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Black Sabbath Albums, Ranked From Worst to Best

Anthony Socarras

Black Sabbath Albums, Ranked From Worst to Best

Ranking Black Sabbath’s 19 Studio Albums

How many bands can claim to be the progenitors of an entire genre? Black Sabbath certainly can. From the post-war, stolid industrial landscape of Birmingham, England, these rockers would come to be known as the holy prophets of heavy metal music.

Black Sabbath’s sound has never been static. But their core blend of Tommy Iommi’s heavy, sludge-fueled riffs, Geezer Butler’s thudding bass work, Bill Ward’s pounding drums, and, of course, Ozzy Osborne’s haunting vocals was what got them off the ground and into the world of music stardom. As the years went by, members came and went, and their sound evolved, particularly due to new singer Ronnie James Dio’s trademark style of soaring, almost operatic vocals. No matter what, the band remained committed to giving fans music to enjoy.

One can hear Black Sabbath’s legacy in every metal band that has followed them since. Thrash metal, doom metal, black metal, stoner metal, and more: these genres wouldn’t exist without Sabbath’s influence. If anything, the band has only grown in recognition over time, with much of their earlier work gaining newfound praise and acknowledgment from critics who perhaps overlooked them during their heyday.

Here are all nineteen Black Sabbath albums ranked from worst to best.

19) Forbidden (1995)

19 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - Forbidden

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s Worst Album

Widely recognized as the band’s weakest effort, Forbidden is tough to listen to.

Did anyone ask for a Black Sabbath and Ice-T collaboration? You’d think such a crossover would at least be fun to listen to, but “The Illusion of Power” falls short. The riff sounds like a cheap imitation of prime Sabbath, a cheap cut of meat pretending to be a New York strip. The repetitive vocals grate on the nerves and make you wish the song would come to a merciful close. The other songs aren’t any better.

To be fair to the band, the album’s awful production quality doesn’t do the album any favors. In any case, you won’t miss anything by passing over Forbidden.

Forbidden
  • Audio CD – Audiobook
  • EMI Special Products (Publisher)

18) Tyr (1990)

18 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - Tyr

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s 18th Best Album

Nordic stylings aside, Tyr sees the band attempt to follow their previous record, Headless Cross, with mixed results.

Tyr isn’t all bad. “Anno Mundi,” the album opener, features soaring vocals from Tony Martin that pair quite nicely with Iommi’s guitar work. “Odin’s Court” sounds like a blend between the band’s Heaven and Hell era sound, Led Zeppelin IV, and standard 80s hair metal, and it’s surprisingly okay.

Unfortunately, Tyr’s unique novelty wears off after only a few tracks, leaving you tired and longing for some of the band’s more memorable work.

17) Cross Purposes (1994)

17 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - Cross Purposes

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s 17th Best Album

Cross Purposes features one of the band’s most eclectic lineups yet fails to evoke anything more than mild interest.

Sabbath found themselves in a unique spot in 1994. Their new lineup fused together representatives of the band’s older, more storied work — Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi — with newer members such as Bob Rondinelli and Tony Martin. Their collective output is hardly terrible but still lacks inspiration and charm.

Back to Eden” and “Virtual Death” are two highlight tracks that feature some of Iommi’s best guitar work in ages. One can hear traces of the band’s former glory in those tracks, but the rest of the album is mediocre at best. It’s not a bad listen, but hardly mandatory either.

16) Seventh Star (1986)

16 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - Seventh Star

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s 16th Best Album

Seventh Star is more a Tony Iommi solo album than anything. In fact, it was intended to be Iommi’s solo debut, but record executives thought the album would sell better under the band’s brand. Despite an impressive lineup of gig musicians, including Glenn Hughes from Deep Purple, Seventh Star is okay.

Classic Sabbath fans will be hard-pressed to find any traces of the band’s trademark sound here. Partly owing to Iommi’s creative instincts at the time and general music trends during the mid-80s, the album features more of a classic hard rock sound. The single “No Stranger to Love” oozes 80s cheese, but it’s hard to hate, as Hughes emotive vocals and Iommi’s guitar work pair quite nicely.

Fans eager for something a little harder might appreciate “In for the Kill” and “Danger Zone.” Seventh Star hardly feels like a Black Sabbath album, but it’s not awful.

