Black Sabbath are an English rock band, formed in Birmingham in 1968 by Ozzy Osbourne (lead vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass), and Bill Ward (drums and percussion). The band has since experienced multiple lineup changes, with a total of twenty-two former members. Originally formed as a heavy blues-rock band named Earth, the band began incorporating occult- and horror-inspired lyrics with tuned-down guitars, changing their name to Black Sabbath and achieving multiple gold and platinum records in the 1970s. As one of the first and most influential heavy metal bands of all time, Black Sabbath helped define the genre with releases such as 1970's quadruple-platinum Paranoid. They were ranked by MTV as the "Greatest Metal Band" of all time, and have sold over fifteen million records in the United States alone.
Vocalist Ozzy Osbourne's drinking led to his firing from the band in 1979 and was replaced by former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. After a few albums with Dio's vocals and his songwriting collaborations, Black Sabbath would see a revolving lineup in the 1980s and 1990s that included vocalists Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, Ray Gillen and Tony Martin. In 1992, Iommi and Butler rejoined Dio and drummer Vinny Appice to record Dehumanizer, an album which stands to be Black Sabbath's heaviest album to date. The original lineup reunited with Osbourne in 1997 and released a live album, Reunion. The early/mid 1980s line-up featuring Iommi, Butler, Dio, and Appice reformed in 2006 under the title, Heaven & Hell.
Although Black Sabbath have gone through many lineups and stylistic changes, their original sound focused on ominous lyrics and doomy music, often making use of the musical tritone, also called the "devil's interval". Standing in stark contrast to popular music of the early 1970s, Black Sabbath's dark sound was dismissed by rock critics of the era. Much like many of their early heavy metal contemporaries, the band received virtually no airplay on rock radio.
As the band's primary songwriter, Tony Iommi wrote the majority of Black Sabbath's music, while Osbourne would write vocal melodies, and bassist Geezer Butler would write lyrics. The process was sometimes frustrating for Iommi, who often felt pressured to come up with new material. "If I didn't come up with anything, nobody would do anything." On Iommi's influence, Osbourne later said:
Black Sabbath never used to write a structured song. There'd be a long intro that would go into a jazz piece, then go all folky... and it worked. Tony Iommi—and I have said this a zillion times—should be up there with the greats. He can pick up a guitar, play a riff, and you say, 'He's gotta be out now, he can't top that.' Then you come back, and I bet you a billion dollars, he'd come up with a riff that'd knock your fucking socks off.
Early Black Sabbath albums feature tuned-down guitars, which contributed to the dark feel of the music. In 1966, before forming Black Sabbath, guitarist Tony Iommi suffered an accident while working in a sheet metal factory, losing the tips of two fingers on his right hand. Iommi almost gave up music, but was urged by a friend to listen to Django Reinhardt, a jazz guitarist who lost the use of two fingers. Inspired by Reinhardt, Iommi created two thimbles made of plastic and leather to cap off his missing fingers. The guitarist began using lighter strings, and detuning his guitar, to better grip the strings with his prosthetics, a move which inadvertently gave the music a darker feel". Early in the band's history Iommi experimented with different dropped tunings, including C tuning, or 3 semitones down, before settling on E♭ tuning, or a half-step down from standard tuning.
Black Sabbath are arguably the most influential heavy metal band of all time. The band helped to create the genre with ground breaking releases such as Paranoid, an album that Rolling Stone magazine said "changed music forever", and called the band "the Beatles of heavy metal". Time Magazine called Paranoid "the birthplace of heavy metal", placing it in their Top 100 Albums of All Time. MTV placed Black Sabbath at number one on their Top Ten Heavy Metal Bands and VH1 placed them at number two on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. VH1 ranked Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" the number one song on their 40 Greatest Metal Songs countdown. Allmusic's William Ruhlmann said:
Black Sabbath has been so influential in the development of heavy metal rock music as to be a defining force in the style. The group took the blues-rock sound of late '60s acts like Cream, Blue Cheer, and Vanilla Fudge to its logical conclusion, slowing the tempo, accentuating the bass, and emphasising screaming guitar solos and howled vocals full of lyrics expressing mental anguish and macabre fantasies. If their predecessors clearly came out of an electrified blues tradition, Black Sabbath took that tradition in a new direction, and in so doing helped give birth to a musical style that continued to attract millions of fans decades later.
Black Sabbath's influence on heavy metal is almost unparalleled, the band are cited as highly influential by countless bands, including Metallica, Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Iced Earth, Opeth, Pantera, Megadeth, The Smashing Pumpkins, Slipknot, the Foo Fighters, Fear Factory, Candlemass, and Godsmack. Two gold selling tribute albums have been released, Nativity in Black Volume 1 & 2, including covers by Sepultura, White Zombie, Type O Negative, Faith No More, Machine Head, System of a Down and Monster Magnet.
Metallica's Lars Ulrich, who, along with bandmate James Hetfield inducted Black Sabbath into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, said "Black Sabbath is and always will be synonymous with heavy metal", while Hetfield said "Sabbath got me started on all that evil-sounding shit, and it's stuck with me. Tony Iommi is the king of the heavy riff." Ex-Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash said of the Paranoid album: "There's just something about that whole record that, when you're a kid and you're turned onto it, it's like a whole different world. It just opens up your mind to another dimension...Paranoid is the whole Sabbath experience; very indicative of what Sabbath meant at the time. Tony's playing style — doesn't matter whether it's off 'Paranoid' or if it's off 'Heaven and Hell' — it's very distinctive." Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian said "I always get the question in every interview I do, 'What are your top five metal albums?' I make it easy for myself and always say the first five Sabbath albums." Lamb of God's Chris Adler said: "If anybody who plays heavy metal says that they weren't influenced by Black Sabbath's music, then I think that they're lying to you. I think all heavy metal music was, in some way, influenced by what Black Sabbath did."