Friday, October 19, 2012

13 Days of Halloween, 13 Wicked Albums: Day 2

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath (1970)

Black Sabbath is a band that needs no introduction, and no list of the best evil-sounding albums would be complete without them. The name comes from a 1960s Italian horror film starring Boris Karloff, which has become a classic in its own right. In their time, Black Sabbath was considered one of the darkest rock bands around, due to their lyrics and musical style that sparked rumors of Satanic influence. Today they have inspired countless new artists, spanning genres from rock and metal to punk and industrial. They might rightfully be called the godfathers of all dark, heavy, and aggressive music.

I wrestled with deciding which of their albums to include on this list, eventually settling on the debut for a number of reasons. Firstly, their namesake song, "Black Sabbath" is not only one of the most diabolical and memorable tunes ever written, but it's a hell of a way to begin a record. The sounds of thunder, rain, and the tolling of a distant bell bring us into a calm yet dreary atmosphere, just to be shattered seconds later by the sudden explosive detonation of the first chord, as if a portal to the underworld were violently forced open. Then we hear the other notes that follow, forming an interval known as a tritone. The dissonant and sinister sound of a tritone provoked religious composers and church officials to forbid its use for centuries, branding it the diabolus in musica, or "the devil in music." On top of this, Black Sabbath's signature song features lyrics inspired by an experience had by bassist Geezer Butler, who, after reading a book on the occult before going to sleep, awoke to see a figure in black standing at the foot of his bed.

From the very first song, Black Sabbath dives into darkness, and it keeps pushing deeper with tracks like "Behind the Wall of Sleep" and "N.I.B." The former is inspired by horror author H.P. Lovecraft's story Beyond the Wall of Sleep, and the latter is a tale of evil promises made from the perspective of none other than Satan himself. On the other hand, there are more light-hearted tracks such as "Evil Woman" and "The Wizard," yet the general feel of the album remains one of tension, murkiness, and occasionally malevolence. Aside from the opening song, the record probably won't send many chills down your spine, though it may give you the experience of surreal unease... in a good way!

Black Sabbath blends blues, rock, folk, and acoustic in this album along with some relatively twisted and bizarre lyrics for an interesting and enjoyable result. The second reason I chose this over the band's other releases is because the mood is fairly consistent. There's no overtly pro-religious pandering like there is with "After Forever" on the otherwise outstanding Master of Reality, there's no ridiculously silly tracks like "Fairies Wear Boots" on the equally outstanding Paranoid, and although I do love their other Ozzy-era albums like Vol. 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and Sabotage, I think the earlier material is stronger - and perhaps darker - on the whole.

As a third reason for preferring Black Sabbath, there is the creepy artwork too. Paranoid's cover art is downright goofy, and the other albums have rather unimaginative designs, with the awesomely demonic Sabbath Bloody Sabbath being the one exception. Moreover, the debut's sleeve art originally had an inverted cross with a track listing, line-up info, and a pretty dismal poem inside it. While the poem is still on later pressings, the upside down cross is no longer there, which was allegedly the idea of the record company that the band eventually pulled from future releases.

Initially panned by critics, Black Sabbath's debut album has since become a classic. Undoubtedly, the atmosphere surrounding this record - from the lyrics to the music to the symbolism in the artwork - played a not insignificant role in its success. The wickedness of this album may pale in comparison to some of the music put out these days, but Black Sabbath is like one of those old horror film classics that, despite having dated special effects and all, succeeds at capturing the imagination far more than most modern attempts. 42 years later, this record is still haunting the minds of new generations of fans.

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