Government & Politics

Black Sabbath dawns — yep, your father’s Black Sabbath!

Reliable sources inform me that Black Sabbath, the inventors of heavy metal, will headline The Voodoo Experience music festival in 2012.

Granted, “Voodoo Fest,” as it’s known, is still 11 months away and former Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne just played there last year … But here’s a sweetener: the four original members of Black Sabbath recently put aside their squabbles and reunited. Next year they’ll record a new album and embark on a world tour. So that means guitar legend Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward might appear with Ozzy at Voodoo.

My sources say Black Sabbath is already scheduled to play the 2012 Voodoo Experience at City Park, presumably on Oct. 28, the Sunday before Halloween. It will be the first time in 40 years that Sabbath’s original members have performed in New Orleans. Their last concert here was on Sept. 8, 1972, at the Municipal Auditorium. Gentle Giant opened. Sabbath’s only other visit to New Orleans was on March 27, 1971, during their Paranoid tour. According to this fan site, they played “a warehouse” at 1820 Tchoupitoulas (now demolished). I’d LOVE to hear a firsthand account of that night.


Heavy metal music traces its origins to an appropriately bloody industrial accident. While working at his day job in a sheet metal factory, Tony Iommi sheared off two of his fingertips. The doctors told him he’d have to give up guitar playing, but Iommi, just 17 at the time, continued to practice despite the agony it caused him. He made plastic tips to cover his fingers and blunt the pain, then loosened the strings to make them easier for him to bend. This radical down-tuning eased his finger distress and also created a heavy sonic effect which became the backbone of Iommi’s new band, Black Sabbath.

Inspired by a horror movie, the band decided to create horror music. Butler wrote spooky lyrics for Ozzy to wail, and Ward clobbered his drums with the butt-ends of his drum sticks. For his part, Iommi merely invented the heaviest guitar style anyone had ever heard.

Writing for the Rolling Stone Album Guide (fourth edition), Scott Seward described Sabbath’s contribution to music this way:

They took the blues out of blues-rock and replaced it with Wagner, creating epic battle rhythms filled with a tension and release that any adolescent boy would know about firsthand.

Then Seward explained why even casual fans still misinterpret the band:

What people forget about Black Sabbath — and it’s understandable given their demonic imagery and All Hallow’s Eve vibe — was that it was one of the most God-driven, puritanical, wet-blanket rock bands in history. Its “mankind is evil and must repent for its wicked ways” thesis would influence almost all the future bands of the metallic arts.

It’s true. The Sabbath catalogue is full of warnings about temptation and Judgment Day. Better repent and wise up, they say, or else everything will get even more miserable. But implicit in those dark themes is the idea that Earth really is a battlefield between God and the Devil. You have to buy into the assumption of widespread spiritual warfare, at least temporarily, for Sabbath’s sermons to grip you.

What distinguished Sabbath from their predecessors was the way they fused their apocalyptic message with such a heavy, severe sound. Sabbath’s song lyrics described impending doom, but their music actually sounded like doom. The effect was totally new, and went beyond Led Zeppelin’s bluesy hard rock and Tolkien-inspired lyrics. Sabbath’s concept required dramatic song arcs and otherworldly guitar modes, or else their whole presentation would lack metaphysical force. And it’s not as if Sabbath fans were all young eschatologists with the Book of Revelation in their pockets. Not even close. Early on, the band mainly played to curious acid rockers who liked any hard music with cool-sounding words. But similar to the way “The Exorcist” movie rattled a lot of agnostic viewers, Black Sabbath’s dark sound shook up their listeners. Both the movie and the band first had to scare the hell into their audiences, before they could scare it out of them again. (Note: I’m referring to a two-hour experience in a theater, not a life-altering conversion.)

Unfortunately, that theory led me to disappointment twenty years ago, when I finally saw Ozzy perform in concert. When the lights dimmed, I expected something ominous. Instead, I witnessed an impish Ozzy constantly tell the crowd how to have fun. Clap like this, wave in unison, scream now! The music sounded great, but during the power grooves between verses, Ozzy kept yelling “I love you all. I love each and every one of you!” His happy cheerleading diluted the dark power in his songs. I had bought my ticket expecting to see a prophet of darkness; instead I got a bedazzled Leo Buscaglia. It disappointed me that Ozzy didn’t have more faith in the potency of his Sabbath songs. I wanted him to dispense with the crowd-pleasing happy talk, and start grimacing maniacally and thrashing around. I wanted the concert to have a sense of horror, but the whole episode felt like an ironic celebration of the past. The real message seemed to be: Kids, don’t let any of this Satan talk disturb you. Just have a safe, fun time and buy a black T-shirt on your way out the door.

