Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Immortals #85 - Black Sabbath

Just as The Ramones moved a step beyond the archetypes created by The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, and another number of other proto-acts that predicted their genre to become the first definitive punk rock band, so too did Sabbath solidify their place as history's first great true heavy metal band with 1970's Paranoid.

It's pretty cool, man.

Unlike a lot of other kids, who seem to have grown up on classic rock radio staples by Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Hendrix, I went about this whole thing ass-backward. I only acquainted myself with traditional "hard-rock" after reverse-engineering its history beginning at my punk-loving roots. After spending my teens with only a casual relationship to Suicidal Tendencies and Motorhead, I started to move toward more metal-friendly hardcore like the Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge in my early 20s, gradually discovering the more popular grindcore and melodic death metal of the 90s (big ups to Entombed and At the Gates) before meeting the "Big Four" of 80s speed and thrash (Anthrax, Megadeth, SLAAYEERR and *sigh* Metallica) and New Wave British bands like Maiden and Priest. As it was, I didn't arrive at the blues-indebted, "classic rock" era of 70s metal until the last couple of years, despite the fact that at any moment in the past ten years I could likely have randomly tuned my radio dial across the FM band for pretty good odds of hearing any track from Paranoid or Zoso.

Did I mention that before I'd ever heard those records, I was already co-hosted my college radio station's metal show for a year in grad school? Sitting in the booth with two teenagers with a fixation on cheesy power metal and Dio-era Sabbath? Man... fuck all of us...

Paranoid is an undeniably solid record with several moments of transcendence, which isn't to say it lacks flaws. In fact, arguably the weakest part of Sabbath was its most famous association. Ozzy sounded plain silly even back then, not only in the modulated vocal intro to "Iron Man" or his awkward phrasing ("Caaan he walk-at-all/Or if he moo-oo-ooves will he fall?"), but also in the fact that he was still pretty much a hippy-dippy child of the 60s and at times it feels like he's in danger of being outpaced by the band making such heavy music around him.

Ozzy's best lyrics were the ones grounded in the anxious realities of death, war, and his own depression, and his weakest indulged a tastes for fantasy and science fiction in a way that was totally permissible back then when read for vague, anti-Christian overtones, but today would probably get you filed somewhere between My Chemical Romance and Coheed and Cambria on the Hot Topic t-shirt wall. (One track on here is titled "Faeries Wear Boots", and the original name for "War Pigs" and the album as a whole? Walpurgis, after the witches' holiday of the Spring. Robert Plant, I'm comin' for you later on down this list...)

I don't mean to just shit-talk Ozzy, because each composition credits all four band members and by all accounts Ozzy had a big part in their writing (not to mention that Tony Iommi was, I'm pretty sure, just as much into the unicorns crap as he was.) Also, he could wear a fringed-jacket like a fucking champ. But if these tracks had been originally released by an instrumental power trio version of Sabbath, you'd be hard pressed to tell me they wouldn't have rocked just as hard. Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward are impeccably tight, and the stretches between Ozzy's verses are every bit as engaging for their seamless integration of riffs and solos into straightforward (but never simple) as their frontman's admittedly somewhat charismatic presence. Ozzy even gets a couple of solid vocal moments, especially on the title track and "Hand of Doom", so, you know, good on him, I guess.

Today, listening to Paranoid is very much what I imagined it was in 1970, and from what little I've seen of the still ridiculously popular Ozzfest tours, the band is pretty much just that live as well. Perhaps they don't sound as delightfully scuzzy as they would on vinyl when you're high as balls, but what's so nice about music of this type- their authenticity isn't anything that's lost with age, which is more than can be said of a lot of the other reunions that have happened in the name of a little filthy luchre.

1 comment:

HavaB said...

"Master of Reality" is pretty solid too. Children of the Graaaaaaave.(yes I listen to metal sometimes)