Friday, October 09, 2015

Can You Help Me Occupy My Brain

Happy October, and time for another band of the month - and who better for Halloween's month than Black Sabbath? I have to admit up front, this is a very front loaded Band of the month - their later material has its attractions, but they never came close to the first 3 - maybe even 2 - records. Later - they were a more than decent metal band; Ozzy had a more than decent solo career - but that's it. Not my favorite type of music - not the best of the style.

But at the beginning - that's different. They are heavy metal, they are inventing the stuff - whatever counts as the shift from hard rock to metal, it's in those first three records. There were other bands playing heavy music in 69-70, but they still sound different. Heavier, rawer. Heavier than what a lot of metal would become - there's a lot of melody in later metal - just listen to Ozzy Osbourne's solo stuff. Who do you blame that, or Def Leppard, or Motley Crue on? Deep Purple maybe? I don't know. Not Sabbath, anyway. It's Black Sabbath haunting the hard music I like, though - and I like a lot of it - and almost all of it Sabbath inspired. Butthole Surfers - Melvins - Boris - Earth - SunnO))) - groups dear to my heart, and groups rooted very firmly in early Sabbath. I don't know where the sound came from - maybe they were just trying to play hard blues, like Cream or Fleetwood Mac, and didn't have the chops - or had to work harder at it, and slowed it down, atomized it - cause that's what it feels like. The riffs, the sounds, isolated, set adrift like zombies wandering through a foggy moor - something like that. (No - less a foggy moor than a post-apocalyptic factory, where all the people are gone - or turned into zombies - but the machinery is still running. Actually, that's probably just a documentary of their early lives. Birmingham, you know.) It is so extreme - so slow, so dominated by the low sounds, the falling bends Iommi likes to play (think Iron Man) - they seem to be coming from Mars.

They were very good. They got whacked by the critics in real time, but things aren't always apparent in real time. (I've said before - the punks redeemed a lot of these bands: changed the way you could hear them. I heard Sabbath in high school, and didn't much care - I heard them after I became a punk fan and loved it.) They were good. The riffs on the first few records are absolutely stellar - Black Sabbath - NIB - War Pigs - Paranoid - Hand of Doom - Iron Man - Children of the Grave - guitar lines as memorable and cool as they come. And the rest worked too - the clobbering, relentless rhythms; even the lyrics - not as poetry, but as raw slices of id and anger at the world, are all first rate. Better than the Zep, I am afraid, and almost as funny. They set the standard for all the hard rock to follow - a standard for heavy metal everyone else fell short of. Most punk falls short of it too (even as punk - Paranoid might as well be punk.) The best punk and best metal takes off from it.

And they make a nice Halloween band. The first time I heard War Pigs I had nightmares for weeks. That is how it should be - you hope someone with their taste in movies would be able to deliver on it. They are certainly a reminder that the best horror movies are made by good Catholic boys, too - they master the imagery as well as Bava or Argento or the like. The music feels like a horror film - those slow, hammering riffs, Ozzy's tuneless yelp - and they looked the part. I had a poster of them back in college - not sure where I got it - someone might have told me it was Led Zeppelin, though I knew better than that... had it on the wall - 4 guys in black, wearing big crosses around their neck, all that hair, standing out in a field somewhere (I think it was the gatefold art from Paranoid - not sure; it has long since disappeared) - it was very neat...

And so - 10 songs, all from the first three records, not that I can even pretend to know more than a couple songs from after that... But that's all right. They were great at the beginning; they may have behaved badly after that, but they kept plowing along, making music, and not bad music, for decades after that. I can respect that.

1. War Pigs
2. Paranoid
3. Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep/NIB
4. Black Sabbath
5. Iron Man
6. After Forever
7. Planet Caravan
8. Children of the Grave
9. Hand of Doom
10. Sweet Leaf

Video - I may have posted this before, I don't know - this is a live TV gig from 1970 - hair, leather, hammering riffs and drums - clean and sharp and marvelous, with most of their best songs from the first two records, sounding better than the records do (at least the crappy CD versions I have.):

Children of the Grave in 1974 - they're in California, and the wardrobe seems to reflect it - oh, the 70s!

War Pigs, when it was Walpurgis, more horror film than politics at this point, filmed in Germany, in front of a cowd of what look like random bystanders... The riffs are all there, though, and good go, isn't this a riff. Later, they play Iron Man in a boxing ring...

And finally - Black Sabbath - 2013. I can't say they've aged with dignity - at least Ozzy (Tony Iommi seems like he's aged pretty well) - but they can still bring it. I've heard Ozzy talk plenty the last 20 odd years, and never understood a word he said - but he's clear as day, singing. It's like it all comes back, up there on stage... God bless you all!

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