Honest and Unmerciful: Writers on Black Sabbath
The late, great controversialist Lester Bangs, considered one of the most iconic music journalists of all time, gave Cameron Crowe his first real assignment: 500 words on Black Sabbath (Or at least that’s how it goes in Almost Famous).
In the frame of Trebuchet, we ask all new writers to be battle ready to Kick out the Jams. So given the subject of Black Sabbath, one of the most written about bands in history, each writer is required to be original in their perspective and scintillating in their prose to scream above the brown noise. Just as if you were going to re-record Johnny B Goode, you’d have to come up with a new way of doing it to be ‘real’ let alone interesting, so it is with writing.
In short, the basic idea is if you can tackle Sabbath you’ve got the proven right to take a brickbat to Duffy.
[Bumped on 2 feb 2014 in memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman, originally posted August 9th 2011]
Black Sabbath: A Brief Review
‘Black Sabbath’ by Black Sabbath, an album so introspective they named it twice. Three times when you include the self-titling first track “Black Sabbath”, one can’t help but imagine it as ‘Look At Me’ by Look At Me with famous track “Look At Me”. Committing Goth blasphemy aside, I’ve always had a soft spot for this band and can remember well the times I would attempt to listen carefully to the dark symmetry of the electric guitar and cryptic poetry. However, if I was honest with myself I concluded nothing from these musings and was deep down just not a fan.
This may be due to the fact that despite constant shifts in band line-up, Black Sabbath always retained and was often overwhelmed by the distinct character stamp of Ozzy Osbourne. Yet this hedonistic and dramatic band helped establish the wonderment of rock and metal music, a necessary moral panic to the mainstream masses. They created an intimidating and exciting authenticity, something which has faded somewhat from the genre now. Ozzy is both Black Sabbath’s sin and it’s saviour (though never tell him I said that), stereotyping the band’s style but generating the greatness that made it a pivotal band in music history. This is never more evident than with tales like the legendary tour of Texas, when he was caught urinating on the Alamo, someone asked how he would feel if an American did the same to Buckingham Palace and he replied “I wouldn’t give a f***, I don’t live there”.
Classic rock and roll.
by Ruth Carlisle
Black Sabbath: Love them, loathe them.
…or shrug indifferently, the legacy of Black Sabbath is inescapable. Even an unfortunate whelp raised in a remote, soundproofed basement would recognise the opening of War Pigs. They are endlessly worshipped as the inventors of metal, and have informed almost all heavy music made to this day.
In truth, their classic output remains unimpeachable. The original quartet of Iommi, Butler, Ward and Osbourne concocted what remains some of the most thrilling rock music ever created. The dismissal of their earlier recordings as simplistic and repetitive by music journalists of the day seems akin to a lottery winner complaining their £3000 champagne is too fizzy- isn’t that exactly what constitutes the greatest riffs and the most memorable songs? The sheer drive of the drums, the deep, rolling grooves inhabited by the bass, the monstrous roars, drones and growls of the guitar, even Ozzy’s habit of vocally following the riffs note for note, have sealed Sabbath’s immortality.
If there were a point where Sabbath’s elemental power began to ebb, it would be when they attempted to add extra texture to their trademark sound. From around Volume 4 onwards, their occasional dabblings with strings, complex arrangements and keyboards became a recurring theme, with ever-diminishing returns. Surely, when the ghoulish Dark Lord of prog over-embellishment himself, Rick Wakeman, appeared to discharge superfluous keyboard excretions over ‘Sabbra Cadabra’, someone could have collared them for a word of warning? Of course, these ditherings can now be recognised as symptomatic of the levels of substance-addled torpor sunk to by all concerned. Despite further masterpieces, not least the crushing metal tsunami of ‘Symptom of the Universe’, they had clearly not altered their collective state of mind for the better.
Following Ozzy’s dipsomaniacal departure, Sabbath slid from their thrones to become a pantomime parody of themselves. Despite his sad passing, some blame can be apportioned to late singer Ronnie James Dio. Considering his sword-and-sorcery themed lyrics, and his pedigree fronting bands named Elf and Rainbow, surely a career in children’s TV would have been more appropriate? Though a more technically accomplished vocalist than Ozzy, his penchant for banshee wailing and OTT theatrics were intrinsically bound to garner ridicule. This, in itself, set a precedent for the future of rock, reaching its nadir in the poodle-permed histrionics of the 80’s. From Dio on, Sabbath’s star was falling fast.
