Remember when Ozzy Osbourne was a pretty good metalhead, not a henpecked reality-show goofball? Paul Wilkinson does.
Fronted by the charismatic Osbourne, Black Sabbath was one of the first successful purveyors of heavy metal. Although Sabbath later devolved into a rock-‘n’-roll parody (can you say Spinal Tap?), during its early years the U.K. four-man band could destroy your speakers with as much aplomb as any group of the era save Led Zeppelin. In his engaging debut, Brit scribe/musician Wilkinson takes a loving look at the group’s first six albums: Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Master of Reality, Vol. 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage. He makes a convincing case that these are indeed classics with in-depth, often hilarious dissection of the records that alternate with chapters featuring Sabbath history, British history and personal history. It’s risky for an author to work himself into a biography such as this, but Wilkinson is a charmer, armed with anecdotes galore (e.g., the night his 15-year-old babysitter attempted to seduce him). As the author is also a guitarist, it makes sense that he gives many props to Tony Iommi, “often hailed as the greatest ever composer of guitar riffs.” Non-musicians may find Wilkinson’s song-by-song analysis a tad on the geeky side, but he remedies that (sort of) by including a glossary of “all the fancy technical nomenclature used in this book.” (Betcha didn’t know the end of “War Pigs” provides an example of accelerando.) At times, the book buckles under the weight of minutiae: Do we really need to know Sabbath’s entire tour schedule from April 1970? We trust the author will avoid this rookie mistake in the future.
Reads like an enthusiastic (often fun, but rambling) 200-page college newspaper article.