Another Black Sabbath retrospective, huh? Not like the world needed another one, considering anyone attending the “reunion” shows already owns all of their classic albums, and, thus, all of these songs. But, then again, there could be a few ‘90s kids going who don’t…
So, I guess we arrive at “official” compilation number six of the Ozzy-led Sabbath, this time calling it Iron Man: The Best of Black Sabbath. This doesn’t count box sets, unofficial compilations, or Dio-led collections. Of the fourteen cuts here, Paranoid and their self-titled debut have the greatest representation with four each. Yet, the most important stat here is that twelve of the tracks come from their first four records, otherwise known as the band’s classic period. The two remaining tracks – the title tracks from Never Say Die! and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath – seem tacked on when thrown in with a dozen cuts from the band’s finest material. Not to say that ‘Die’ and ‘Sabbath’ are bad songs. They’re certainly great: ‘Never Say Die’ is still an oddball, hard rock shuffle, while ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ retains all of its concrete-thick heaviness (even as the song’s elephantine riff is juxtaposed with folk-inspired passages). But they’re out of place sitting amongst the band’s (supposed) top songs.
Perhaps more noteworthy is that those two songs are chosen from the four post-Vol. 4 albums. This suggests even the band favour their first four outings. That said, there are some gems from their latter four albums that could sit right next to ‘War Pigs’ or ‘Snow Blind’ to help balance out the eight-album cycle. For example, ‘Symptom of the Universe’, from Sabotage, is just as much of a “heavy-as-shit sludgefest” as their earlier work. Or the progressive-aping ‘Spiral Architect’ from Sabbath.
But at least you have the band’s greatest stuff here. Well, most of it. Apart from the two songs from the later years of the true Black Sabbath, even some of the choices pulled from the quartet’s landmark tetralogy are suspect. If you’re going to include songs from the band’s last truly great record – Vol. 4 – one of them absolutely should not be ‘Changes’. Not only is it not representative of the band’s catalogue (the one thing a compilation has to do), it’s not that inspired, anyway. Since it lacks a thundering guitar riff, the melody, oddly, becomes the focal point. This, clearly, is not the best course given that Ozzy Osbourne’s vocals are supposed to carry this dirge. He had some great ballads in his solo career (most notably ‘Mama, I’m Coming Home’) but they were smartly and rightly drenched in multi-tracked everything in order to mask his limited range. Here, there isn’t much in the arrangement to hide his voice. A simple fix is to trade ‘Supernaut’ for ‘Changes.’ Not only is it a far superior song, but it’s much more illustrative of what Sabbath did during the Ozzy years: fuck-ton riffage over one of the best rhythm sections in rock history. If nothing else, it would better justify the title of Best of.
Which brings us back to the title. Is this really the best of Black Sabbath? Technically yes, given that it has ‘Iron Man’, ‘Paranoid’ and ‘War Pigs’; everything else becomes secondary to the (Un)Holy Three. As a whole, however, it’s merely passable even though many of the perennial favorites are here, depite the fact that the track listing was seemingly decided by iTunes shuffle. But that’s scarcely a recommendation or a vote of confidence in a compilation of this legendary metal band. If you truly want Sabbath’s best material, go get their four records.