Imagine it's 1970, you go to the record store and this creepy album cover with the name Black Sabbath catches your eye. Is that the band? The title? Is this the soundtrack to the movie? If I touch this, will I be possessed by demons? Maybe. Or maybe you'd heard of them in passing, briefly, but nobody was playing their music on the radio and you didn't have access to any bootlegs of their John Peel session from the previous year or really even knew about it. There was no Internet so it's not like this kind of thing spread that quickly or pervasively. You are scared and intrigued by the cover, and you tend to be a little adventurous when buying music, so you buy it, getting maybe a concerned look from the old man behind the register, run home and drop the needle on the record, and instantly the world is never the same again. And I'm not even talking about the whole album, just the first song - "Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath on Black Sabbath.
Rain, thunder, bells and then dread. I could be wrong, but I have yet to hear anything that sounded quite like this before the arrival of Sabbath. Sure, there were some acid influenced, heavy bands and theatrical, progressive acts with dark sounds (Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Arthur Brown, etc) but none of them came close to the level of doom and evil Sabbath captured just in their very first song.Whether it's Iommi's sinister guitar chord invoking demons from hell, the rolling bass and ceremonial drums of Butler and Ward, Ozzy's vacant and haunting/haunted voice or all of this and more, coming together, the chills are instant. Then there's that pace of the verses, so slow and creepy, before the icing on the Satanic cake as Ozzy screams out in very real terror "OH NO!!" Those screams are, in my view, a huge part of his legacy, bringing a sense of outright terror and agony to all his songs, and it's there from the very beginning.
The album as a whole shows a bit more range, and includes what may be my actual favorite Sabbath tune, "N.I.B." which somehow manages to balance groove, blues and doom in a way I still don't fully understand. That the album was basically recorded live in one day is just further fuel for the legendary status of the album and the band. But as far as first songs on first albums go, "Black Sabbath" is iconic in every possible way. It's a mission statement like no other. That mission is, of course, led by Satan and you were either scared shitless by the invitation or you were enticed by the darkness and rewarded for it. Guess which one I am.