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.
[ This vignette is part of our 500 words on Black Sabbath series ]
Credit: Illustration by Derren Toussaint. 2018.