15) The Eternal Idol (1987)

15 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - The Eternal Idol

Why Black Sabbath’s 15th Best Album

The Eternal Idol introduces Tony Martin to the band, marking yet another lineup change for the band.

Martin brings a fresh and dynamic sound that the late-80s Sabbath desperately needed. His vocals err more on the side of Dio than Ozzy, but he has a voice of his own. “The Shining” showcases his style at its best. “The Shining” is also a standout track with Iommi’s shredding riffs and solid drum work. “Hard Life to Love” and “Ancient Warrior” are other songs worth checking out.

The Eternal Idol may lack the charm of the band’s finest work, but it makes for good listening.

14) Born Again (1983)

14 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - Born Again

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s 14th Best Album

Reviled by critics upon release yet hailed by fans in later years, Born Again is neither a dumpster fire nor a hidden gem. It’s just pretty good.

Born Again was an album of firsts and lasts. It was the last Sabbath record to feature original drummer Bill Ward and the first and only to feature Ian Gillan from Deep Purple. It obtained serious popular success, hitting number 4 on the U.K. charts, yet received worst-of-the-year style treatment from critics. What should you make of it?

Trashed” is a raucous, hilarious track featuring some truly impressive guitar chops from Iommi. “Zero the Hero” has a solo among Iommi’s finest, and “Disturbing the Priest” is another standout song. Besides those three highlight songs, Born Again is pretty good, but nothing incredible. I will say that it didn’t deserve the hate it got upon release.

13) Never Say Die! (1978)

13 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - Never Say Die!

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s 13th Best Album

Never Say Die! was, up until 2013’s 13, Black Sabbath’s final record with legendary singer Ozzy Osbourne. Yet many fans read too much into the album’s mixed reviews and pass it over entirely.

Never Say Die! might not have been what iconic record fans and critics wanted it to be. But, for what it is, it is a fine album. The title track “Never Say Die” is an upbeat joyride of a tune, with Iommi delivering a rather bluesy riff to compliment Ozzy’s optimistic and upbeat message of persistence. “A Hard Road” takes that same blues-inspired sound and winds it down, creating a more melancholic mood that sounds quite different from any Sabbath work before it.

Perhaps it would be better if the band’s classic lineup released a more memorable album as their final send-off. However, for all of its flaws, chief among them a lack of focus and direction, Never Say Die! manages to shine, if just a little bit.

12) Technical Ecstasy (1976)

12 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - Technical Ecstasy

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s 12th Best Album

Technical Ecstasy sees the band break new sonic ground as they depart from their trademark heaviness to explore a more bluesy and rock-fueled sound.

At the time, fans were rather miffed to see Black Sabbath stray away from their trademark dark, heavy sound. For instance, “Dirty Women” sometimes sounds more like a Southern jam track than a metal song. Iommi, as usual, shreds up and down and all around, and Ozzy’s vocals sound like they usually do: unique and forceful. “Back Street Kids” is a solid album opener, while “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor” is a fun listen.

The problem with Technical Ecstasy doesn’t lie in the band’s performance, per se. If anything, their instrumentals and vocals are tighter than ever. It’s just that this album sounds like Sabbath trying to be like other bands that were gaining steam at the time.

Even still, Technical Ecstasy is a solid record worth checking out.

11) Dehumanizer (1992)

11 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - Dehumanizer

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s 11th Best Album

Dehumanizer is a surprisingly good album that sees Sabbath tread new lyrical ground.

Dehumanizer flies under the radar among die-hard fans and casual listeners alike. Since it’s sandwiched between two largely forgettable records, it’s easy to miss. Yet the album features epic rockers like “TV Crimes,” a blistering takedown of money-hungry televangelists, and “Computer God,” a fascinating depiction of a computer worshiped as a god.

Dio’s vocals are as they usually are: a beautiful blend of melodic sensuality and aggression. Iommi and Butler sound on point, and while Appice’s drumming is good, I wish the mixing was a little better.

Dehumanizer isn’t perfect, as it contains a fair bit of fluff. But if you’re keen on finding something that resembles peak Dio-era Sabbath, it’s a solid choice.

Dehumanizer (Deluxe Edition)
  • Black Sabbath- Dehumanizer (RTB19 EX)

10) Headless Cross (1989)

10 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - Headless Cross

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s 10th Best Album

There’s no way around it: Headless Cross is a great record, and the best featuring vocalist Tony Martin.

