B L A C K S A B B A T H : L I G H T I N T H E D A R K N E S S
Copyright 1987 Bob Szekely.
John Michael Osbourne, (known as "Ozzy" to his fans), has in his long
career as vocalist for Black Sabbath had his work with the group misconstrued
as advocating Satanism. In a 1983 radio special featuring Ozzy, the
interviewer expressed precisely this point; "...Ozzy has always been shrouded
in the darkest of Satanic imagery. Yet if you really listen to his music,
you'll find that what he is saying differs greatly from his image...."(1) Even
the group's image has often been described as "occult and diabolic".(2)
The important point to remember here is to differentiate between appearance
and reality. Although the name "Black Sabbath" conjures up images of witches
and sorcerers paying homage to Satan for the powers bestowed upon them, this
does not make it safe to assume that the group that went by this name
necessarily drew the inspiration from the occult.(3) The closest they ever
came to it was a gothic horror film featuring Boris Karloff as narrator; they
adopted their name directly from the name of this film.(4) Black Sabbath was
involved in the black arts as much as Karloff practiced casting spells off-
screen. Tony Iommi, the group's guitarist, summed it up best when he described
the group as having basically "...the same appeal as a horror movie. It's all
Just as their film counterpart did, Ozzy and Sabbath found the occult
mythos to be an effective vehicle for powerful social commentary; particularly
when put in the context of heavy-metal rock and roll. Ozzy himself noted that
there are "...people who pick up my [album] cover[s] and go...'This guy's got
to be singing about Devil, doom, death and destruction.' Which is not the
The late Lester Bangs likened the group to Bob Dylan and William Burroughs,
describing them all as "...moralists...trying to deal with a serious present
situation in an honest way...."(7) Ozzy and Black Sabbath merely bring to
light the many evils of our world in their work, to try and make us realize
that we are all victim to their influence. They hope to make us recognize
these evils so that we may take up arms against them; a point Ozzy emphatically
stresses: "...one thing everybody has got to understand about Black Sabbath's
lyrics. They're not downer lyrics, they're just telling everybody where it's
at..."(8) He also cites the group's most controversial tune, "Black Sabbath",
as a response to the ignorant hippie culture still force when the tune was
written in 1970: "The hippies said: 'The world is beautiful man.' (sic) You
only had to look around you to see how crappy it was. It was ridiculous
listening to that stuff, let alone playing it, so we just wrote about the world
the way it really was and how it affected us - and we felt better in ourselves
because we were really being honest...."(9)
