The band formed in 1968 under the ill-fitting name the Polka Tulk Blues Band — Iommi and Ward, who had just left the pub blues outfit Mythology, were looking to take the genre in a more robust direction. They enlisted the services of Butler and Osbourne, both of whom had played together in a group called Rare Breed, and by the end of the year were operating under the moniker Earth. Earth was playing a gig over in Germany when they realized another band had the same name. “Black Sabbath” was lifted from the title of a 1963 horror movie starring Boris Karloff that was directed by the Italian filmmaker Mario Bava. The group’s lead singer Ozzy Osbourne and bass player Geezer Butler had seen the film, and decided to write a song with that title. When it became clear that the band needed a new moniker, they named themselves after this song.
When the group became Black Sabbath, they were initially dismissed by critics, but they managed to reach the U.K. Top Ten and hold court for over a year on the U.S. Top 40, eventually going certified platinum. With the surprise success of Black Sabbath, the band wasted little time in getting back into the studio. Sabbath continued to blow the unholy horn of plenty with albums three and four. As the band rose to the top, some members felt as though they were falling to the bottom. By 1976 the band was undergoing an internal struggle, having to contend with an increasingly frustrated and chemically dependant frontman, who was looking to strike out on his own. Technical Ecstasy (1976) and Never Say Die! (1978), despite going gold, suffered beneath the weight of both the band’s substance abuse issues and its increasingly diminished position in popular music. After many disputes, the group was losing members one by one. What followed was a long period of near-constant personnel changes, with Iommi remaining the sole original member.
Iommi, Butler, Ward, and Osbourne would eventually make their way back under the stage lights in 1997, culminating in the release of the Best Metal Performance Grammy Award-winning double live LP Reunion, but it would be 16 years before the band would bring the dark arts back to the recording studio. Released in 2013, the Rick Rubin-produced 13, which also brought home a Grammy, this time for the single “God Is Dead?,” would be Black Sabbath’s final album, and in 2015, Osbourne, Iommi, and Butler announced that their upcoming world tour would be their last without Ward participating. The aptly named The End Tour, which concluded in their hometown of Birmingham, saw Black Sabbath closing the coffin lid on a nearly 50-year career and cementing their legacy as the unheralded harbingers of heavy, sludge, stoner, and doom metal.