There’s something beautiful about when Headless Cross came about for the band. After years of mediocre releases, innumerable lineup changes, and interpersonal issues, Headless Cross came like a godsend. The title track seamlessly blends Martin’s wailing vocals with some gnarly licks from Iommi, wrapped together nicely by Cozy Powell’s thundering drums and Geoff Nicholls’ emotive keyboard work. Virtually every other track on the album, such as “Kill In The Spirit World” and “Devil & Daughter,” follow the same formula.

Everything feels tight on Headless Cross. Conceptually and lyrically, the album revolves around the same core concepts — death and the occult — yet it doesn’t feel overwrought or cheesy. The instrumentation is tight and well-coordinated without feeling like it’s too much.

Headless Cross isn’t perfect. Some fans might feel as if it strays too far from the band’s original sound, while others (such as myself) think it could use a bit more sonic experimentation. In any case, it’s a great album that would be excellent in any other band’s catalog.

9) 13 (2013)

9 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - 13

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s 9th Best Album

It had been a long, long time since Black Sabbath had released a record in 2013. 18 years, to be precise, and it had been far longer since they had recorded a studio album with Ozzy. Now, a decade+ after 13, it’s safe to say that the band lived up to the hype.

Fans and critics alike heralded 13 as a return to form for the band. It sounds like the old Sabbath, the Sabbath that everyone fell in love with. “God Is Dead?” is a sprawling, magnificent track full of life and dynamism, and “End of the Beginning” is a delectable slice of doom metal heaviness, complete with pessimistic, if prophetic lyrics about the negative impacts of technology upon humanity.

The band plays with love and intensity befitting the circumstances. Although original drummer Bill Ward’s absence is sorely missed, Rage Against the Machine legend Brad Wilk does a great job on the kit.

My one complaint — and that of many other fans — was that the production quality could’ve been a bit better. Rick Rubin is a production legend, no doubt, and although the recording quality is far, far better than that of the 80s and 90s, it could use a bit more warmth.

Nitpicking aside, 13 is a wonderful album that every Sabbath fan must listen to.

Sale
13 [2 LP]
  • Label Virgin EMI
  • Vinyl Record - LP - Sealed
  • Track Listing
  • LP1
  • 1. End Of The Beginning (8:07)

8) Sabotage (1975)

8 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - Sabotage

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s 8th Best Album

Designing, recording, and releasing a new album is no small feat, as bands have to decide on the amount of experimentation they feel is appropriate. Should they stick to a given formula — something that’s already worked before — or try something new entirely?

Sabotage sees Sabbath stick to their guns, although they inject just the right amount of new influences to keep things fresh and exciting. Unlike 1976’s Technical Ecstasy, Sabotage pushes boundaries without feeling like an imitation of other bands.

Symptom of the Universe” is my favorite track. It’s raw, brutal, and intense, featuring some groundbreaking soloing from Iommi. It feels like proto-thrash metal, like early Metallica, but ten years too early. It’s great.

Hole in the Sky” feels more like classic Sabbath, while “Supertzar,” a lovely, soft song, features the English Chamber Choir. The single “Am I Going Insane (Radio)” alludes, ever so obliquely, to the band’s feelings of confusion over their identity. It’s a polarizing song that I just happen to enjoy.

Sabotage might not be for everyone, but classic Sabbath fans should appreciate what the band’s up to on this release.

7) Mob Rules (1981)

7 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - Mob Rules

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s 7th Best Album

Mob Rules is peak Dio-era Sabbath, even if it’s not quite its predecessor. The band continues to charge full steam ahead into the 80s with a new, groundbreaking sound. Whether you’re an Ozzy lover or a Dio die-hard, you’ll love Mob Rules.

Turn Up The Night” opens the album with a roar. Dio’s melodic yet captivating vocals take center stage, commanding the listener’s respect, all while Iommi’s trademark guitar work rages on in the background. It’s metal, through and through.

Sign of the Southern Cross,” arguably the album’s best track, is slightly more subdued yet equally intense. Dio’s impressive vocal range shines through on this track, guiding the listener through a dark and atmospheric soundscape.

Mob Rules is, at its core, a mix of these two tracks’ styles. The band clearly demonstrates that they can provide intense, face-melting tracks yet also showcase their more dynamic side. It’s something that I personally love about Dio-era Sabbath.

Perhaps the only serious criticism — a criticism that Iommi himself has acknowledged — is that Mob Rules sounds a bit too much like Heaven and Hell. Is that a bad thing? In my opinion, not at all, but I admit that the album could use a dash of something new. Nonetheless, this is one killer album that you have to check out.

6) Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973)

6 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

Why Its Black Sabbath’s 6th Best Album

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath came at a precarious time for the band. Worn out after the Vol. 4 World Tour, the band crashed in Los Angeles during the summer of 1973. Despite intending to record new material, they just didn’t, owing to their exhaustion and then-copious substance usage. They needed to ground themselves again, and so they traveled back to the UK.

Despite all of this turmoil — or perhaps because of it — Sabbath Bloody Sabbath emerged as one of the band’s finest albums. The title track, in particular, warrants specific praise. Iommi’s main riff, often described as the “riff that saved Black Sabbath,” is genuinely one of the best guitar riffs ever created. Sure, it’s not “Iron Man,” but it’s pretty darn close. It’s a stunning track that takes the listener through a rich, mind-melting soundscape, complete with Ozzy’s trademark vocals.

I can’t speak highly enough of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath;” it’s one of the band’s best all-time tracks. That isn’t to say that the rest of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath doesn’t impress, however. “Killing Yourself to Live” treats serious, existential subject matter with deep sincerity and gravity, coupled with sonic dynamism. “National Acrobat” is a bizarre, if incredibly intricate track.

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is simply incredible. It’s a testament to the band’s legendary discography that it sits only in sixth place.

Sale
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
  • vinyl album/LP (12" size)
  • released 2015 in Europe by Sanctuary (BMGRM057LP)
  • Genre: Heavy Metal- Hard Rock

5) Vol. 4 (1972)

5 - Black Sabbath Albums Ranked - Vol. 4

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s 5th Best Album

It’s hard to believe now, but at the time, Vol. 4 received less-than-stellar reviews from critics. In spite of this early critical rejection, Vol. 4 sold incredibly well, reaching the 13th spot on Billboard’s pop charts; hardly bad for a band full of metal fiends from the faraway land of Birmingham, England.

Critics have come to recognize Vol. 4 for what it is: a triumph of music. Vol. 4 sees the band make their first efforts at sonic experimentation, but they don’t lose themselves in the process. They wear their influences on their sleeves but innovate and build off of them instead of merely aping them for attention. Although you can still find the doom-metal sound of their earlier records at times on Vol. 4, the band steps beyond it.

The album opener, “Wheels of Confusion / The Straightener,” showcases the band’s masterful ability to transition from softer, atmospheric tones to raucous riffs and drums. “Supernaut” is a truly infectious listen, as I promise you that you’ll be hearing that Iommi riff for days after hearing it for the first time. “Snowblind,” meanwhile, is a rather frank yet brilliant acknowledgment of the band’s issues with cocaine.

However, above all other tracks, “Changes” is the best on the album. “Changes” is sullen and forlorn, introspective and moody. Featuring a subtle piano opening that gives way to Ozzy’s vocals, it’s more King Crimson than Black Sabbath: simply brilliant.

4) Master of Reality (1971)

4 - Black Sabbath Best Albums - Master of Reality

Why Black Sabbath’s 4th Best Album

There are those bands that pioneered entire genres simply by existing. The Ramones did it for punk, Blink-182 for pop-punk, and, as I mentioned, Black Sabbath did it for metal. But how about an album that birthed not just one genre but many?

Stoner rock, doom metal, sludge metal, perhaps even shoegaze: all of these genres, and their respective bands, owe their very existence to Master of Reality. Master of Reality sees Sabbath tune their instruments down several steps and their heaviness up to eleven. As with Vol. 4, critics didn’t care for it too much upon release, but have since backtracked and acknowledged just how important of an album it is.

Sweet Leaf” is the quintessential stoner rock track. It’s in the song title, for crying out loud! It’s a deep, heavy song where Iommi goes to town with his fuzzy guitar riffs, complemented nicely by Geezer Butler’s groovy bass and Bill Ward’s drums. “Children of the Grave,” on the other hand, is raw and bleak, featuring poignant lyrics about the evils of war, much like the band’s classic “War Pigs.”

After Forever” and “Into the Void” are two other iconic songs from Master of Reality, but there’s no filler to be found on this album. Each and every song has a purpose and a place. For fans of Ozzy-era Black Sabbath, Master of Reality is among the best that the band has to offer.