A F T E R F O R E V E R
I 1 HAVE YOU EVER THOUGH ABOUT YOUR SOUL-
2 CAN IT BE SAVED?
3 OR PERHAPS YOU THINK THAT WHEN YOU ARE DEAD
4 YOU JUST STAY IN YOUR GRAVE.
5 IS GOD JUST A THOUGHT WITHIN YOUR HEAD OR IS
6 HE A PART OF YOU?
7 IS CHRIST JUST A NAME THAT YOU READ IN A BOOK
8 WHEN YOU WERE AT SCHOOL?
II 9 WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT DEATH DO YOU LOSE
10 YOUR BREATH OR DO YOU KEEP YOUR COOL?
11 WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE POPE ON THE END
12 OF A ROPE - DO YOU THINK HE'S A FOOL?
13 WELL I'VE SEEN THE TRUTH - YES I'VE SEEN
14 THE LIGHT AND I'VE CHANGED MY WAYS.
15 AND I'LL BE PREPARED WHEN YOU'RE LONELY
16 AND SCARED AT THE END OF OUR DAYS.
III 17 COULD IT BE YOU'RE AFRAID OF WHAT YOU'R
18 FRIENDS MIGHT SAY
19 IF THEY NEW YOU BELIEVED IN GOD ABOVE
20 THEY SHOULD REALISE BEFORE THE CRITICISE
21 THAT GOD IS THE ONLY WAY TO LOVE.
IV 23 IS YOUR MIND SO SMALL THAT YOU HAVE TO FALL
24 IN WITH THE PACK WHEREVER THEY RUN
25 WILL YOU STILL SNEER WHEN DEATH IS NEAR
26 AND SAY THEY MAY AS WELL WORSHIP THE SUN.
V 27 I THINK IT WAS TRUE IT WAS PEOPLE LIKE YOU
28 THAT CRUCIFIED CHRIST
29 I THINK IT IS SAD THE OPINION YOU HADE WAS THE
30 ONLY ONE VOICED.
31 WILL YOU BE SO SURE WHEN YOUR DAY IS NEAR
32 SAY YOU DON'T BELIEVE?
33 YOU HAD THE CHANCE BUT YOU TURNED IT DOWN
34 NOW YOU CAN'T RETRIEVE.
VI 35 PERHAPS YOU'LL THINK BEFORE YOU SAY THAT
36 GOD IS DEAD AND GONE
37 OPEN YOUR EYES, JUST REALIZE THAT HE IS THE
39 THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SAVE YOU KNOW FROM
40 ALL THIS SIN AND HATE.
41 OR WILL YOU STILL JEER AT ALL YOU HEAR?
42 YES!-I THINK IT'S TOO LATE.
In this piece, the group asserts a belief in an afterlife and spiritual
redemption. As grisly as the image of a hanged pontiff is, its shock value is
a necessary part of the message: They reject religious dogma, stating that a
belief in God, in one's own heart, is the only guiding light to help one inn
his life (lines 11/12, 39/40). Furthermore, the reject religious hypocrisy
(lines 5/6, 7/8) and peer pressure (verses III, IV) as excuses for not
accepting God. To clarify further: following the crowd does not justify
shrugging responsibility for one's own actions.
After re-reading, it becomes obvious that this song is an ascerbic critique
of atheism; (line 35/36) I refer here again to verses three and four. In these
two verses, the picture painted in one of Godless conformity and how it's
viewed as being as foolish as Paganism. These lyrics set an example for the
listener by relating personal experience (lines 13-16). However, for those who
cannot accept this the group has no recourse but to condemn them, although
rather ironically; they hope that their rhetorical loss of faith in the
listener will open his eyes (line 42).
B L A C K S A B B A T H
WHAT IS THIS, THAT STANDS BEFORE ME?
FIGURE IN BLACK, WHICH POINTS AT ME
TURN ROUND QUICK AND START TO RUN
FIND OUT I'M THE CHOSEN ONE. OH, NO!
BIG BLACK SHAPE WITH EYES OF FIRE
TELLING PEOPLE THEIR DESIRE
SATAN'S SITTING THERE, HE'S SMILING
WATCHES THOSE FLAMES GET HIGHER AND HIGHER
OH, NO, NO, -- PLEASE GOD HELP ME!
IS THIS THE END MY FRIEND?
SATAN'S COMING 'ROUND THE BEND
PEOPLE RUNNING 'CAUSE THEY'RE SCARED
THE PEOPLE BETTER GO AND BEWARE
NO, NO! PLEASE--NO!!
The all time controversy winner! Is this not irrefutably THE song about
Black Magic in rock? It's all so obvious, suffuse with evil imagery; Satan,
walls of flame, figure in black, and damnation at the end. Yes, I see the
images too; it definitely concerns Black Magic. Then again, Shakespeare's
Macbeth employed scenes of witches involved in conjurations; does that mean
that Shakespeare was a warlock? Poe used to write sardonic tragedies about
twisted murderers and the bizarre nature of acts, did that make him an evil,
leering, demented killer? Did either of them advocated what they wrote about?
One has to remember that writing about something is not necessarily the same as
emulating it. Tony Iommi spoke out quite strongly about this: "People are
bringing us down saying that we are a Black Magic group. I think they must be
getting mixed up with Black Widow. We don't do any sacrifices on stage, and
we're not on a black magic kick. We wanted to do heavy numbers and the guitar
riffs we worked out were more suited to evil things than love. We play songs
about black magic, but they are more likely to be against than for it."(12)
By now, you're probably asking yourself who Black Widow is, right? Then
it's time for a little history:
Sabbath, before they were known as Sabbath, had the same line-up but
two earlier names. The first one was Polka Tulk, which seemed sure to doom
them to obscurity.(13) The soon realized this and changed the group's name to
Earth. Now, Earth was a blues band at the end of the English blues boom. As
if that wasn't bad enough, they soon discovered that not only was there another
group named Earth, but they had also released a single. To avoid confusion,
they changed their name again.(14) But what made them decide on that name?