Nevertheless, for a horror-movie fixated, factory-working bunch of Black Country blues obsessives, it seems unprecedented that, through down-tuning their guitars, they would attain such a deific status in the annals of modern music. They now are to heavy rock what Abba are to cheesy karaoke pop. Ozzy Osbourne has even become recognisable to millions of rock and metal-averse TV addicts for slurring obscenities at handbag-sized dogs and attempting to quad-bike up a tree.
It cannot be denied that their influence is all-pervasive, from the most subterranean of bong-bound doom-merchants to the relatively mainstream stylings of the early 90’s grunge brigade and beyond. For this, they can only be applauded.
By Gareth Davey
Proclivity in Black
Black Sabbath opened the door for countless morons; talentless and tattooed, testosterone driven ego-maniacal half-haircuts the world over, but also (and thank the beast for the also) for visceral, skull crushing; dark genius. They’re why the word “Evil” is now synonymous with metal music and why bands that followed, such as Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth etc., wanted to pick up instruments and create a more intense kind of rock and roll; one which would eventually push the entire genre of rock and roll towards its more extreme and electrifyingly intense limits. Can’t really say that about Poison or Motley Crue can you?
Within the first 5 seconds of Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut album (Black Sabbath by… Black Sabbath) you realise that it’s not for the feint hearted. Thunder, lightning and rain pour into the ears before a resounding, metallic tritone (the devil’s note nonetheless) strikes you in the heart like a dagger forged of Brummie steel. The bleakness and ferocity of Sabbath’s opening is a testament to the legacy they would leave behind for future metal heads. Here lies a blueprint for men of a certain auditory disposition to create and profligate the sound we call heavy; one centred on spine shuddering riffs, ear splintering lead guitars and a pounding rhythm section that explodes with an anger and deliberate negativity, designed to penetrate the heart and mind. Heavy Metal is a force that has completely transformed guitar based music, and it’s all thanks to Black Sabbath.
Even today their influence reaches out and inspires people from around the world. A cacophony of sub genres and styles have emerged directly because of Sabbath’s ground breaking sound; doom, stoner, black metal can all trace their roots back to Birmingham in 1970. Some are good; some are just plain shit if I’m honest. If anything, back-combed, skinny, smack heads in chaps like the Crue and the like are the reason metal’s all pomp and no substance these days… they’re lazy, image obsessed ‘scenester’ ways continue to corrode metal’s credibility, 20 years since they slipped into Z-list obscurity. For some unassailable reason, it’s all about expensive pyrotechnics and an almost Meatloafian flamboyance now. Solos are great; sure, but keep them to one or two a song; if I want to hear that kind of stuff I’ll bang Steve Vai on. That kind of fruitless masturbation is what killed prog-rock in the early 80’s, and if the current crop of long haired, metal monkeys aren’t careful they’ll turn the art of metal into an increasingly unfunny parody of itself.
With the good comes the bad; would we have it any other way? Regardless of the state metal’s in today; the point I’m trying to make is Black Sabbath gave the world the chance to make great and mediocre music alike and should be lauded as innovators. Their first five albums are all classics in their own right; but something about their debut is terrifyingly macabre and bone chilling; a perfect remedy to the flowery, radio friendly music that dominated back then. The debate on who invented metal is fatuous one; the answer has, and always will be, Black Sabbath.
By Scott J. Ryan
Black Sabbath: Heavy Metal’s Big Bang
Some notable physicists have argued that the entire Universe is dependant on just six fundamental vales all set at the time of the Big Bang. Within the Heavy Metal Universe there is only one of these basic values; Black Sabbath. The band formed by Tony Iommi, Terence ‘Geezer’ Butler, Bill Ward and the enigmatic John ‘Ozzy’ Osbourne in 1969 can be considered the Heavy Metal equivalent of the Big Bang. When one of them looked across the street at a long snaking line of people waiting to enter a cinema showing a horror film and quipped, “people like being scared don’t they?” it gave Tony Iommi an idea that very quickly became the main riff to the song ‘Black Sabbath’, and in doing so created Heavy Metal.
The journey that the band Black Sabbath have been on can loosely be split into three phases; the initial period with Ozzy, two albums with the late Ronnie James Dio, then the phase the can best described as Tony Iommi and guests. It is the first phase that 90% of people will picture when asked to think of Black Sabbath and rightly so. This approximately 10 year period gave us five absolute classic albums and 3 others that shouldn’t be easily dismissed as the sound of band disappearing into bottles and piles of a certain white powder. Some of the most recognisable Heavy Metal songs ever written are to be found on these albums; N.I.B, War Pigs, Children of the Grave, Supernaut and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath to name but a few.
