Graded on a Curve;
Black Sabbath,
Sabbath Bloody
Sabbath

Dear Satan,

I’ve always considered you a cool guy. Lord of the Flies, Leader of the Loyal Opposition, natty dresser, boogie man of little kids and grown Puritans alike–even your horns are badass.

So why, if you don’t mind my asking, did you appoint Ozzy Osbourne your ambassador to our world of sin? I would have thought you’d do better than a drug-addled, ant-snorting, famous-for-biting-the-heads-off-small-animals shlub in tragically ill-fitting leather pants. Had you come to me for advice, dear Lucifer, I’d have recommended someone more appropriate–Jimmy Page say, or Maroon 5.

Of course it’s possible Ozzy swiped your title without your permission. Plenty of people have done so over the years, Mick Jagger included, and maybe you figured if you’re gonna cut milksop Mick a break you might as well give poor witless Ozzy a pass too.

Or–and I’m working on this assumption–you’ve let Oz get away with it because Black Sabbath is quite arguably the first and heaviest heavy metal band to ever ooze its way out of the Underworld. What’s more, they scare the shit out of lotsa people, most of ‘em parents, music critics and hippies. You must love putting the frighteners on hippies–all that peace and love shit’s enough to make you puke hellfire.

Zonked metal kids are dead sure you’re partial to such early Sabbtunes as “Iron Man” and “War Pigs” cuz they sound real evil, but that’s not the way I see it. You’re a dancer, as Mick Jagger can attest, and I’m betting your tastes run more to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. If early Black Sabbath was a cement mixer grinding its way up a steep incline in first gear, come 1973 they’d slapped a super-charged engine on that puppy and tricked it out with some nifty accessories including strings, synthesizers and Rick Wakeman, who makes for a nifty head ornament. Satan can’t drive 55.

Aside from the instrumental “Fluff”–which is all well and good if you’re a little person living in a hollow tree in Sherwood Forest–Ozzy muscles you out of the way like he’s in a hurry to get back to his buffalo tranquilizers. “Sabbra Cadabra” is metal boogie with real velocity–Ozzy’s obviously been cutting his red ants with speed. If I hear traces of Led Zeppelin in there, dear Prince of Darkness, it’s on you–if you’d had the good sense to ordain Jimmy Page your earthy emissary he could’ve called Ozzy a plagiarist and turned him into a Jamaican Fruit Bat. “Killing Yourself to Live” stands out too, and I’m sure you love the fact that it bears a more than passing resemblance to “25 or 6 to 4.” People tend to think evil is hanging around cemeteries in hooded capes but they’re wrong–true evil is copping a melody from Chicago.

The title track is James Gang x 9, with a really pretty chorus thrown in; Tony Iommi’s guitar is a mountain walking, the one Ian Hunter sang about maybe. On “Spiral Architect” Iommi goes full Who, the mood’s pure Moody Blues, and Ozzy raves on about silver ships and plasma seas. But pay him no mind–he’s probably smoked too much dove head.

“A National Acrobat” lurches around like Son of Iron Man or Ozzy on 4 score and 20 quaaludes–Sabbath hasn’t completely given up old ways. The same goes for “Who Are You,” on which Oz plays a synthesizer riff so monotonous it’d put you to sleep if you weren’t afraid he’d creep through your dog door and swallow your goldfish. On the euphoric “Looking for Today” you get what sounds suspiciously like a flute while Ozzy sings “Sunday’s star is Monday’s scar” like he can see his fate, which he narrowly evaded by becoming a lovable reality television star.

And there you have it, dear Beelzebubba. The chaps in Black Sabbath are about as serious about the pentagram stuff as your average State Farm agent, but I’m sure that’s the way you want it. It’s your classic diversionary tactic–get the Cotton Mather crowd to focus their approbation on these deviled-eggs while that unholy trinity Emerson, Lake & Palmer does your dirty work.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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