Thursday, 5 November 2015

Black Sabbath - Master of Reality (1971)

Black Sabbath initially came under the heading of artists to be avoided on principal thanks to my having grown up in a rural Warwickshire town in which a preference for Joy Division - or indeed almost anything with short hair - over Tygers of Pan Tang revealed one as a bare bummer who liked men's cocks and to dress up as a woman and was definitely gay and liked gay men's cocks and liked to feel them and thought Boy George was an inspiration 'cuz you were into men's bums and arseholes and that and being as gay as possible and liking men's cocks and if someone had invented a men's gay cocks sandwich you'd be first in fucking line for a bite, you gay cunt. To be fair, it didn't have to be Tygers of Pan Tang. In fact it didn't really matter so long as it was NWOBHM and you weren't a gay bastard who liked gay men's cocks because you were gay. I'm sure you get the picture.

Despite all the aversion therapy, I eventually came to understand the distinction between certain bands - notably Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden - and all the other useless wankers with knockery vixen warrior women clogging up the covers of their shitty records - Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Krokus, Rainbow, and all that utter widdly-widdly axe solo shite. Paranoid was somehow one of the first things I learned to play on guitar, and I borrowed the single from Philip Cameron at school, and I couldn't help but notice that the b-side wasn't bad either. With hindsight I've come to realise that aside from the hair there was never that much difference between Black Sabbath and the Joy Division, whose music I enjoyed without reservation.

More recently I came across a spoken word routine by Henry Rollins in which the lad proposes that innocuously named tropical weather systems such as El NiƱo be renamed in ways more congruent with their terrible destructive power. One such rebranding would, he suggests, be the First Four Black Sabbath Albums. Weather reports would then warn us that if we should be anywhere up the east coast of Florida this evening we might want to take precautions because the First Four Black Sabbath Albums have been heating up the air down in the gulf and we're probably going to see some serious storm damage by morning. Personally I think it could work, particularly having now heard at least three of them.

Having further differentiated Black Sabbath from anything involving David bloody Coverdale, I am surprised at how simple they actually sound - very basic, just your straightforward blues rock with special emphasis on the more malevolent vibes. I vaguely recall seeing Ozzy Osbourne interviewed on some show, accounting for the formation of Black Sabbath by noting that all he heard on the radio were flower children singing about sunshine and happy times and San Francisco, whilst all he could see out of his own window was Birmingham - or words to that effect. Keeping this in mind, much as I loathe the term industrial music, I'd suggest Black Sabbath did it first. Throbbing Gristle may have aspired to being a noisier Velvet Underground or even Hawkwind, but the mood was more Sabbath than Lou Reed or anyone so self-consciously Bohemian; and as my friend Carl has pointed out, Joy Division were basically Black Sabbath - providing you ignore Closer, which should probably be a given because it was mostly rubbish - and then of course there's Swans, and all those goth bands.

The more I listen to Black Sabbath, the more I realise how difficult it is to find rock music without a trace of their influence to one degree or another. Whilst they may not exactly have introduced the bad vibe to popular music - that being an essential ingredient of the blues from which they drew one hell of a lot of inspiration - they may have been the first to pass it on without embellishment, without trying to make it sound glamorous.

I know the Paranoid album a little better, and I've only just got hold of Master of Reality, so it hasn't quite sunk in yet, but it's already very clearly on the same level, and there's a noticeable improvement in the lyrics - some of those on the previous one being decidedly ropey in places; and, as with Paranoid, it really makes you wonder how all those shitty NWOBHM bands could have got it so wrong given how the great strength of this music is its simplicity, how it made even those Sexy Pistols sound like fucking ELO in places. I wish it hadn't taken me quite so long to realise any of this, but never mind.

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