Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"We've only got one monk, but he can overdub" - tales from Black Sabbath

My local library isn't terribly well-stocked for books - though it's great if you need to use the internet - so I've been reduced to picking pretty much anything off the shelves to serve my reading needs. Hence Tony Iommi's autobiography Iron Man.

I'm inclined to judge it lightly - the Sabbath story is an interesting one even if it's reduced to the picaresque adventures of four Brummies travelling the world and setting fire to their drummer. Which is one thing I learnt from the book they did. A lot.

"Bill, can I set fire to you again?"
"Not just now, I'm busy."
"Oh okay."

[time passes]

"Look, I'm going back to the hotel, so do you still want to set fire to me or what?"

As the bandleader and musician-in-chief Tony Iommi's presumably the most coherent Sab but probably the least engaging to read about. Bassist Geezer Butler wrote most of the lyrics for the songs on which their reputation rests - I don't have much time for Dio - while Ozzy brought the wierd, shamanic presence and disturbed holler before his slide into light entertainment.

Reading about how Tony invented the downturned guitar sound that birthed (no, Tim, spawned) metal is somehow less interesting. And a blow-by-blow account of the production of every Sabbath album into the 90's and beyond even more so.

Whereas what really interests me about Black Sabbath is how four blokes from Aston could tap into the deep vein of blues and folk singing about death, doom 'n' Armageddon and jump-start it for the modern age. Ozzy's voice - so high, so out of place in modern metal - suddenly sounds a lot more right placed in this old-time company.

With Led Zeppelin, musically a much more 'progressive' band than Sabbath, lyrically speaking, you get the refusal of the present ("Womannnn! I want to make looooove to you! In Rivendell!!"). With Deep Purple, you get rock'n'roll tropes underpinned by a mighty slab of The Funk.

But with Sabbath, when they weren't dabbling in pyromania or singing about Fairies in Boots, you get a band - perhaps more by accident than design, certainly much more on-record than off - that stared down the barrel of the modern age.

Literally, in the case of War Pigs.

Which is what I would argue makes Sabbath more culturally - if not musically - more interesting than their one-time peers.

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