One of the godfathers of heavy metal and the self proclaimed prince of darkness, Ozzy Osbourne, celebrates turning 70 this year. To recognise this landmark, I have plucked seven studio records from his lengthy catalogue (both solo and with Black Sabbath) that I feel represent some of his strongest work. Read on and see if you agree with my selections.
Whilst Sabbath’s eponymous debut introduced heavy metal to the world, it was the follow up where they really began to define what the genre would become. Whilst its predecessor had two covers and felt a bit looser and free-form, Paranoid has a more developed and cohesive identity. As well as housing legendary numbers such as “War Pigs”, “Iron Man”, “Fairies Wear Boots” and the title track, the album also boasts high quality deeper cuts, such as the ethereal “Planet Caravan” and the apocalyptic “Hand of Doom”. A big step up from what was an already brilliant debut, this is where Sabbath really started to take flight.
Master of Reality (1971)
With some of Tony Iommi’s finest riff work as the driving force, Sabbath headed even further into darker and heavier territory on their third album. The instrumental force is denser than lead, and whether it’s the monolithic trudge of “Into the Void” or the brisker bounce of “Children of the Grave”, there’s a weight to the music than is unrelenting. The wonderfully tranquil “Solitude” and brief acoustic piece “Embryo” offer some respite, but it’s not enough to break through the gloom and smog. Probably the most important doom metal album of all time, Master of Reality has been endlessly imitated, but never matched.
The pinnacle of Sabbath’s career (and possibly Ozzy’s as a whole – just listen to those vocals!), Sabotage was the culmination of the experimentation that began on 1972’s Vol. 4. “Hole in the Sky”, “The Thrill of It All” and “Symptom of the Universe” have the bite to satiate those hungry for iconic Iommi riffs, with the latter’s proto thrash guitar line and incredible acoustic coda making it one of the band’s finest moments. Twin epics “Megalomania” and “The Writ” close each side in grandiose fashion, with “Am I Going Insane” again showing there was far more to these Brummie boys than doom and darkness. Simply put, this is one of the finest metal records of all time.
Blizzard of Ozz (1980)
Ozzy’s first solo venture is an undeniable classic. Randy Rhoads’ guitar heroics made him an instant icon, with blistering riffs and leads that still resonate with fans around the world today. “Crazy Train”, “I Don’t Know”, “Suicide Solution” and “Mr. Crowley” stand tall as genre classics all these years later, with the latter having arguably the greatest solos ever composed. “Revelation (Mother Earth)” is a sombre, hard hitting half ballad, whilst “Goodbye to Romance” possesses a bittersweet feel; both tied together by some masterful guitar wizardry from Rhoads. Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake take the role of unsung heroes with their sublime rhythmic thrust, injecting the songs with an energy that really make Rhoads’ performances come to life. One of Ozzy’s most cherished recordings, and for good reason.
Diary of a Madman (1981)
Delivered barely a year after his debut, Diary picked up where Blizzard left off. Rhoads’ swansong showcased the flair he had previously exhibited, pushing the material into darker territory with the punishing riffs on “Little Dolls” and “S.A.T.O.”. The towering, classically influenced title track is the most chilling song of Ozzy’s career, “Tonight” ranks amongst Ozzy’s best ballads, whilst “Over the Mountain”, “Flying High Again” and “Believer” – carried by Bob Daisley’s plundering bass line – are the more enduring tracks on offer. Every inch as good as its predecessor whilst only receiving half the plaudits, history will surely see Diary as Blizzard’s equal in due time.
Bark at the Moon (1983)
Jake E. Lee had the unenviable task of stepping into Randy Rhoads’ shoes, but he did a fantastic job on Ozzy’s third solo effort. He will forever be immortalised by the savage riffs and searing leads of the title track, but the album has far more depth than it is usually given credit for. The breathless speed of “Forever”, the brazen strut of “Now You See It, Now You Don’t” and the defiant pulse of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel” all deliver on the riff front, with the likes of “You’re No Different”, “Spiders” and the utterly superb “Waiting for Darkness” offering more atmospheric numbers. The keyboards may date it somewhat, but there’s no denying Bark is a great metal album at its core.
Down to Earth (2001)
This choice may raise a few eyebrows, but I feel Down to Earth doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Delivered six years after the somewhat patchy Ozzmosis, it, along with The Osbournes TV phenomenon, introduced a new generation to Ozzy’s music. Despite being put together with the aid of various external writers, the album still manages to sound like a singular work. “You Know…” is a throwaway, granted, but everything else rises to the occasion, with the introspective balladry of “Running Out of Time”, the grinding groove of “Gets Me Through” and the simmering tension of closer “Can You Hear Them?” among the highlights. Perhaps it’s nostalgia at play, but I feel this is the closest Ozzy has come to matching the quality of the Randy / Jake era classics, and it’s always a treat whenever I listen to it.
For more on Ozzy Osbourne, including details of his forthcoming farewell tour, visit:
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