He goes by many names. Riff Lord. Godfather of Metal. The Hand of Doom. The Iron Man. Or as his friends and fans know him: Tony Iommi. With Black Sabbath, this Birmingham son invented metal itself, and his deep, bluesy riffs define the genre. But what is the single greatest riff of them all? We posed that daunting question to our followers on social media, and you responded in droves and with great passion. Below, are the ranked results.
The scariest part about "Black Sabbath" isn't the thundering drum fills or the doomsayer lyrics throughout. It isn't the rain that kicks off the darkness, the bell that punctuates the chorus like a hangman's confirmation or Ozzy's laugh while screaming, "Oh no, no, please God, no!" It's Iommi's crushing riff, and that ominous trill at the end of said riff. As a result, closing in on 50 years later, "Black Sabbath" is still the pinnacle of darkness and doom.
Part of what makes the beauty of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" so palpable is holding it up to heavy metal's present and hearing the roots of about six different subgenres in a single riff. Its through-line comes alive with serious bounce and sludge, simple enough one could hum or sound along to it to pump oneself up. What's remarkable is how Iommi takes these simple chords and morphs them, accommodating a ripping solo, tribal-like rhythm and then finishing with supreme heaviness and maybe the first breakdown in metal.
The greatest thing about "Symptom of the Universe" is that it's atypical of what Iommi and Co. had done until that point, yet still so unbelievably effective. In particular, the distinctive main riff is driving and quick — it's almost a Sabbath track at double speed, and as such the song is frequently cited as an early forbearer of thrash metal to come.
Darkness. Discipline. Directness. Such are the cornerstones of Black Sabbath's sound, now and forever. "Children of the Grave," however, finds Tony Iommi taking a sledgehammer to the bedrock, splitting the white-hot grooves wide open with molten chug. That the ripper appeared as a playable track in a Guitar Hero game hardly proves surprising: "Children of the Grave" is one of Iommi's most infernal, lasting tour de forces.
"Into the Void" starts out with the simplest mischievous riff, like the naughtiest kid in school laughing in front of his greatest creation, a flickering bonfire. And while the track speeds up and moves into the normal Black Sabbath cadence complete with breakdown, it's the naughty devil's spawn attitude embodied in that riff that keeps the track so deviously playful.