Black Sabbath’s saga transcends the mere genesis of heavy metal; it is an epic tale of perseverance, resistance, and the unwavering determination of a band confronting overwhelming challenges until their final musical breath. Their last stand, the 1978 album “Never Say Die!”, serves as a unique testament to their resilience, even amid controversy.
In 1975, Black Sabbath transformed adversity into art, using their conflict with management as creative fuel for the iconic album “Sabotage.” However, this triumph left lasting scars on the Birmingham quartet. Unyielding, they plunged into the studio a year later, giving birth to “Technical Ecstasy” in a frenzied three months, followed by an exhaustive six-month tour that exacerbated existing rifts within the band.
A brief respite post-“Technical Ecstasy” provided little solace for a group perpetually under pressure. As substance abuse issues escalated, relationships strained, and chaos ensued with Ozzy Osbourne’s sudden departure to pursue a solo career. Tony Iommi enlisted Dave Walker to fill the void temporarily, but Ozzy’s return posed new challenges. The band had already showcased Walker on BBC Midlands’ “Look! Hear!” show, previewing an early version of “Junior’s Eyes.”
Amid a pause prompted by Ozzy’s family tragedy, the record label, eager for swift results, pushed Sabbath back into action within three months. The band reconvened in Toronto, enticed by tax breaks but faced challenges with a studio delivering a lackluster “dead sound.” Despite fixing acoustic issues, suitable rehearsal space remained elusive. Meanwhile, tensions between Geezer Butler and Ozzy deepened as the vocalist rejected presented lyrics consistently.
Amid internal discord, adverse working conditions, and record company pressure, “Never Say Die!” emerged in September 1978. Despite critical dismissals, chart-topping singles and a second “Top of the Pops” appearance told a different tale. The band’s commitment to evolving their sound was evident, expanding their musical palette with jazzier elements alongside their signature style.
Bill Ward reflected in the liner notes for the 1997 live album, “Reunion,” stating, “In the circumstances, I thought we did the best we could.” The world tour following “Never Say Die!” saw Sabbath consistently overshadowed by their supporting act, Van Halen, while a return to LA for another album was marred by substance abuse, signaling the band’s imminent demise. Iommi faced a stark choice: part ways with Ozzy or witness Sabbath drown in debauchery. Survival prevailed.
Although Black Sabbath would later revive with Ronnie James Dio at the helm, enduring in various forms, “Never Say Die!” marked a poignant end for the original lineup. Geezer Butler reflected on the irony, saying, “People didn’t realize that it was sort of tongue-in-cheek, the Never Say Die! thing.” He recalled the 10th-anniversary tour with Van Halen in 1978, where optimism clashed with reality, emphasizing the band’s awareness that the end was nigh.
Over time, “Never Say Die!” has found a dedicated following among Sabbath enthusiasts, yet Ozzy Osbourne remains unenthusiastic. The Prince of Darkness candidly declared it as “the worst piece of work that I’ve ever had anything to do with,” expressing his shame and labeling it as “disgusting.” Despite its mixed reception, the album stands as a poignant chapter in the enduring legacy of Black Sabbath.