3) Heaven and Hell (1980)

3 - Black Sabbath Best Albums - Heaven and Hell

Why Black Sabbath’s 3rd Best Album

For many bands, losing their trademark lead singer would’ve been a death sentence. But Sabbath fans have the luxury of enjoying two (three, if you count Tony Martin, as I do) iconic eras for the band, each defined by a particular vocalist.

To some, Ronnie James Dio isn’t Ozzy Osbourne, and that’s a problem. For me, however, that’s just fine. If anything, it’s amazing, as Heaven and Hell is one of the best albums that Black Sabbath has ever produced and one of the top albums of the 1980s.

Neon Knights” opens Heaven and Hell with a bang. Iommi’s rhythmic shredding, capped off with a juicy solo towards the song’s close, gives Dio a great foundation to work with. Put simply, Dio’s voice excels as he deftly handles notes high and low with a blend of grace and force. The title track “Heaven and Hell” gives Dio even more space to shine, as he delivers powerful lyrics about the nature of good and evil.

Die Young” speeds things up a notch, and yet again, Dio’s vocals steal the show. However, while there isn’t a single bad track on the record, “Children of the Sea” is the album’s finest track. The band expertly weaves between ornate, beautiful acoustic portions and thundering dynamism. It’s haunting and inspiring all the same.

Heaven and Hell is, at its core, about Ronnie James Dio and his otherworldly vocal chops. But the rest of the band delivers, too, creating a truly timeless album for the ages.

2) Black Sabbath

3 - Black Sabbath Best Albums - Black Sabbath

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s 2nd Best Album

What could you accomplish in twelve hours? For most people, that’s not a lot of time, at least not a lot of time to record one of the greatest debut albums of all time. For Black Sabbath, however, that was more than enough time to give the world its very first taste of heavy metal. Yes, Black Sabbath recorded Black Sabbath during a single twelve-hour session.

It bears repeating: Black Sabbath is the first heavy metal album, period. Their iconic mix of heavy, aggressive instrumentals, evocative vocals, and dark lyrics both set a precedent and a standard for the genre. “N.I.B.” showcases Geezer Butler’s impeccable basslines, bass playing which gives way to an almost bluesy sound, while “The Wizard” introduces a harmonica and some acoustic guitar for good measure. “Evil Woman” is, despite what many think, a cover of an older song. Sabbath takes this track and makes it entirely their own.

There are clear blues and rock influences peppered throughout the album, yet it’s clear that Black Sabbath moves beyond them entirely. The album is thematically and lyrically dark, replete with images of death, evil, and the occult. This was new territory for musicians at the time, and Black Sabbath deserves praise for being brave enough to cover such controversial and polarizing topics.

Black Sabbath is the album that started it all.

1) Paranoid (1970)

1 - Paranoid is Black Sabbath's Best Album

Why It’s Black Sabbath’s Best Album

Black Sabbath’s debut album sold surprisingly well in the UK. The band, eager to keep their momentum going, returned to the studios less than a year after finishing up Black Sabbath. For a band so early in its career and musicians so young, Paranoid is a groundbreaking achievement.

Even people unfamiliar with Black Sabbath have heard songs from Paranoid. “Iron Man” has burned itself into the popular consciousness, with its signature riff becoming one of the most instantly recognizable guitar licks ever. Any other song with the same amount of popular attention would have become cliche many years ago, but “Iron Man” remains fun.

Paranoid” tells the story of a man who is, well, paranoid, specifically about his girlfriend. The opening riff is, yet again, simply iconic and well-suited to the rest of the song. “Hand of Doom” and “Planet Caravan,” both overshadowed by their more popular counterparts, are album highlights.

However, “War Pigs” is the quintessential Paranoid track and arguably the band’s defining single. It’s a haunting, chilling, and slow-burning track that eviscerates war-hungry politicians with surgical precision. It’s simply unforgettable.

If you can only listen to one Black Sabbath album, listen to Paranoid. It’s their best.

Paranoid
  • vinyl album/LP (12" size)
  • released 2015 in Europe by BMG (BMGRM054LP)
  • Genre: Heavy Metal- Hard Rock

Anthony Socarras

Anthony Socarras

Anthony Socarras is a Virginia-based contributor for VinylMapper.com. Listening to his brother’s records growing up led to a lifelong love of classic rock and metal. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and watching documentaries.

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