Although 1976’s Technical Ecstasy (Vertigo/BMG) is unlikely to ever be viewed as a top tier release among most Black Sabbath fans, the fact that it exists at all goes to demonstrate the Birmingham foursome’s resilience and determination in those early days, if not the focus.
Embroiled in legal disputes and with a deep distrust of anyone in a suit, Sabbath took the decision to manage themselves. However, with all four members pulling in different directions, the road to Technical Ecstasy proved especially tricky. As guitarist Tony Iommi urged the band to become more progressive in its approach, other members were reluctant, concerned their time had already been and gone, especially with the rise of punk. Frontman Ozzy Osbourne was showing little interest, spending most of his spare time in a haze of smoke, shovelling snow into his nose or contemplating going solo (at one point even having a Blizzard of Ozz t-shirt printed) while Iommi was left to produce the album virtually single-handedly.
The resultant long-player is the very definition of a mixed bag but still contains some seriously underrated gems. ‘Back Street Kids’ is an uptempo banger with a science fiction flair while ‘You Won’t Change Me’ features a monstrous, doomy riff, melancholic keyboards from fellow Brummie Gerald Woodruffe and a classy solo from Iommi. The first song to be written and performed by drummer Bill Ward, ‘It’s alright’ sounds like a middle-of-the-road 1970s pop rock song and, in fairness, it’s… alright.
Ward dominates the first half of ‘Gypsy’, his drums battering the Kiss ‘Cold Gin’ style riff into oblivion as Woodruffe’s keys give the song an Electric Light Orchestra feel. A song about a female transvestite becoming President of the United States, ‘All Moving Parts (Stand Still)’ finds four-stringer Geezer Butler in flared trousered disco mood, pulling out the stops with some of the funkiest chops known to man. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor’ features a cheeky ‘No Bone Movies’ style groove with a whiff of Honky-tonk piano and ends with a riff that quite possibly inspired ‘Wheels of Steel’ by Saxon. Second ballad ‘She’s Gone’ is darkly atmospheric but pales next to the back alley sleaze of closer ‘Dirty Women’, a song that later returned to become a staple of Sabbath’s live set right up until the end.
Despite its strange choice of cover art (charmingly described by Ozzy as “two robots screwing on an escalator”), nervous experimentalism and the looming threat of terminal implosion, Technical Ecstasy really isn’t the disaster some would have you believe. No, it will never be regarded as highly as anything that came before, but the album did show a band moving with the times, opening themselves up to more ideas and challenges.
Given the four disc treatment by BMG, the Super Deluxe box set of Technical Ecstasy consists of a sixty page hardback book jam-packed with photos, interviews, and newspaper and magazine cuttings, a fold-out poster, sized-down replica tour programme and lyric insert. The discs themselves include a full remaster, an entirely new mix courtesy of prog legend and former Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson, fun studio outtakes and interesting alternative mixes, and an energetic live recording taken from the band’s ’76/’77 world tour. Ozzy might not be at his best here but to his credit, he really does try and sell the new material along with the likes of ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘Symptom of the Universe’, ‘Snowblind’, Children of the Grave’ and ‘War Pigs’.
Buy the deluxe reissue of the album here: https://blacksabbathband.lnk.to/technicalecstasydlxPR
Enter our Giveaway to win a Black Sabbath poster here:
Listen to our podcast series on the 1970s Sabbath albums here: