In a recent interview, Black Label Society frontman Zakk Wylde offered up the opinion that Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio in it wasn’t really Black Sabbath. “You listen to Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio in it, and it’s not Black Sabbath,” he said. “They should have just called it Heaven and Hell right from the beginning. Because you listen to that Heaven and Hell album, that doesn’t sound anything close to Black Sabbath. I mean, that sounds about as much like Black Sabbath as Blizzard of Ozz sounds like Black Sabbath. If you were to play Black Sabbath for me – and I’m a huge Sabbath freako – and then with Father Dio over there, I’d be going, “Oh, cool, what band is this? This is good stuff.” I mean, the songs don’t even sound Black Sabbath-y. I mean, “Neon Knights,” could you picture Ozzy singing over that song?”
It’s understandable why Wylde might think that, but it’s a pretty controversial statement to make, and some could claim it’s blasphemy. So for our first Headbanger’s Brawl of 2014, we figured we’d answer the question: Is Black Sabbath without Ozzy Black Sabbath?
Bram: I can see where he’s coming from, to a point. Black Sabbath defined a genre with the evil-sounding tri-tone that led off the first album’s title track. Dark, sinister and heavy as hell, Ozzy’s vocals backed the doom behind him. By the time they released Paranoid later that year (that year!), they’d created the foundation of every metal band that came afterwards. When I think of Black Sabbath, Ozzy is definitely the singer that comes to mind.
The thing that Zakk seems to miss is that for a hell of a long time, Ozzy wasn’t in Sabbath. That would be like not liking a building because the mason that laid the foundation wasn’t there to put the last brick in place. Stupid analogy, but they went from Ozzy to Dio, who was definitely a better singer, if not as insane as Ozzy. Songs like “Heaven and Hell” and “The Sign of the Southern Cross” were still epic songs that didn’t sully the band’s legacy, and hell, I’ll even back Headless Cross. I think Zakk’s just sucking up to his old boss here .
Kodi: Excuse me, WHAT?!?! Black Sabbath with DIO isn’t Black Sabbath???? I’m going to just assume that either Sharon is drugging Zakk Wylde severely, or he hasn’t listened to a Dio Sabbath record in a very long time, because this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes, ok, the first four Black Sabbath albums created heavy metal as we know it. That’s fine. But Heaven & Hell is one of the first true prototypes for power metal, totally revitalizing the band’s career at the time and ultimately of equal importance to Black Sabbath as a whole. The other Dio albums were extremely good, but that one remains as legendary as the band’s formative years. I can hope Wylde’s loyalty to Ozzy clouded his judgment, because otherwise, this statement is inexcusable.
Try this outrageous statement, if you’re going to make one: Black Sabbath without Tony Iommi isn’t Black Sabbath. There’s a big reason that Iommi is the only member of Black Sabbath to play on every single studio album the band released. Go to the hands that birthed true heaviness into rock and roll with “Black Sabbath,” “N.I.B.” and “Iron Man,” and then put wind under heavy metal’s sails with Dio and stuff like “Neon Knights” (which, surprise, is kind of like a more epic “Paranoid” musically) and “Die Young,” and try to tell me Iommi isn’t infinitely more important to music history, let alone the band’s legacy, than Ozzy and Dio combined. I bet you can back that argument up all day. Ozzy is a legend, but as Dio proved, he’s a replaceable one. Tony Iommi, on the other hand, invented heavy metal. End of discussion.
Zach: Ok, Kodi, you make a fair point about Iommi and the importance he has on metal (let alone Black Sabbath). However, when was the last time you heard someone praise albums like Seventh Star or Tyr? I agree that a Sabbath without Iommi can’t exist, but let’s not downplay the roles Ozzy and Dio played in helping make Sabbath what it is today. With that said, I too understand where Wylde is coming from. Wylde’s thinking pretty much comes from what the late 90s/early 2000’s reunions wanted you to believe: that it’s not Black Sabbath without Ozzy (hell, if it wasn’t for Wikipedia proving the contrary, they could still get away with that thinking). It really wasn’t until the Dio-era reformed as Heaven & Hell that the masses remember how much Dio did actually contribute to Sabbath’s legacy.
But does this mean a Sabbath without Ozzy isn’t the real deal? Well of course there is no denying Dio’s contributions. However, I personally liked the fact that they chose to tour and record under the Heaven & Hell moniker before Dio’s death. Not because it in anyway lessened Ozzy’s contributions, but it allowed the songs Dio sang on to shine in their own light. No longer did classics like “Die Young” or “Children Of The Sea” get outshadowed by “Iron Man” in the same set (as they did when Dio first joined Black Sabbath). These songs got their own due.
Matt: I feel like Kodi pretty much said it all. When you’re talking about Tony Iommi, you’re not talking about a member of Black Sabbath, you’re talking about Black Sabbath personified. Following that line of logic, if it has the Black Sabbath name on it and Tony Iommi is playing, then it’s Black Sabbath. Don’t get me wrong, Ozzy-era Sabbath is what started a whole genre of music and all of those classic albums deserve every bit of praise they get (even if classic rock radio plays “Paranoid” to death). But to say that it isn’t Sabbath without Ozzy is completely ridiculous and, frankly, I thought this whole debate was put to bed ages ago.
A good friend of mine growing up was and still is a complete Sabbath nut. He gave me every single one of the band’s albums from their debut all the way to Forbidden with Tony Martin. I learned to appreciate each era of Sabbath for what they were, not how they compared to each other. When Dio reunited with Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Vinnie Appice for the Heaven & Hell tour, guess what we referred to them as? Hint: not Heaven & Hell. It was Sabbath, just a different era of Sabbath playing some of the best material they’d ever written. Zakk Wylde’s opinion just falls into the category of blind loyalty.