The Gospel of Black Sabbath

By Wyatt J. Wilcher

Sun Star music columnist

On the date of Feb. 13, 1970, the world changed. The world of rock ‘n’ roll not only changed, but popular society changed as well.

“Why is this date in modern pop culture so important?” you may ask. Well, that was the day that the heavy metal band Black Sabbath released their debut album. Up to that point, rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t willing, or even able to push the music and lyrics to the dark side of life. Sure, there were artists such as Led Zeppelin, Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience who pushed rock into all sorts of intense and loud directions, but not to the extent that Sabbath did.
You see, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the hippie counterculture was in full swing in popular Western culture at the time. A lot of young people had different opinions on life, sex, drugs, politics, religion and art than previous generations. Because of this, a lot of rock groups at the time would often write songs about these ideas. An example of this is the Vietnam protest song.

Take the song “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. This song is a perfect representation of the popular opinion at the time about the Vietnam War. Sure, it has a feeling of melancholy and general sadness, but overall it has a sense of peace and love. Now, contrast this with the Black Sabbath song “War Pigs.” Yes, it has the same message as the above mentioned song. However, there is a feeling and sense of anger and darkness that isn’t present in “For What It’s Worth.”

Moreover, Sabbath also added the idea that politicians who waged the war were going to Hell for it. This gives not only a spin on the political ideology that was so rampant and popular at the time, but it also puts a new spin of the fire-and-brimstone form of Judeo-Christianity that much of the older generation at the time followed. This provides an interesting contrast between the liberal ideas that were new at the time and the older conservative views that many of Sabbath’s listeners’ parents had. Sabbath took these two opposing ideas, and combined them, creating a new genre of rock that had a more cynical and realistic take on the world.

Black Sabbath’s influence can be heard in every metal band’s sound, from legends like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Slayer to more modern artists like Pantera, Avenged Sevenfold and Lamb of God. The band has achieved a lot, including being Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, two-time Grammy winners for Best Metal Performance and making 19 studio albums. They’re also survivors, as they’ve survived such things as alcohol and drug addiction, multiple lineup changes and every trend to pop up into the world of heavy metal.

In 2006, Sabbath reunited with their “Mob Rules” lineup, with Ronnie James Dio, their second singer, fronting the band. They made a studio album in 2009, called “The Devil You Know,” under the band name Heaven and Hell, because of legal problems. Then, tragedy struck, and Dio died of stomach cancer on May 16, 2010. This was a sad day for many metal fans, including myself. However, despite this tragedy, Black Sabbath reunited yet again with their original lineup in 2011, with the exception of Bill Ward on drums, because of a contractual issue.

Then, they released a new album in 2013, titled “13”. On Sept. 29, 2014, Ozzy Osbourne, the singer for Sabbath, said in a Metal Hammer interview that Black Sabbath will begin to work on their 20th studio album in early 2015 with producer Rick Rubin, and will promote the album with a final tour. If it is indeed their last album and tour, let’s hope it’s a good swan song for these metal legends.

Wyatt Wilcher is a 19-year-old english student at UAF, with a passion for old-school hard rock and metal music. He plays bass and guitar, and looks forward to collaborating with other metal fans. 

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1 Response

  1. Sean P. Ryan says:

    While “For What It’s Worth” is commonly regarded in the light you paint in your column, the song is actually about a street scene outside of a bar at closing time. I can think of better examples of Vietnam-era protest songs, but likely none will have the “star power” of your example.

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