It could be argued that without the massive hit single ‘Paranoid’ that the influence Black Sabbath have had would have been diluted somewhat. How would most of the fans they accumulated in those first few years have found them without this song reaching high into the charts in 1970? Without those early fans hearing that song on the radio or Top of the Pops, then proceeding to purchase the first couple of albums would Black Sabbath have lasted long enough to even make a third or fourth album? This was a time when there wasn’t an underground scene to introduce interested parties to exciting new types of music. Pondering on, “what ifs?” is a pointless exercise because Black Sabbath did record Paranoid and release it as the lead single for their second album. In doing so it surely only accelerated the up-take of their music which is of such a high quality that it doubtless would still have had the same game changing influence.
The standards, tone, lyrical content and rules that most of Heavy Metal is judged by today are laid down on those first five long players. They instantly throw out the mainstream notion that Heavy Metal is only about devil worship and depression set only to thunderous guitars and neck snapping drums, although some of the best songs are these things. There is light and shade, soft and hard, depression and happiness, and even humour.
Much like the Universe which contains all of the necessary ingredients to form stars, planets, water, and humans; Black Sabbath contains all of the components needed to form that most of awesome of sonic events, Heavy Metal.
By James Domone
Black Sabbath; old, outdated, and more current than ever
Much has been written, spoken and reported about what one could consider as the Godfathers of the Metal genre. Black Sabbath without a doubt defined the genre when they released their self-titled album way back in 1970 and influenced the likes of Judas Priest, Megadeth and Anthrax who I suppose would today be referred to as the fathers of Metal. The scintillating sound of thunder and rain at the start of the epic title track “Black Sabbath” from this first album offers a real statement of intent that they fulfilled with ease with album after album. You could argue they were ahead of their time and beat the transitional curve that many refer to as the traditional timeline of modern metal music; pop became rock, rock went punk and eventually transcended to metal in the 1980’s. However you want to look at it, Black Sabbath laid out the standardised structure by which all artists who strive to be part of this niche market now generally adhere to; dark themes, distorted guitars, crushing rhythms and a tingling need growing in the back of the mind that makes you feel like you instinctively want to punch someone in the face. A need that thankfully can be satisfied in mosh pits without leading to a spot of fisticuffs.
However, with progress there is always failure and the Metal genre born of Evil has given spawn to some rather woeful sub-genres that can often test the patience of even the most avid Metal listener. The list is endless and includes some experiments that would make one wonder why the artists even bothered, other than to attempt to either push the boundaries of sense, or simply to annoy. Either way, in an age of technology where music is clearer, cleverer and more concise, is it any wonder that the music of a legendary band such as the mighty Black Sabbath seems to pass un-noticed on the musical radar of today’s teenage generations? Not really. Their ears are all clogged up with incessant rubbish spewing from the mouths of their peers who think they know better.
But then if the great music of old is truly out dated, why is that when “Paranoid” is played in between bands at festivals do the crowd stop talking and sing along? And why did Puddle of Mudd get their biggest round of applause of their Download 2011 set when they integrated a cover of “War Pigs” into the middle of their own “Control”? I believe it’s because at the end of everything, the classics, the originals and the pioneers always hold the middle ground, and those who follow push to the sides. Much like a Sun and it’s planets, it all revolves around the giver of life and all gravitates back to it. Maybe a more apt analogy of the darkness would have been to compare them to a black hole, either way, Black Sabbath are still the gravitational centre of the Metal genre and no matter how far an artist pushes the boundaries or attempts to re-define the genre, they will always have their routes back in the demonic drums of Bill Ward, the ripping guitar riffs and penetrating bass lines of Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, and in the ever haunting vocal chords of Mr Ozzy Osbourne.
By Simon Parker
Black Sabbath: Masters of vertigo.
When Elisabeth of Bilton became the last extinguished furnace in 1979 much of the industry that first set ablaze youthful doom metal was gone. At this point, Black Sabbath’s music took on a whole different meaning and they became the purveyors of this sound, a title otherwise intangible to a hereafter de-industrialised region.
My thoughts, therefore, lie not in deciphering Black Sabbath’s authenticity but in exploring how the mitigating circumstances of their rise to fame culminated in an unprecedented institutionalised success.My thoughts, therefore, lie not in deciphering Black Sabbath’s authenticity but in exploring how the mitigating circumstances of their rise to fame culminated in an unprecedented institutionalised success.
The subversive 1920s rotoscopic art of Marcel Duchamp ,a precursor to Master Of Reality’s album cover , aka “vertigo swirl”, which seemed to add the proverbial icing to an anything but sweet musical medley by Black Sabbath, reflects in my hopelessly metal-ignorant mind the inquisitive nature of the four Aston boys, their music, lyrics and unforgettable moshing spectators. Just as we, the ever-stimulated audience can gaze meditatively upon the optical illusion of the cover design, so too can our ears fall deep into Sabbath’s vociferous and lewd magnificent metal; their very own whirlpool of contradictions. This synergy of art imitating music is a rare one and allows me to focus on Black Sabbath not just as a band but the ever-changing relationship of society as a whole to its fiendish and at times, ridiculed music and its unquestionable success.
