Something a bit different this time round, with a 160 page, lavish A4 hardbound book, weighing in at over 60,000 words and around 125 high quality photographs covering the following albums on a track by track basis:

* Black Sabbath
* Paranoid
* Master of Reality
* Vol. 4
* Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
* Sabotage
* Never Say Die
* 13
* Blizzard of Oz
* Diary of a Madman
* Bark at the Moon
* No Rest for the Wicked
* No More Tears
* Ozzmosis
* Down To Earth,

but also covering the other albums and the stories behind them. Also included are profiles of all the band members, past and present, including Ronnie James Dio and Bill Ward. As a piece of work covering the 50th anniversary of the godfathers of heavy metal, you’re going to be hard pressed to find anything that’s as beautiful, or as well written and interesting.

By way of contrast, last year I picked up “Hellraisers: A visual history of heavy metal”, and found that to be lightweight, poorly researched and sloppily written. This book is the antithesis of that, with a genuine love for the subject matter seeping from every pore. I thought I’d read more or less everything I ever thought I would know or need to know about the boys from Brum, but this tome has put paid to that. Included are some really nice historic pieces, such as reproductions of flyers (one from Rock! In 1970 has an impending gig from Black Sabbath gig supported by Yes, East of Eden and Stray, while another has them in the same year supported by Frumpy and …um…Hairy Chapter).

Many of the tales told in the book are absolutely fascinating; as an example, on the track Cornucopia (from Vol.4), Carol and Paul write, “Little of this was of any interest to Bill Ward, whose problems with Cornucopia were closer to home. He loathed the track, which is a heavy-duty Sabbath rocker, loaded with time and tempo changes, and Bill could not get to grip with the patterns. The band returned to England to finish up some bits and pieces for the album, Cornucopia among them. Bill was on booze and coke round the clock, was fed up in the studio and was developing a mental block, a terrible resentment about Cornucopia (…) Ward’s bandmates, including his usual ally, Ozzy – unanimously decided that he should go home, since he wasn’t serving any useful purpose in the studio. Unfortunately, Bill didn’t have a home to go to, since he’d been on the road so much, he hadn’t reckoned he needed one. Bill trudged off into the night with his wife, profoundly shocked and fearful for his job. The pair gravitated to Geezer Butler’s house and spent the night sleeping under coats in his back garden”.

Throughout the book, there are really interesting notes and asides. I didn’t know, for instance, that less than five years after quitting from Sabbath, Bill Ward had resorted to begging for change in the Huntingdon Beach area in order to get enough change to buy more booze, such was the grip of alcoholism that had engulfed him. It also covers – albeit with less forensic detail – the lesser known or appreciated times in Sabbath’s career. On the recording of “Dehumanizer” (1992), for example, the book relays an unfortunate interaction between Cozy Powell and Ronnie James Dio. “If that little c**t says anything to me, I’m going to smash him in the face!” In typical luck for Iommi at the time, Dio quit, was replaced by Tony Martin, only to be replaced (again) by Dio, while Powell suffered from his horse having a heart attack and falling on him, leading him to be replaced by the returning Vinnie Appice.

As a point of interest for any respecting metal fan, and not just the die hard Ozzy or Sabbath fans, this is really a premium product. The quality of the pictures and general care in the writing elevates this to the realm of the must-have. I’ve even listened to “Born Again” several times since having received it, and if that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is!. Covering so much history is always going to be a challenge, but you never get the feeling that anything major has been missed out. Little stories which add colour, as well as some of the grubbier parts of their history are covered – such as the infamous Stonehenge issue, where mis-measurement of the stage set for the Born Again album led to the band owning an almost exact replica of the famous stone monument, which would not fit in most venues. For a band with such a rich and storied history, you’ll find something here to amuse, surprise and repel you. For this alone, this is a must-purchase. This is the best metal related book I’ve read in quite some time, and you should read it too.

(9/10 Chris Davison)