Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Black Sabbath, 'Black Sabbath'

In August 1969 the band, who were then known as Earth, decided to change their name to Black Sabbath when they noticed a large crowd emerging from a showing of the 1963 Boris Karloff horror film of the same name.

The music that they would make would capture the zeitgeist of 1969, which was moving to darker places following the domination of psychedelic pop and folk. This was music for the landscape of distrust and fear which eventually broke hippie culture, manifesting in incidents such as The Rolling Stones infamous Altamont concert.

The recording process was the typically ad hoc experience we’ve come to expect from Sabbath. The songs were recorded "live" and the entire process including mixing took just three days, first takes being considered adequate. Their eponymous song has become something of a blueprint for all metal which has followed.

The shadowy, oppressive atmosphere is generated by Tony Iommi’s classic riff, a tritone interval played at slow tempo on an electric guitar with his trademark high-gain, heavily distorted tone and a modified treble-boosting effect-pedal. The tritone interval was frequently avoided in medieval ecclesiastical singing because of its dissonant quality, the name diabolus in musica ("the Devil in music") has been applied to the interval from at least the early 18th century.

The song's lyrics concern a "figure in black" which is initially unidentified but appears to be about the protagonist facing Satan during the Apocalypse. The protagonist is Satan's "chosen one," standing before him paralyzed with fear. The song was inspired by an experience bassist Geezer Butler had following an evening dabbling with the occult. He awoke during the night to find a mysterious figure in black standing over him. He recounted the event to a fascinated Ozzy, who wrote the faithful lyrics "What is this that stands before me? Figure in black which points at me".

It begins with a doom-laden intro featuring a spooky downpour effect, through to the ominously throbbing bass and drums.Yet another Iommi riff pushes the track into second gear for Ozzy’s blood curdling 'Oh please, no !', a fitting coup-de-grace to the horror theatrics. Their trademark song is crammed with unassailable touches which would elevate Sabbath above the mere mortals that surrounded them.

Where to find: Black Sabbath (1970)

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