However great Black Sabbath became, the evident provocation of the wild, the erratic and almost mystic in their tormented neo-gothic music derives, in my opinion, from the social dimensions on which they depended. These range from the personal loss of long-standing guitarist Tony Iommi’s fingertips in a sheet-metal factory years before he chiselled the notorious barbed riff on their first album, to the industrialised Black Country’s furnaces, out of which raged occult images of horror and metallised beats which were to burn brightly from the 60s to the 80s. The striking illusions created by lyrics such as “under the mask you’ll see the master of insanity” pay homage to nihilism, prolong anarchism but ultimately take you full circle back to your truth.
Could the vertigo swirl on the album cover point to these furnaces, these illusions and their ability to create something other than what you see, albums which would ridicule the competition at the time? Sabbath’s music surely backs this idea. It takes on not so much political but more animalistic tones, such as in War Pigs, where language ceases to communicate and is replaced by the more musically articulate version; just noise.
I marvel at Sabbath’s prevailing values, expressed through their almost apocalyptic curses bleeding and spitting into their audience, plummeting the listener to the unknown in themselves and churning them out of the dark howl into a fetish world of leather and hope; the immense fusion of screams, snares, enucleated riffs and a violating bass exemplified in ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ is a vertigo swirl of noise, experience and consequence.
Ultimately, I believe that Black Sabbath’s music seems to neatly mesh with the Dadaist principles of anti-art and absurdity and the band have embodied their infamous ‘vertigo swirl’ album cover, so as to make Duchamp, Dadaist and original creator of roto-reliefs, very proud.
By Isabell Jacobson
Owning The Black Sabbath Legacy
In the history of Rock music, there are so many legendary bands which have influenced masses with their peculiar music, shows or gimmicks. A lot of bands have been through changes in their line-ups which affected their music and performance. Most of those changes have come together with the risk of dissatisfying the traditional fans as well as the possibility of reaching out to wider audiences.
There is, however, one band which has achieved to break this distinction and has always been the top one for many Rock and Heavy Metal music fans no matter what genre they are into. Whether you are a music lover or a musician yourself, you might call them Rock or Metal gods and repeat their name in most music conversations you have. Oh… I am talking about Black Sabbath of course!… A band which opened up a new scope in the history of music and has achieved being one of the most original bands of all time without giving the fans ‘the sense of being overplayed’.
Following a great deal of rumours, rock fans were filled with ecstasy on 11.11.2011 by the official announcement of Black Sabbath’s reunion with the original line-up – Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitars), Geezer Butler (bass), Bill Ward (drums). The band have announced the good news of a new studio album and some European tour dates which will lead towards a bigger world tour in the following months of 2012. This is definitely a relevation that the passion of Black Sabbath is due to be spread further out to the younger generation.
The UK fans have also been overjoyed by the fantastic news that Black Sabbath is to headline the famous Download Festival in 2012. The excitement is still in the air, even though it was slightly shadowed by the sad news received a couple of days ago (09.01.2012) that the guitarist Tony Iommi has been diagnosed with cancer. Currently, there is no further update as to what is to follow next.
Sadly enough, Ronnie James Dio, the late ex-Black Sabbath singer (R.I.P.) passed away from cancer on 16.05.2010. So, it has been a sad couple of years for Rock/Metal fans, which has also brought a question to the minds: “Are we losing our Rock & Roll idols one by one?”
Remembering the originality Black Sabbath fathered, we are surely a lucky generation that has seen those rock legends alive and moulded their music into our lives. Considering some new generation shallow music movements which do not base themselves in originality, could the reunion of Black Sabbath imply a revival of hope? Obviously, there are still so many bands and musicians that inspire the youth and the new generation coming. The modern times and the future constitute a lot of young skills to create innovative sounds and styles. We have held on to the past legends but taking into account how much we love them, we should take over their heritage to take the Rock & Roll passion a step further.
Therefore, let’s just hope that the treatment for the Iron Man of Black Sabbath works and he recovers to go back on stage so we all get to see some more of the glorious Black Sabbath legacy. Their ‘will’ to continue and belief in what they do will hopefully muse today’s people once again so we can be on the road to spread the Rock & Roll passion all round!
By Meltem Yumulgan
It’s worth mentioning that this is not just harking back nostalgically to halcyon era rock writers, there are contemporary scribes who get it (Iann Robinson amongst others)…