It’s arguable as to whether Black Sabbath can be called the first metal band, since they were predated by other heavyweights like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Steppenwolf (who, after all, coined the phrase “heavy metal” in the song “Born To Be Wild”). But if they weren’t the very first, they would prove to be the prototype for generations of truly heavy metal bands (until the advent of speed metal, that is) by slowing down tempos, emphasizing the bass, and stripping away any semblance of blues.
If you buy into that logic, then Bill Ward is the genre’s first heavy metal drummer. In Sabbath’s early days, his drumming could be identified by his intense and direct approach to playing the songs, fueled by quick singles and a powerful right foot.
His drum sound was also influential, although it was diametrically opposed to that of his contemporary, John Bonham. Where Bonham had open, boomy, and at times overly resonant toms, Ward’s sound featured huge, detuned, and dead-as-a-doornail toms with lots more attack and low-end thud.
For this piece, we’ll set the way-back machine to the early ’70s and take a look at Ward’s drumming during Sabbath’s early and most influential years.
This song’s opening bass drum pattern and guitar riff is a classic. After all, what could be heavier or darker? This is one of the many instances in which Ward played his bass drum continuously under his fills. He plays a cool single-stroke fill in the final line of this excerpt. Somewhat idiotically, and further proving the pointlessness of self-congratulatory award shows, “Iron Man” won a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in the year 2000, 30 years after its release.