Now, twenty years later, it’s even more unreasonable for me to expect a “Black Sabbath concert experience” that measures up to my youthful fantasies. (Although I do hope Ozzy honors his bandmates by cutting out the mid-song banter with the crowd.) The Voodoo audience will likely be an embarrassing mixture of nostalgia and ignorance. Old metalheads will cheerily sing along to “Iron Man” as if the song’s about an old friend rather than a destructive avenger. Among them will be younger kids who don’t even know the lyrics, because they mainly know Ozzy as a scattered reality-TV character, not a pioneering voice of heavy metal.

I guess I shouldn’t leave out my own demographic, either. No doubt there will be  thirtysomethings who attend the show because they’d feel guilty if they missed a last chance to see Sabbath with Ozzy. Like me, they hope that if the original Black Sabbath performs outdoors in New Orleans on a Sunday around Halloween, we’ll all get an inkling of what audiences felt forty years ago.

Hopefully there will be an early chill the night of the concert. At least that way I’ll be guaranteed a few shivers.

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  • The Warehouse, not a warehouse. It was a great music club in the early 70s until it burned down.

    As to Sabbath inventing the heavy sound Hawkwind got there first in the late 60s with their power chord infused space rock. Masters of the Universe being a great example.

    I think Mosely and I should attend the Fest and review it together when the time comes, I’m uite looking forward to it not having seen Ozzy since he shaved his head at Super Sunday in the 80s….

  • And I’d love to be there just to see how you guys take it all in. Ha!

  • Mark Moseley

    It’s a date! Rock on, y’all and thanks for the correction about “The Warehouse.” Know anyone who might’ve seen that show (and remember it)?

  • greg p

    Actually, Hawkwind and Sabbath were both formed in 1969 — Sabbath formed as Earth in ’68 — and both released debut albums in 1970. Hawkwind were never doomy or slow or heavy like Sabbath; there were, of course, precursors to Sabbath’s sound; Vanilla Fudge, The Edgar Broughton Band, Andromeda, High Tide, Writing on the Wall, and Head Machine were all inching toward heavy sounds, and “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” came out in ’68, as did the first King Crimson album and “Inna Gadda Da Vida”. “Dazed and Confused” was ’69. Some of thisex stuff was metallic, some of it was heavy, but it wasn’t *Heavy* *Metal* as such. Ask any metalhead what the first *Heavy* *Metal* album was, and they’ll tell you it was Sabbath’s first.

    There’s lots of proto-metal obscurity at if you’re into that sort of thing.

    And, for the record, Ozzy has always been a goof. Lester Bangs was noting back around 71 how the band’s hype was so opposed to what actually happened onstage as to be almost comical. Sabbath has never been scary onstage. The last two minutes of “Children of the Grave” spooked me when I first heard it at age 10, but seeing Ozzy on TV not long after that cured me.

    Mark, there’s a documentary about The Warehouse floating around — might not be officially finished yet. Gambit covered it a while back:

  • Mark Moseley

    Great link about The Warehouse, Greg, thanks! And I agree with your distinction about Black Sabbath being different in sound and concept to their pre-cursors. I’m surprised my friend Brian hasn’t already chimed in to argue that The Beatles invented metal with “Helter Skelter.”

    As for the claim: “Sabbath has never been scary onstage.”

    That would be a real shame. Sabbath missed a big opportunity to make their early stage act more consistent with my subsequent imaginings of it.

  • Mark Moseley

    And on Ozzy’s birthday, I’ll add this vid to the comments. Black Sabbath performing “Black Sabbath.” This is what I had in mind, as far as stage performance goes.

    It also has a lot of close-ups of Iommi’s homemade fingertips.

  • Al

    The Beatles – “Helter Skelter” … Kidding, right?

  • Mark Moseley

    Not kidding! My friend Brian will argue this, but so will some music critics. Here’s just one example

    “‘Helter Skelter’ The invention of heavy metal-by no less a headbanger than Mr. ‘Ebony And Ivory’ himself!”

  • As a teenager I bought tickets for Black Sabbath tours three times. They were no-shows, all three times. When I saw them at the California jam in ’74, it became obvious why. Iommi, Ward, and Butler are the unappreciated Masters. Ozzy?

    He should stay on reality TV.

  • Al

    Good Lord! Ummmm, no.

    First, a disclaimer: I am of an age which is perfect for, if nothing else, equipping one with a lovely and comfortable bias for The Beatles as opposed to rock’s sad self-parody, degeneration, and total collapse which followed hard on their demise.

    But to the point, thanks to youtube I have revisited a pretty good take on “Helter Skelter” several times. I have also suffered a number of uhhh, songs? … uhhh, performances? … well, let’s just say things, by Black Sabbath. And, yes, some other Metal stuff.

    It stikes me that anyone being promised a viewing of “Helter Skelter,” and instead shown something Metallic, would agree that inspiration need not ever produce anything close to replication.

    It is rather like heading out to the theatre for a Ballet, and detouring to a Beer Garden for nauseating and endless renditions of the Chicken Dance.