Black Sabbath

Heavy metal has always been a strange curiosity to me, I mean basically it’s another aggressive iteration of rock and roll that seems to favour excessive distortion (varies) and lyrical subject matters that certainly at one point were considered taboo. The majority of people will say it started with Sabbath, and I am inclined to agree; they gave it the identity and the basic blueprint of what was to come (hears the delicate whisper of ‘Blue Cheer’). What I particularly love about Sabbath is that the albums were dark, but they weren’t bordering on the absurd. Hand of Doom for instance, refers to drug use and the Vietnam War alongside the various implications brought on, but they weren’t screeching away about Satan or poorly veiled double entendres over and over again; they wrote songs about issues that are relevant to this day. Sure, they were inspired by the likes of Boris Karloff and Aleister Crowley, and why not, writing about flower power in a city as industrially dour as Birmingham would have been as synthetic as a pair of ill-fitting vinylon suit trousers manufactured under circumstances deemed debatable.

Since I’ve found myself on a Sabbath tangent, I might as well persist: The way they continued to innovate on their records, from the self titled to Sabotage, all but illuminates the framework of so many of the subgenres that came to pass; thrash on ‘Symptom of the Universe’, doom on ‘Electric Funeral’, stoner on ‘Sweet Leaf’, sludge on ‘Into the Void’ and countless other iterations I lack the energy to mention. I almost find it wonderful and also a bit sad that these various statements, particularly the first 3 albums, appear to have aged far better than a good deal of the metal that came afterwards; taking the blues roots away from metal by the likes of Queen and Judas Priest progressed the genre I suppose, but it unintentionally set the course for the… 1980s. It’s as if they thought out doing what Page/Iommi/Blackmore created would somehow knock the ‘dinosaurs’ off the apex and make it all about them; it’s a pity no one told the riff wankers that playing with greater volume and speed doesn’t by default make you in anyway artistically superior.

I don’t want this piece to be seen as a blanket assault on all 80’s music as I’m rather fond of the decade in terms of things like the independent label scene in the United States, the Neu Deustch Welle movement and even the more challenging elements of synth-pop to name but a few, however: movements like the NWOBHM and the 80’s roost rulers of the LA Sunset Strip really set the motions for a kind of artistic stagnation. Granted, there are some acts within these spheres that were of substance, more so earlier on before the commercialisation, but regardless I feel these are the biggest offenders of the ‘bad’ music from that era. I think Spinal Tap summed up the commercial pandering and outright blandness perfectly, turning a once intelligent genre (Smell the Glove) into something of a joke; horrendous power balladry and a shameless dedication to promoting a life style that was exclusive and in reality, an act that romanticised misogyny and decadence.

Once their time was over and the emerging Seattle scene dethroned them, immediately the heavy emphasis on visuals and the mediocrity of what they were spewing out dated faster than what happens when you place bananas and tomatoes in close proximity to each other. Fortunately, bands like Kyuss, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains brought the blues back to metal and gave it the intelligent, dark edge of which made it interesting in the first place. In a way you can almost taste what they were emitting was sincere and authentic; they didn’t need to misappropriate Lucifer to generate controversy or concoct utter bollocks about barging into strip clubs and threatening male denizens into giving up their seats, they just wrote about relatable situations that we all could find ourselves in, a school of thought that remarkably holds up. I’m not even going to bother to discuss what came after as sadly it highlights that all renaissances will putrefy and whimper away much like a decaying body left to endure the full heat of sun.


Angus Rolland

Recent career decisions have compelled me into the journalistic... thing; I could list my literary influences or even debate which 3rd rate beverage has the best economic value per litre (But I won’t). Oh, in addition, I write reviews for the Independents Network.