Thursday, August 5, 2021

It's arguably the most divisive album in Black Sabbath's catalog from the 1970s: 1976 LP, Technical Ecstasy. The band had battled messy legal issues to create seventh studio effort, Sabotage. When it came to Technical Ecstasy, the group was fighting a more existential enemy: the birth of punk, when had begun to nip at the heels of long-established rockers like Sabbath.

Between punk and the proliferation of much softer rock from the likes of Eagles and ELO dominating the charts, a shook Tony Iommi looked to open Black Sabbath's sound to keep up with the times. Holing up in a Miami recording studio, the guitarist was adamant that the group add some new wrinkles to the sound: "In the studio, Tony (Iommi) was always saying, 'We've gotta sound like Foreigner', or 'We've gotta sound like Queen,'" singer Ozzy Osbourne remembered in his autobiography, I Am Ozzy. "But I thought it was strange that the bands we'd once influenced were now influencing us."

Opening on the high-energy riff-fest that is "Back Street Kids," Technical Ecstasy does take some severe diversions across its eight tracks. "It's Alright" finds drummer Bill Ward singing lead vocals on the Beatles/Wings-inspired piano track, while "All Moving Parts" finds bassist Geezer Butler throwing in some seriously funky bass lines for the dance floor. Orchestra ballad "She's Gone" is followed by the album closer and high water mark, "Dirty Women." The seven-minute ode to Miami street-walkers allowed Iommi the space to unleash multiple guitar solos throughout the sleek and synth-heavy track somewhat reminiscent of classic Blue Oyster Cult.

Released on September 25, 1976, Technical Ecstasy seemed to confound critics and fans alike, peaking at #51 on the Billboard 200 for the week of November 27, 1976. The #1 album in America that week: Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life.

"Black Sabbath fans generally don't like much of Technical Ecstasy. It was really a no-win situation for us," Iommi once said. "If we had stayed the same, people would have said we were still doing the same old stuff. So we tried to get a little more technical, and it just didn't work out very well. We recorded the album in Miami, and nobody would take responsibility for the production. No one wanted to bring in an outside person for help, and no one wanted the whole band to produce it. So they left it all to me!"

"I think we risked a lot; I think we stepped out from our mold or [from] what most people conceived us to be," drummer Bill Ward added. "We took the chance of being whoever we were at the time and allowed that to come out. That's always been one of Black Sabbath's standards - Be who we are, play what we are and be true to our music."

Black Sabbath is celebrating Technical Ecstasy with a massive new deluxe edition box set that's packed with extras. The set will include a remaster of the original, a remix by Steven Wilson, outtakes and alternative mixes, and live recordings from 1976 and 1977. It's available either as a four-CD or five-LP collection. Both versions are available here.