Is a band that does one particular thing very well, like Black Sabbath, allowed to evolve? It’s one of those tricky questions. On the one hand, we expect many if not most artists to evolve in some way. (Thank the Beatles for that, if you hate that.) On the other hand, some bands (AC/DC, Ramones, bands like that) we accept that they only do one thing and we judge them upon how well they do that one thing at a particular time. Sabbath’s sound was always more diverse than a band like AC/DC but, initially, it was not as diverse as Deep Purple’s and nothing remotely close to as diverse as Zeppelin’s. Sabbath was very, very good at their thing on the early records – and had the odd interesting enough diversion – that, in some ways, they’re remembered more fondly, and some people think they are now more influential than those other bands, perhaps in part because of their commitment to being slower and lower.
So what do we do with this record which takes more musical risks than any previous Sabbath record, including music that would have been absolutely unfathomable on Paranoid or Master of Reality? Is this something to be commended or condemned?
It would be a lot easier to commend them for growing if it was more consistent. There are tracks that sound like classic Sabbath or refinements of the Sabbath sound, like the title track, which combines softer un-Sabbath verses with a chorus that feels much closer to home until the verses get harder too. The title track feels like the band maturing. I also feel like “A National Acrobat” shows what they can do outside what you might think of their format.
But a track like “Fluff” feels like it belongs on an Iommi solo album. And even some of the softer stuff with Ozzy just feels utterly foreign to my idea of the band, even if if a lot of it is executive well enough that I enjoy it to an extent.
So I find myself torn. I appreciate the attempts to grow. On the other hand, on a number of tracks, the things that I want in a Black Sabbath song are either missing or are only occasionally present. I can understand this is sort of regarded as the beginning of the end.