Black Sabbath unleashed their fifth and final masterpiece on Dec. 1, 1973. Rock critics hated the album, just as they had all the others, but Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was universally adored by loyal fans.

For members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward, recording the follow-up to 1972’s Vol. 4 was anything but a cakewalk. Drug abuse and hard partying had by then begun messing with their focus, and the sheer fatigue associated with four years of non-stop touring had also taken its toll.

The band’s initial attempts to write and record in the sunny but toxic environs of Los Angeles in the summer of 1973 proved fruitless, so they hastily retreated to their more familiarly gray-skied English homeland and rented out a Gothic medieval castle in Gloucestershire. They hoped working in the castle’s dungeon would spark the inspiration needed to conjure up a new spate of occult-laced doom metal along the same, brutally fancy-free lines of what had come before.

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Then something different happened. Iommi broke through his writer’s block by crafting the mighty riff powering Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’s signature title track, and the new album’s creative process began gathering serious steam and moving in unprecedented directions. The resulting songs would be marked by increased experimentation and sophistication.

Watch Black Sabbath's Video for 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath'

Substance Abuse and Label Issues Halted Their Momentum

Familiarly bruising heavy-metal wonders like "A National Acrobat," "Looking for Today" and "Killing Yourself to Live" possessed a newfound confidence and maturity, with thought-provoking lyrics and increased melodic sensibilities. "Sabbra Cadabra," "Who Are You?" and "Spiral Architect" incorporated both synthesizers (courtesy of Yes legend Rick Wakeman) and orchestral arrangements to great effect. In "Fluff," Iommi’s typically “throwaway” acoustic interludes of previous LPs found sweet, baroque redemption.

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath wasn’t just another Black Sabbath album, but a clear dividing line in their career. This remains a significant creative leap, inaugurating phase two of the band’s career and promising much of albums still to come. As history showed, ever-increasing substance use and continued exploitation by label and management taskmasters would duly exhaust Sabbath’s artistic powers and undermine the quality of subsequent albums to varying degrees.

By the time Osbourne was ousted from the group five years later, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was already being recognized as perhaps the final great stand by the founding foursome.

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Over a lengthy career, certain pitfalls also present themselves: Band members leave, songs become one-hit wonders, sounds go out of style. Then you start to hate your own records.

Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso

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