Just ask Ozzy: "I just liked the name Black Sabbath because of the succession
of vowel sounds.(15) If that sounds ludicrous just consider this: Sabbath was
"...the first of the really committed, loud and heavy bands..."(16) They
needed a name to match the gut-wrenching power they were developing. Tony knew
that he wanted Sabbath to be noticed above all the rest of the British blues
bands: "We wanted something of our own that we'd like and people would like.
And we wanted something loud!"
Tony didn't hate the blues. He'd cut his teeth as a guitarist on the likes
of The Shadows, Buddy Holly and Django Rheinhardt, developing his own style
from there. But he realized the group had no future in the blues:
'We couldn't keep playing 12-bars forever. We just got fed up with
Earth music. It was jazz, blues stuff. It was good for practice but nothing
In the late 'Sixties, blues groups were a dime a dozen in Birmingham and
interest was waning in the blues boom due to the glut of groups. One man, by
the name of Jim Simpson, had heard Earth around the Birmingham club circuit and
understood what they were trying to do. He decided to take them under his
wing. With the aid of his massive record collection, Jim expanded the group's
horizons in the areas of jazz and blues. He introduced them to artists like
Wes Montgomery, Count Basie and Jimmy Rushing. It was from Rushing in
particular that they derived the repetitive riff style so readily noticeable in
their later incarnation as Black Sabbath.
The Count Basie influence is evidenced in the song "Wicked World" from the
first album; Sabbath drummer Bill Ward uses a "'sighing hi-hat'...in the manner
of Basie's drummer Jo Jones."
The influence is subtle, almost subliminal. Yet it is one which was not
thought capable of hard, 'heavy' rock bands in the late 'Sixties. Although Led
Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix also had their work steeped in blues and jazz
derivations (Hendrix' "Third Stone From the Sun" and Zeppelin's version of
Willie Dixon's "I Can't Quit You Baby" from their first album), neither was
able to match the intense energy of Black Sabbath. Iommi has always had a
preference for music with an original, distinct style of its' own; as an
example, he mentions guitarists Joe Pass and Alvin Lee as two of his strongest
It would also be necessary that Sabbath develop a unique, distinctive style
and image of their own. Though they had changed their name from Earth to Black
Sabbath to avoid confusion with the other Earth; at the same time another group
emerged by the name of Black Widow "...who WERE profoundly influenced by the
occult, had a male witch as a patron, and wrote pieces like "Come to The
Sabbat." Unfortunately, Sabbath was constantly reaping the benefits of Widow's
Sabbath was a group that never minced words. If they saw something as
destructive, they would be sure to rub the listener's face it it. They did not
want their point to be missed.
With their straightforward, sometimes brutal way of looking at things, they
try to shock the listener's conscience back into awareness. The imagery of
"Hand of Doom", from the Paranoid album, is candid and condemning; it is a
strong statement against drug addiction and rightly so...
H A N D O F D O O M
WHAT YOU GONNA DO?
TIME'S CAUGHT UP WITH YOU
NOW YOU WAIT YOUR TURN
YOU KNOW THERE'S NO RETURN
TAKE YOUR WRITTEN RULES
YOU JOIN THE OTHER FOOLS
TURN TO SOMETHING NEW
NOW IT'S KILLING YOU
FIRST IT WAS THE BOMB
YOU PUSH THE NEEDLE IN
FROM LIFE YOU ESCAPE
REALITY'S THAT WAY
COLORS IN YOUR MIND
SATISFY IN TIME
OH, YOU -YOU KNOW YOU MUST BE BLIND
TO DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS
TO TAKE THE SLEEP THAT YOU DON'T KNOW
YOU'RE GIVING DEATH A KISS
POOR LITTLE FOOL, NOW!
YOUR MIND IS FULL OF PLEASURE
YOUR BODY'S LOOKING ILL
TO YOU, IT'S SHALLOW LEISURE
SO DROP THE ACID PILL
DON'T STOP TO THINK, NOW!
