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Black Box: The Complete Original Black Sabbath (1970-1978) (Rhino)

Black Sabbath was, to an entire generation, what the Beatles were to their older brothers and sisters. The Beatles demonstrated the creative autonomy available to a pop group in the burgeoning 1960s youth consumer culture. Black Sabbath, on the other hand, sifted the post-1968 wreckage of that culture. The revolution hadn't come, the Man wasn't going anywhere, and being stoned all the time didn't make you enlightened, it just made you stoned all the time. Four guys from Birmingham (the Detroit of England) provided the ideal soundtrack to the disillusioned, downcast early 1970s.

Between 1970 and '78, Black Sabbath released eight albums of the heaviest extrapolation of the blues yet heard. They stripped away the fretboard fetishism that sank such contemporaries as Alvin Lee and the Allman Brothers, and focused on what was important: rhythm. Geezer Butler and Bill Ward pummeled and shoved the great machine endlessly forward, and when they got the chance (as on Vol. 4's awe-inspiring "Supernaut," possibly the greatest hard-rock/metal track ever), they flexed a jazz-tinged intricacy that left plodders like Grand Funk Railroad and Led Zeppelin in the dust.

Black Box gathers the eight Ozzy-era albums, remasters 'em for maximum crunch, and tosses in a short DVD with some live German TV performances ("Blue Suede Shoes"!). So, sprint to the record store, right? Well, maybe. The thing is, Castle Music put out a box in 2002 that had all these albums (minus the DVD), remastered and in mini-LP packaging. So unless you're coming late to the party, you'll be paying for Rhino's new liner notes and the DVD. But hey, whatever. This is Black Sabbath we're talking about. You gotta have this stuff.

More by Phil Freeman

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