Granted, Black Sabbath’s Technical Ecstasy qualifies mostly as something other than a “classic” album from the heavy metal progenitors, even for the most ardent Sabbath fan. It was a solid, if surprising, eight-song effort when it debuted in 1976, marking an evolutionary step forward into more progressive digs for the doom rockers. It also reaffirmed both the band’s growing independence as artists, and guitarist Tony Iommi’s increased role as the quartet’s creative hub.
As such, the changing musical path precipitated a shift in lead singer Ozzy Osbourne’s level of commitment; at one point during the touring cycle Ozzy announced he was leaving Sabbath, only to stick it out for one more record. Osbourne’s iconic voice is as incisive as ever here, and the bonus live disc shows the band, while reliant on its previous albums for the majority of its setlist, is still an undisputed force. Yet, the synthesizers that arrived on its Sabotage predecessor are, indeed, more prominent now, and the arrangements more eclectic and cerebral; as much Zappa as Zeppelin.
Take the opening “Back Street Kids,” appearing to travel in the Zep-geist, echoing the gallop of Led’s “Achilles Last Stand,” that debuted as the lead track on Zep’s Presence a few months prior to the Technical sessions (at the famed Criteria Studios; Black Sabbath reveling in Miami sun). Then, take “It’s Alright,” written and sung by drummer Bill Ward, that could pass as a Bowie-penned outtake from Mott the Hoople. Or the armada of angular guitars, and sneaky, smirking content of “All Moving Parts (Stand Still)” that decorate this comment on sadomasochistic sex and politics straight out of Zappa’s playbook.
“Iron Man,” it isn’t. What it is for Sabbath, as Iommi attests to in the collection’s booklet (one of a few nice add-ons in the box), is a concerted effort to develop as a band, and to avoid repetition and self-parody. In that respect, it has always succeeded, and now, 45 years later, Ecstasy gets a second opinion sonically, as well.
Few things spark contentious discourse across the digital universe like defending or denigrating the remixing of a vintage album. Pity, or praise, those engineers saddled with the task of reshaping the sound, and effect, of an heirloom. In the past, Steven Wilson drew kudos, and ire, for engineering such remixes as Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. There will be some Sabbath faithful that prefer the original Technical Ecstasy (remastered and included here on its own disc), but in all candor, Wilson’s new mixes of the album and alternative versions of select songs are marvelous; so good, in fact, that they should inspire listeners to revisit the oft-forgotten record. Osbourne’s vocal tracks are strikingly improved; Iommi’s guitars, bolder and full-blooded. In short, it’s a new perspective that elevates the best of the album, demanding another shot at ecstasy, and the best reason to indulge in this four-disc, Super Deluxe edition.