Thursday, February 11, 2010
"STILL FALLS THE RAIN: 40 Years of Black Sabbath and Heavy Metal" Elaborated upon by C-RON from ZIA Records Chandler
Apology: I may be posting this blog a bit too quickly after my last one. Again, it is about metal. If there is anyone in the chain that could easily make Zia look like an unhip metal haven through these blogs, it is probably me. For those of you who despise heavy metal, I can assure you that employees similar to myself are definitely in the minority here. Please do not let my/our enthusiastic fixation taint your opinion of Zia Records as a whole, as we are very much an indie entity.
True feelings: Now that I have said as much, I would like to tell you to bite it, because it is time for me to gush unashamedly about something metal. Scroll past if you must, but this one is important.
There is an anniversary approaching, and it is a big deal. On February 13, in 1970 (specifically Friday the 13th), a certain group from Birmingham released their first album. That band was the one and only Black @!#*$&%!-ing Sabbath, and come this Saturday, that eponymously-titled record reaches its fortieth birthday. And there’s more: since this disc is considered by many (definitely including myself) to be the first REAL heavy metal album, the 13th also represents the fortieth anniversary of the genre (at least as a recorded and released style of music).
Maybe you would want to argue with me about this. Maybe you would want to throw acts such as The Kinks, Blue Cheer, Steppenwolf, Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin in my face. Good bands, but please, just shut the hell up, because you know damn well what I’m talking about. If you don’t, then put on Sabbath’s first record and listen…
The album begins with the sound of rainfall and thunder, with a bell tolling in the background. Before any music appears, the record already sounds creepy. Then, the riff comes in. It is slow, it is simple and it is LOUD! More than anything else, the guitar riff to the song “Black Sabbath” is unquestionably evil, distorted and startling as all hell, which absolutely fits a song that is absolutely about just that. It isn’t too long before you hear the ominous, unmistakable vocals of one Mr. “Ossie” Osbourne: “Satan’s sitting there/He’s smiling/Watch as those flames get higher and higher.” This song scared the living shit out of me when I was a kid. When I heard the near ten-minute version of the song when I was an adult, it scared the shit out of me again (“Child cries out for its mother/Mother’s screaming in the fire”). I can only imagine what it must have been like to hear it back in 1970.
After the first cut, the lyrics switch from Satan to Gandalf in the song “The Wizard”, which brightens the album’s mood somewhat, but is still pretty heavy (even with that harmonica, which always reminds me of Barkley from Sesame Street). Side one finishes off with the combination of the Lovecraft-inspired “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and the classic, resonant, “Lucifer loves you” jam “N.I.B.” (presented as one track with intros on the American version).
The second side of the British LP began with “Evil Woman” (a cover by the group Crow), which had been Black Sabbath’s first single. Tony Iommi’s guitar definitely lends a bit of crunch to the song, but it is still a more accessible song than the other material on the album. Warner Brothers would replace this track for the American record with the darker cut “Wicked World”, which contains lyrics that are more topical than anything else on the album (a bit of a predecessor to songs such as “War Pigs” and “Electric Funeral” from the band’s follow-up release). The group then wraps things up with the lengthy combination of “Sleeping Village” and Aynsley Dunbar’s (yep) “Warning” (“A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning” in the States).
The band didn’t know if they would ever get a chance to make another record, so they just went ahead and made one that they would enjoy, recording a disc that resembled their live shows. In fact, they only had two days to record and mix the album, so it was recorded live in the studio. In the end, they crafted something pretty unique. There was not a single record that sounded like this one before this one. There was not a single group that sounded like this one before this one. Not Iron Butterfly. Not The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Not Coven. Nobody.
Things could have been quite different, though. Iommi had sliced off the tips of two fingers while cutting sheet metal when he was younger, causing him to consider giving up music (he was turned onto Django Reinhardt and encouraged not to give up, which led to him fashioning prosthetic fingertips for himself, as well as to down-tuning his guitar). When Iommi, Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward first began playing collectively, it was as a British blues band, with a saxophonist and a slide guitarist (they luckily trimmed down to a four-piece). Iommi bailed out of the group to replace future Blodwyn Pig Mick Abrahams in Jethro Tull (his stint in the band was very short-lived). After Iommi’s return and subsequent whip-cracking, the band, which was called Earth at the time, discovered that there was another act with the same name (which, fortunately, prompted the moniker-switch to the better-suited Black Sabbath, which was inspired by the title of the Mario Bava film). We are extremely lucky that things turned out in the ways that they did.
Many groups would follow in the footsteps of contemporaries such as Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, but the bands that were gripped by and emulative of Sabbath early on were usually doomed to obscurity (I’d suggest looking into them, especially in regards to Pentagram). Considering the level of contempt that critics have for this stuff, it should be no surprise just how much vitriol was directed towards this act, but the bitching was clearly irrelevant when the Priests and Maidens came along and made it clear that Sabbath were the alchemists. Come the mid-1980s, doom metal bands would proudly wear the group’s influence on their sleeves, emphasizing heaviness and mood, standing in contrast to the faster, more aggressive bands of the day (who were generally influenced by Sabbath, as well). Clearly, no guitarist had a tone and style more relevant to the creation of the heavy metal sound than Tony Iommi, and while that reality show may have caused you to forget just how unnerving and singular Ozzy really was, HE REALLY WAS! I want you to remember or to learn. By Saturday.
I’ve been into this music long enough to know that a strong opinion, even when accurate, can be countered with further strong opinion. Even if you don’t agree with me as to the birthdate of heavy metal, you should recognize the importance of this upcoming anniversary in regards to this group. At the slightest, it is definitely something to raise a glass with your friends about (and if we are in agreement, then it’s quite a significant double b-day, all the merrier for us). Cheers!
Posted by Zia Records Blogs at 2:13 PM