iommi, Osbourne, Butler and Ward were reuniting for a reunion tour. In 2012 Iommi was diagnosed with lymphoma and all dates were cancelled bar two and a small intimate show would be played in their hometown of Birmingham.

In 2013 the band announced another album 13, with Brad Wilk from Rage Against The Machine on drums and Rick Rubin producing. ‘God Is Dead’ was the first single and went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance.

Unbelievably, Osbourne told the press in 2014 there would be the 20th album but by 2015 it was canned. They embarked on a final world tour from 2016-2017, finishing off in their hometown of Birmingham. In March 2017 after over 40 years, the band finally disbanded. 



With the Commonwealth Games being held in Birmingham in 2022 there has already been discussion around if the band will appear as to represent the city, no members have shot the idea down yet but the idea of a bigger reunion has been shot down on numerous occasions. The only thing Osbourne says he regrets is not having Bill Ward on drums for their final show. In 2020 Black Sabbath announced a special line of Dr. Martens to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Black Sabbath and Paranoid albums.


After 40-years of Black Sabbath existing and continuing to bring out the music and touring, it is unquestionable that they are one of if not the biggest heavy metal bands of our time. The path they made for themselves changed the course of music forever, influencing bands such as Iron Maiden, Slayer, Metallica, NirvanaKorn and many more.

Simply put, there is no heavy metal without Black Sabbath. 

You can buy official Black Sabbath merchandise from the Twisted Thread website.

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