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Black Sabbath’s “Sabotage”: Anger Provides Inspiration

Not all, but many Black Sabbath fans point to the phenomenal Sabotage as the Birmingham band’s best album.

The interesting thing is how that progressive and doomy 1975 record was created: Out of turmoil, lawsuits and copious amounts of drugs.

Coming off their highly successful “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” album, the band became immersed in a series of lawsuits (starting in 1974) while trying to split from former manager Patrick Meehan, who had been ripping off Sabbath members pretty much since Day 1. According to bassist Geezer Butler, Meehan was trying to stop them recording and attempting to freeze all their assets.

To put it in context, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Bill Ward and Geezer Butler were, then, just four lads from Birmingham who came from the poorest side of the tracks. Any cash they got up that point was gravy to them. They knew absolutely nothing about publishing rights and songwriting royalties. And they were taken with Meehan’s charm and worldly knowledge. To his credit, he did take the band to the top, but stole a bunch of money along the way.

“Meehan talked a good talk,” said Iommi. Osbourne has said publicly that “Patrick Meehan never gave you a straight answer when you asked him how much dough you were making.”

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Butler: “We felt like we were being ripped off”

And, as Butler said, “We felt we were being ripped off.”

Hence Sabbath’s decision to part ways with Meehan, but he wasn’t about to relinquish control over his golden goose. That’s when the litigation began.

The lawsuits were taking a toll, so much so, that writs and subpoenas would be handed out in London’s Morgan Studios as Sabbath was working on the record.

“We used to turn up at the studio to go and write a song, and there would be like three lawyers waiting for us to put subpoenas on us, stuff like that,” said Geezer Butler on bravewords.com. “It took us about ten months to do the album because of all the interruptions we were having.”

Sabbath chose the title because they felt like all their efforts were being sabotaged, and the turmoil they were going through brought about an angry tone to the album, that hadn’t really been on any of their previous work.

The nearly 10-minute track “Megalomania” is, lyrically, a song about the torment and frustration the band was going through because of Meehan.

With an evil, angry tone and a killer guitar riff, “Megalomania” is, indeed, like a “trip that’s inside a separate mind” that explores going through hell and emerging with your freedom intact.

The Writ Takes Aim at Meehan

Then there’s “The Writ”, an ode to the writs coming at them in the studio. Osbourne’s lyrics (yes he wrote them on that song, according to Butler), take square aim at Meehan (“Are you metal, are you man? You’ve changed a lot since you began. Yeah, began…You bought and sold me with your lying words….”), and Ozzy’s manic vocals are full of fury. The end result is one of Sabbath’s heaviest and best songs.

In his must-read book I am Ozzy, Osbourne describes what he was feeling as he penned the angry lyrics for “The Writ”: “I wrote most of lyrics myself, which felt a bit like seeing a shrink. All the anger I felt towards Meehan came pouring out.”

Despite all the strife and tension, Sabbath emerged with Sabotage, a brilliant album that set the table for thrash metal and has stood the test of time as one of their best records – indeed one of the best metal albums of all time.

Sabbath was able to sever the ties with Meehan, but they paid him out. Between that and the legal bills, there wasn’t much cash left. But at least they were free.

Check out more of Cam Maxwell’s Rock ‘N Roll Insight.

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