Monday, November 19, 2007

No. 241: Black Sabbath

Band: Black Sabbath
Album: Black Sabbath
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The world's first big real metal band's debut is nothing short of amazing. The song's deft blending of hard riffing and blues structures was mirrored by only Led Zeppelin and even then the sound was lessened by Zep's formula. Unrelenting and punishing, “Black Sabbath” is a masterpiece.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: As I mentioned in my piece on ”Paranoid,” RS and its list is woefully ignorant of metal and this placing shows that. Save for Metallica and Zeppelin, there are really only a few metal records.
Best song: “The Wizard” is important in that it is largely the space where blues rock turned itself into metal. The harmonica, the riff, the drum fills... it all came to a head here.
Worst song: It's nearly a perfect record, though the ending track, "A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning," goes on a little too long.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

Alternative media gadfly, former Black Flag singer and all-around awesome dude Henry Rollins has been doing spoken word tours since the waning days of Black Flag. On one of the albums recording on one of those tours, he lamented the name “el Nino” to describe the weather pattern that afflicted southern California in the 1990s (“El Niño” meaning “the child”):

Maybe we should cal it “The First Four Black Sabbath Albums.” That would work. [TV announcer voice] “Bakersfield California was destroyed today by the first four Black Sabbath Albums.” [/TV Announcer Voice]“Fuck yeah it was!Have you ever heard “Paranoid? Goddamn! That would destroy my town right now!”

Most people are introduced to the band through “Paranoid,” but“Black Sabbath” is where the band's sound – obviously, as it was the band's debut – began. Like the first Zeppelin record, “Black Sabbath” reflected the band's idea of hard rock going forward: An amalgamation of Eric Clapton-style blues rock, the fury of American protopunk and the band's dreary world outlook.

The beginning of the record, in fact, defines dreary. Like the Door's “Riders on the Storm,” “Black Sabbath” begins with rain as it leads into Tony Iommi's (literally) devilish riff.

It's devilish in that... Well, I'll let our good friend Wikipedia explain it:
The main riff is constructed with a harmonic progression including an interval of tritone, that is to say the augmented fourth. That interval was banned from medieval ecclesiastical singing because of its dissonant quality, which led monks to call it diabolus in musica—"the devil in music."

In addition the tritone, the song's tempo and tone is the basis for a lot of modern doom metal. Bands like Earth, Boris and the like use similar slowdown metal as a basis.

The song's lyrical theme is supposedly based on a dream that Geezer Butler recounted to chief lyricist Ozzy Osbourne where the devil was standing before him as he lay in bed (I'm assuming this was a drug experience).

The album's other two highlights are also somewhat drug and occult-induced. While the song “N.I.B.” isn't clearly about drugs, it is sung from the point of view of Lucifer (“My name is Lucifer, please take my hand”), though Geezer Butler claims it's about the devil falling in love and changing his ways.

The band claims“The Wizard” is about Gandalf, but because I hate and constantly mock “The Lord Of The Rings,”I prefer the idea that the song is about the band's drug dealer. Since the band has never fully denied this, I'll go with it.

The song itself is an upbeat romp of a blues song, complete with Ozzy Osbourne's awesome harmonica. Iommi's solo sounds a bit like some of his later solos, reaching ridiculous sustained high notes wile staying within the song's theme. The drum fills and bass drops are also notable, as the song is one of the many Sabbath tunes that feature each player within the song.

Heavy metal is nothing without Sabbath. This, in fact, is the first pure metal abums and one of the genre's best.

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