Thursday 14 September 2017


So farewell, Black Sabbath. After their latest 'no really this is really the last tour' tour, and the soon to be released 'The End of the End' tour film, it really does appear that Satan laughing has spread his wings one last time. So what did Black Sabbath represent?

They were, of course, one of those three gigantic British acts that essentially set the tone for the whole of hard rock and heavy metal. But like Deep Purple, and very much unlike Led Zeppelin, Sabbath's history was a morass of U-turns, reformations, splits, sackings and fiascos. Zeppelin may have had one line-up throughout their proper existence that made all 8 albums of their studio output, but their fellow rockers were not so lucky. It is indisputably the case however that the original manifestation of the Drab Four made 8 albums in an 8-year period that were blow-by-blow comparable to anything Zeppelin did in the same period, and were at their best a superb example of rock musicianship.

Like all myths, there is a core of reality to the Sabbath legacy. When they transcended their jolly, blues-boom roots just as the flower power dream was turning sour (and Geezer Butler memorably put it, “The revolution had failed, and we all thought....what do we do now?”) and embraced the dark side in all it's emphatically monolithic glory, they became the first to create the link between the blues, doom metal, and Satanism. Black Sabbath were essentially the delivery system by which the sulphur blues of Robert Johnson and it's diabolic legacy was injected into the rock mainstream. Everything else that sprung from that, veering from innovation to cliché and back again, was simply the logical result of the Sabs' own Original Sin. Those first few notes on their debut album set the template that the rest of heavy metal inevitably followed.

The first two albums – their eponymous debut and 'Paranoid' – are simply flawless performances that could not possibly be improved. By their economic, unfussy arrangements, broody atmosphere and bleak worldview they smashed the bullseye twice in twelve months. This was followed by 3 more albums of equally immense impact. So it was in those years of 1970-75 that the band's reputation was really made.

Yet it was the unique element of their particular lyricism that gave the band their signature feel – that of the nihilism, the pessimism, the doom, of their approach and message. In the words of 'Wheels of Confusion', 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' and 'Under The Sun' were an almost profound dissatisfaction and bleak apathy that by current standards appears quite postmodern; Sabbath were without any moral framework, noble ideals, or well-defined ideas – they were instead expressing an endless and liberating nothingness. The void.

Well, there was that Sabbath...then there was that Sabbath. As the original four-piece capsized due to Olympic levels of drugs, alcohol, lethargy and organisational incompetence the band went on what is best described as a 20-year psychotropic hellride of fiascos, triumphs, disasters, lawsuits, reunions, splits, sackings, cancellations and betrayal. They were the daytime soap opera of metal. And their morose severity gave way to the schlocky hammy gothy silliness we all love so much – the bats, the Stonehenge sets, skulls, inverted crosses, latex pants, Glenn Hughes, Ian Gillan, and all the tropes you can shake a stick at. There is so much joy to be found in even their naffest moments – and if you don't like the ham in 'Headless Cross' then you must be a pig – but the contrast was nonetheless marked.

And it is strange that the last 20 years failed to add anything to the Sabbath brand, a band that became creatively defunct when the original line-up (kinda) reformed. Perhaps now is a good a time as any to call it quits. After all, the world will still be turning when they're gone.

From the nihilistically sublime to the joyously ridiculous. Black Sabbath.

Download post as PDF file
Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

[Valid Atom 1.0]

Click to download our free compilation albums!


Radio Nightbreed