Black Sabbath: Master of Couplets

500 words on Black Sabbath - is there anything left to say? - Trebuchet's Lester Bangs Tribute

COWBOY+n+GIRL+1 (c) DERREN TOUSSAINT

Despite their first eight albums spanning 1970–78, Black Sabbath, countertrend to the era, scrupulously avoided the bloated and masturbatory ‘double album’. Rather than flirting with double disaster (Tusk and The Wall for $1,000, Alex), Black Sabbath fused eight consecutive studio albums into a continuous, yet shape-shifting oeuvre. Seven overlapping two-album couplets that mined, forged and honed at least seven metal and hard rock subgenres and counting.

Couplet (French): ‘two pieces of iron riveted or hinged together’

The Doom Duo, of course, is Black Sabbath and Paranoid. Black Sabbath”’s first minute is THE ore of all metal. Without it, Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” doesn’t ring true… or at all, for that matter. Similarly, Lars & Co. mainlined “Hand of Doom” whilst “Fade [ing] to Black”. Hey James, let’s sue Napster for stealing.

Paranoid cultivated Master of Reality, hashing out the Stoner Set. Josh Homme protested once that he hadn’t listened to much Sabbath, but Kyuss’ “Space Cadet” and “Green Machine” inhale deeeeeeeply from “Planet Caravan” and “Sweet Leaf”. Do I smell Funyuns?

Mere hard water turned to Sludge when Master of Realitys rough beast slouched toward Vol. 4. Into the Void” hangs about the neck of Corrosion of Conformity’s “Albatross” like a down-tuned corpse. Speaking of, let’s resurrect Kyuss: “Thumb” = “Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes”. ‘Josh-th’ protests too much, methinks.

Gen Xers owe their Grunge-y blend of internal optimism/external cynicism to the dichotomous Vol. 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Could it be that Soundgarden decided to break their “Rusty Cage” after waking up from “Tomorrow’s Dream”? How about Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow” as a two-steps-distant epilogue to “Killing Yourself to Live”?

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage swirl into a vortex of Prog. Tool threw a wrench into “A National Acrobat”’s time-change stunts with “The Pot”, while Dream Theater’s “Pull Me Under” is the (mercifully) 90 seconds shorter progeny of “Megalomania”. What hath Jethro wrought?

Sabotage Thrashed itself into Technical Ecstasy, leaving behind “Symptom of the Universe” as THE DNA of all speed metal. Dig up that TDK with Megadeth’s Peace Sells, then “Run to the Hills” in a “Back Street Kids” gallop. Turns out soft Sabbath begat hard Iron Maiden.

Finally, Punk didn’t exactly sell out to Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die!, but astute listeners see through Black Flag’s “Rat’s Eyes” to “All Moving Parts (Stand Still)”. Henry Rollins, decades after easing “Junior’s Eyes”’ jazz inside Slip It In, postulated that Sabbath fans were guys in the dead of winter standing outside a house party drinking cold beer—whether they couldn’t get in… OR DIDN’T WANT TO. Punk perspicuity.

Eight albums, seven couplets. The history, evolution and future of heavy music in 64 tracks. A “Wicked World”, indeed. One “The Wizard” might soon tackle as tracks within tracks, couplet-ed to adjoining tracks and across albums. “A Hard Road” for another day. For now, “Supernaut”s, keep calm and headbang on.

[This vignette is part of our 500 words on Black Sabbath series]

Credit: Illustration by Derren Toussaint. 2018.

Rhett Fisher
About Rhett Fisher 2 Articles
Rhett Fisher authors and publishes a subscribers-only, 500-word daily essay/letter entitled “Fast Loops & Tight Groups”. While surviving turns as a Navy SEAL, Ivy League MBA student and 16 years as a professional e-mailer, he dabbled in thinking, reading and writing. Now fully engaged with these strange new hobbies, his natural habitat is where he is.

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