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I am, I confess, a wuss when it comes to metal. Master of Puppets
reduced me to the foetal position, listening to Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
on repeat as if it was the last bit of high ground in a flood of lava. However, I’m not going to be one of the people who disguise their dislike of metal with an elitist, snobby sniff of, “Metal? Pah, it’s just extremist posturing.” Instead, I’m going to let all of you metalheads know the truth of why we don’t like metal: it scares us
. Metal is the music of monsters, nightmares, death and, most importantly, the unknown and foreboding. For many of us, it’s just too intense.
So I was a little puzzled when I found myself being drawn to Black Sabbath. They are, after all, the grand-daddy of metal, so shouldn’t I be taking cover and burying myself in an Oasis album when Sabbath comes a-knocking? Nonetheless, I found myself being impressed by not just the band’s technical ability, but their ability to make heavy, powerful music without resorting to Cookie Monster vocals or white-lightning speed solos. So, taking a step into the unknown, I bought their debut album Black Sabbath
My word to anti-metal music lovers is that this album is far more accessible than it is made out to be. Indeed, early career Sabbath is a looser, bluesier, heavier Led Zeppelin. If you can take Led Zeppelin IV
, you can take Black Sabbath
. Indeed, when Ozzy Osbourne sings “You never said you love me, and I don’t believe you can/’Cause I saw you in a dream and you were with another man” on the hazy extended jam Warning
, possibly the album's best song instrumentally, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d stumbled across an outtake from Led Zeppelin II
. Butler and Ward may deliver a heavier, sludgier sound than Jones and Bonham but, when working at peak performance with Iommi (who is not far behind Page in terms of memorable riffs), their finesse is remarkable. Just check out the massive, boss riffage of N.I.B
, arguably the album’s best song: sounding like a metallic Sunshine of Your Love
laced with swaggering groove, its crunchy quality is undeniable. Similarly, the twisted boogie of The Wizard
owes far more to Zeppelin-and-Cream-style blues than overblown, gothic metal.
However, the album’s most menacing song displays Sabbath’s exceptional musical control. Sleeping Village
opens with tasteful, foreboding acoustic guitar that is enthrallingly disturbing because suggests horror more than showing it (apart from the stupid boing-ing sound that mars it: sorry, boys, but I don’t think Satan is coming for us on a pogo stick).
The opening title track is, at worst, a campy, heavy-handed horror film soundtrack, but it’s hard to not be thrilled by the menacing thunder, lightning, rain and church bell intro, and that’s before Iommi’s hell-comes-to-your-house opening riff. Osborne’s wail may not be entirely palatable, but then again the only person who has ever been able to credibly pull off the line, “Oh no, God, please help me!” was the nude chick in the start of Jaws
. At the start of his career, cocaine, weed and booze had not yet eroded his vocal chords to the ice-pick-carving-out-your-eardrums style of songs like Changes
, and his haunted, priest-standing-on-the-edge-of-Hades vocals of Sleeping Village
is one of the album’s highlights. Even the album’s just-so songs like Evil Woman
and Behind The Wall Of Sleep
can lay claim to being inspirations for 1970s hard rock bands like Deep Purple.
So there we have it. I, a metal wuss, am a Black Sabbath fan. Their debut album is, and I mean this in the best possible way, metal fun for the whole family.