Black Sabbath Invented Heavy Metal 50 Years Ago Today

The band's self-titled debut album is now half a century old

BY Josiah HughesPublished Feb 13, 2020

While some musical genres have foggy origin stories, others can have their birth pinpointed to an exact place and time. For heavy metal, that moment happened when Black Sabbath released their eponymous self-titled debut on February 13, 1970. Yes, metal was invented exactly 50 years ago today.

To celebrate half a century of the album and the global genre it helped birth, Rolling Stone has shared an in-depth oral history of the release conducted with members of the band. 

Black Sabbath has shaped generations of musicians since thanks to its sonic intensity. "We always wanted to go heavier than any other band," Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler told the magazine.

But it took a little while for the term "heavy metal" to catch on. In the mid-'70s, when frontman Ozzy Osbourne was asked to describe the Black Sabbath sound, he said that they played "depression rock."

"I think it was we were about two years in, and we were starting to be called 'heavy metal,'" Black Sabbath founding drummer Bill Ward said. "And I remember us all denying that furiously. Because it was a new word. I've only started to adopt that term for us in the last 10 years or so — so when I was 60, I started to accept the idea that that's part of metal."

In fact, Black Sabbath's legacy influenced metal — and music at large — for decades to come.

"I didn't hear us cited as an influence until bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Metallica, and some of the punk stuff, like the Stranglers, came along," guitarist Tony Iommi added. "Once people did start citing us as their influence, then the younger kids started listening. If Metallica would say, 'Oh, well, Sabbath influenced us,' then people would listen. That sort of helped it grow."

Osbourne didn't take Metallica seriously when they first said that Black Sabbath was a major influence when the bands toured together in 1986. 

"Every time I went past their dressing room on that tour, I clearly remember they were playing old Black Sabbath stuff," Ozzy wrote in the liner notes of Metallica's recent Master of Puppets reissue. "And I genuinely thought they were taking the piss and winding me up. I said to my assistant at the time, 'It ain't cool, they're trying to undercut me and make fun of me.' He said, 'What the fuck are you talking about?… They think Sabbath and you are gods!' It was genuinely one of the very first times that I realized people actually liked Black Sabbath."

Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford told Rolling Stone, "There is no doubt in my mind that Sabbath invented what we know as the start of true and pure heavy metal. Without them, the genre may never have come to be."

The heavy metal anniversary comes as Ozzy Osbourne gets set to release his new solo effort Ordinary Man, which will arrive on February 21 via Epic Records.


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