YOU'RE HAVING A GOOD TIME, BABY
BUT THAT WON'T LAST
YOU'RE MINDS ALL FULL OF THINGS
YOU'RE LIVING TOO FAST
GO OUT AND ENJOY YOURSELF
DON'T BOTTLE IT IN
YOU NEED SOMEONE TO HELP YOU
STICK THE NEEDLE IN, YEAH!
NOW YOU KNOW THE SCENE
YOUR SKIN STARTS TURNING GREEN
YOUR EYES NO LONGER SEE
PUSH THE NEEDLE IN,
FACE DEATH'S SICKLY GRIN
HOLES ARE IN YOUR SKIN
CAUSED BY DEADLY PIN
HEAD STARTS SPINNING 'ROUND
FALL DOWN TO THE GROUND
FEEL YOUR BODY HEAVE
DEATH'S HANDS START TO WEAVE
IT'S TO LATE TOO TURN
YOU DON'T WANNA LEARN
PRICE OF LIFE YOU CRY
NOW YOU'RE GONNA DIE
Many people felt the group's overall direction was pessimistic and had a
negative effect on its listener's due to that. "Ozzy insisted that if people
thought he was having a bad effect on the minds of young kids, they should go
and watch the TV news where real murder and mayhem were a way of life, and
shown night after night." (18)
Sabbath was never negative in their message; they were simply truthful
about waht they saw as wrong in the world. If you "Strip away the horror
stories, the imagery and the hysteria, (and) turn down the amps a notch...you
have a well-rehearsed, solid blues and rock band, powered by a dedication to
well defined objectives." On the top of the list of those objectives was
truth; Sabbath never feared facing that truth squarely, regardless of what many
people thought of them.
(1)Jim Ladd, "Innerview: Ozzy Osbourne,"
(New York: WAPP 103.5 FM, April 4, 1983) 12-1 a.m.
(2)Richard Hogan, :Black Sabbath: Masters of Reality," Circus Rock
Immortals #1 (1980) p. 31.
(3)Harry E. Wedeck, "Black Mass/Sabbat," A Treasury of Witchcraft (New
York: Citadel Press, 1968) pp. 119-120.
(4)Hogan, p. 31
(5)Chris Welch, Black Sabbath (New York: Proteus Publishing Company, Inc.,
1982) p. 67.
(7)Welch, p. 53.
(8)Ibid, p. 80.
(9)Ibid, p. 20.
(10)Master of Reality (New York: Warner Brothers Records Inc., 1971).
(11)Black Sabbath, "Black Sabbath," Shattering Sounds From 4 Albums, et al
(New York: Tro Essex Music International) pp. 4-8.
(12)Welch, p. 28.
(13)Ibid, p. 12.
(14)Welch, p. 20.
(15)Ibid, p. 28.
(16)Welch, pp. 67, 72, 50, 14, 17, 55.
(17)Black Sabbath, "Hand of Doom," Shattering Sounds, pp. 137-147
(18)Welch, pp. 91-70
Black Sabbath. Master of Reality.
Warner Brothers Records Inc., 1971.
Black Sabbath. Shattering Sounds from 4 Albums, et al.
New York: Tro Essex Music International. pp. 4-8, 138-147
Hogan, Richard. "Black Sabbath: Masters of Reality."
Circus Rock Immortals # 1, 1980. pp. 31-32.
Ladd, Jim. "Innerview: Ozzy Osbourne." New York:
WAPP 103.5 FM. April 4, 1983, 12-1 a.m.
Rogan, Michael. "Heavy Metal Havoc: Black Sabbath - Live Evil/ Ozzy Osbourne -
Speak of the Devil" Good Times, 326, March 1-7 1983. p. 15.
Rothberg, Gerald. "Face to Face with Ozzy Osbourne."
Circus, June 30, 1981. pp. 28-29.
Wedeck, Harry E. "Black Mass/Sabbat."
A Treasury of Witchcraft. New York: Citadel Press, 1968. pp. 119-120.
Welch, Chris. Black Sabbath. New York: Proteus Publishing Company, Inc.,
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