The hauntingly real story behind the recording of the 1973 Black Sabbath album: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
Go inside Black Sabbath’s masterpiece Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, a tale of writer’s block and ghostly visitations.
Early in their career, Black Sabbath were releasing albums and launched tours at a breakneck pace. For a while the relentless cycle helped fuel their creativity – from 1970 though 1972, Black Sabbath issued four classic albums.
The E.P’s spawned numerous anthems including: Paranoid, Iron Man, N.I.B. & Sweet Leaf.
In the summer of 1973 the band tried settling down and writing their fifth album, SBS, but guitarist/ songwriter Tony Iommi experienced something he’d never had previously – a nasty case of writer’s block.
“What happened was we’d finished Volume 4 in Los Angeles, we all lived in a house together in the city, and everything was great on that album.”
“We came to England and toured and then we were due to make another album. We went back to the L.A house again, to do Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and I got writer’s block. It just went dead. We had the studio booked, same everything booked. And it was just one of those times. I really panicked: ‘Oh my God, I can’t seem to think of anything that we like!’. I could play stuff, but it just wasn’t sinking in; I didn’t like it. So we cancelled the whole thing, came back to England.” -- Tony Iommi
Instead of jumping right back into songwriting, the Sabbath took time off to recharge their batteries before getting back to work. But rather than rent an ordinary house to write and record, they had something else in mind.
“We rented the old Clearwell Castle in the Forest of Dean and it was just us there. What we did was we set up the equipment in the dungeons of the castle, to try and get some vibe going. And then that was it – we came up with Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and the rest came fairly shortly afterwards. The block had gone.”
Geezer Butler recalled how he and the band felt when Tony presented the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath riff to them: “When Iommi came up with the riff to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, it was almost like seeing your first child being born. It was the end of our musical drought, the beginning of our new direction, an affirmation of life. It meant the band had a present – and a future – again.”
Although the band would begin to fracture soon afterwards due to drug abuse and simply being burnt-out…
Tony Iommi recalls that they were getting along quite well on both a musical and personal level around the time of the recording of the song.
“We’d done what we always do: we go to a studio, lock ourselves in, and record the album. Everything seemed to go all right on that album, I think. We didn’t have all the problems we had with some of the others.”
But there were a few ‘odd occurrences’ outside the Sabbath circle that happened during the recording.
Iommi: “I recall walking from the dungeons one day, I think with Geezer, Bill, or somebody. We were walking along the hallway, and saw this figure coming towards us. It’s a long corridor. This figure turned left into this room, which was the armory room, where they had all the weapons. We followed, and went in. There was nobody in there. And there was no way out or anything – no other door. Very odd. Anyway, a few days later, the people who own the castle came to see if we were okay, and we said: ‘We’ve seen a few strange things happening here’, and we told them. They said: ‘Oh God, that’s…’ whatever his name was, ‘the castle ghost. Don’t worry about him!’.”
Watch the clip below which was released as the album’s lead-off single, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was the first Sabbath song to have a promo shot to accompany it. In it, the group doesn’t do any lip-syncing bullshit or fake playing their instruments – in fact they don’t even bother to pick up their instruments at all – as they waltz through what appears to be a forest.
“That was at Geezer’s house. That was Geezer’s garden we were walking around in,” Iommi recalls of the ‘forest’ scene. “What I remember about that is that we just turned up and that was it, really – we’re doing a video!”