The Legendary Black Sabbath drummer picks a surprisingly vast timeline of releases for his favorites, with selections stretching from 1971 through 2014.
Ward says that rather than style, it’s a feeling that unites the metal that truly turns him on. “I can definitely feel it,” he explains. “If I hear a band, if it has that core, it’s gonna reach out, it’s gonna go to dangerous places, and everybody’s putting their heart and soul into whatever they’re doing. The bands on my list have always put it all out there, and I love that about them … I know what it’s like to put your heart and soul and leave nothing after the concert.”
Here are Bill Ward’s 5 favorite metal albums and his thoughts on each one.
Motörhead, ‘The Wörld Is Yours’ (2010)
Brilliant band. I actually like a lot of Motörhead records. The reason why I picked this one is because it was one of the last major albums that they did, and it’s quite fitting actually. The track “Brotherhood of Man,” it seems quite fitting in today’s society. It seems more fitting now than it ever was. I play it all the time on the radio show. It’s one of our most-played records.
Lemmy had all the basic gut instincts about what metal is and there’s no question about that. He’s from that fairground way of life. … I saw them in a bar in Worcester years and years ago when they were first setting out – I think it was 1981 or 1982 – and I couldn’t believe the energy. It was fucking unbelievable. You knew that they were gonna be on the move, that they were a big band, that they were gonna tour the world multiple times. It’s just absolutely plain in the way that they were.
I knew Lemmy had been under the weather, but I didn’t know that he was ill enough to pass away. It kind of knocked me sideways and I sat down for a few days; I couldn’t believe that he’d passed away.
Judas Priest, ‘The Best of Judas Priest: Living After Midnight’ (1997)
I love Priest. There’s so much good stuff here: “Turbo Lover” … One track that I like is “Heading Out to the Highway.” The way that the band sits and just the back-beat and the guitar groove, it sits in what I can only say is the most perfect place possible. When they picked the time for that, whoever picked it did a really, really good job, because it sits just exactly where it’s supposed to sit.
There’s a lot to talk about with Judas Priest. I think Living After Midnight is a great example of their work. “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” I mean, come on. … Give me a fucking break – that’s such a good song. And the feel on that is just unbelievable.
Sabbath were who we were and [Judas Priest] were already traveling right along the road, man. They were making their own music and doing whatever they had to do, both Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. They’re self-made bands, and they have their soul and they know who they are, and they know what it is. And what I’m saying by that is they know what metal is. They understand the basic, primal scream of metal. That’s what I get from them. I’ve seen Priest play so many times. If you ever go see Priest, watch them play “Metal Gods.” It’s a fucking anthem. I used to go out at night to see if I could hear them play “Metal Gods,” and that was enough for me. Just like, “Man …” They’re so exciting.
Slipknot, ‘.5: The Gray Chapter’ (2014)
I was gonna pick Slipknot’s first album 1999’s Slipknot], but I thought, “No, let’s go with the last album that they did.” The reason that I picked it, primarily, is because of Corey Taylor’s lyrics. I was talking to #3 percussionist Chris Fehn only a couple of days ago – he’s a really close friend of mine. I was talking about Corey’s lyrics, about how I’m amazed by every time I played the album, I learned something more. It’s the way that Corey will give you a barrage of lyrics, and then become subdued. There are some really hardcore lyrics on this album. I’m not saying that there weren’t before with Slipknot; they’ve always been a hardcore band, period. But that’s what drew me to it, and that’s what brought me to the decision. There’s excellent playing from every member of the band, as well.
Recently, I played “XIX” and “Sarcastrophe,” which I think are both great tracks. But I like “XIX.” It’s a great example of Corey’s lyrics, and I like the way he twists and turns, and he’ll come out with something that’ll be quite unexpected. And “The Negative One,” I just love that; “The Devil and I.” I’m still digesting a lot of this album. There’s so much. I listen to this album over and over and over again. It’s just really, really good.
Metallica, ‘Metallica’ (1991)
I love the Black Album, I think it was the beginning of something, primarily. I’d met Metallica, and I’d heard them before that, but when I heard the Black Album, I actually had a response rather like I did with Sgt. Pepper. When I heard Sgt. Pepper for the first time, I sat down – along with a lot of other people – and listened to it over and over and over again. I did the same thing with the Black Album. The Black Album is very, very listenable to me, and it was easy on my ears, easy on my heart, and it was easy on where I was at. I felt very, very grateful that an album like the Black Album had come out, because I felt like it was the beginning of a new road and I felt like there’d been some gaps or some things that were kind of severed after [Black Sabbath’s] Heaven and Hell. There were other things that were happening, but I just couldn’t get it on with any of the stuff in that short period. Then when the Black Album came out, it reunited me with metal. So it’s an important album for me. I love every track on it.
The biggest one, of course, would be “Enter Sandman,” which I think is just absolutely fucking brilliant. “We’re off to never-never land.” I mean, come on. … It’s just like, “Yep.” The way that it’s played and the way that he laughs – very sinister, very nice. “The Unforgiven,” “Wherever I May Roam,” “Don’t Tread on Me,” love it. I think every track on there is really well done.
Black Sabbath, ‘Master of Reality’ (1971)
I like every single Sabbath album that I worked on, but I just happen to like Master of Reality. … I liked it because the band was, by that time, very much a completely on-the-road, touring band. We hadn’t come off the road for several years and there’s a maturity about it. I’m not saying that the other two – Black Sabbath and Paranoid – weren’t mature. I think they were, actually. But there’s something about Master; there’s something different about it. It’s always been one of my favorites. I just happen to really, really like that album.
I really like “Children of the Grave.” I think that’s a really good song. One of the things I like about it is the way that we used the keyboard in the center. It was almost like a church organ, kind of doom-y, gloomy organ that we laid down. Very hard riffs, very heavy-laden part right in the center of the song. I love the lyrics; I think the lyrics are great. We were stepping out into new places lyrically.
The groove on “Children of the Grave” is great. I love the groove, and I love playing it live, too. I could feel the power of everybody else in the band and I could feel me playing it, too. It was a double-bass-drum kit, with timbale-playing. There weren’t timbale overdubs, either. I think I actually played them in with the track as we were going. But I thought it was outstanding for its time. It sounded just right.
We have “Into the Void” on this album as well. It’s great on Master of Reality or when we played it live; it’s an incredible song to play. I think it’s a real favorite for a lot of the fans, and also for the band as well.
“Sweet Leaf” is great. It’s tongue-in-cheek, kind of stepping out a little bit. I remember when we wrote that at Kingsley Ward’s place down in Monmouth, Wales. I remember when we first put that together and it just fell together really nicely. That’s where we were at that time. Marijuana was extremely popular. I guess it is these days, as well. I wouldn’t know, to be honest with you – I kind of left that world a long time ago – but back then, I thought it was an honorable song to be participating in.
“After Forever,” I thought we were very risqué lyrically with that. We had the lyric in there, saying, “Would you like to see the pope at the end of a rope?/Do you think he’s a fool?” I thought, “Oh, my God, we’re gonna get murdered here for saying such things.” But we actually said that and it went on the record, and I think that was a very controversial song, especially for its time. I like that we were stepping out and breaking musical rules or lyrical rules saying “you can’t go there” or “you can’t touch that.” I thought that was quite courageous actually.
It does have a pro-Christian message. When we were defending the song back in the early Seventies, we would say, “Well, listen to the rest of the lyrics and they’re actually quite meaningful,” in terms of having harmony among different people and different races of people and so on and so forth. It was actually supposed to be that kind of a song. But it also asks questions, and it asks quite deliberate questions.