The importance of Black Sabbath and metal's fluid appeal


Sabbath in the '70s

Walk into Hard Times Café at any given time. You’ll notice that none of the West Bank metalheads are wearing a frown any more distinct than your average Starbucks patron.

If even the most aggressive music does not denote anger, we must have proof that different genres have liquid affectations. Folk music doesn’t have to gestate in the wilderness. Indie rock doesn’t have to come from hipsters. And heavy metal does not inherently produce feelings of sadness or darkness.

Black Sabbath, despite the well-documented drug abuse of their early days, seemed to know this from the very start. The U.K. band — whose farewell tour hits Target Center on Monday — got their name from noticing the crowds horror movies seemed to attract, after all. One need only read the lyrics of the group's eponymous 1970 debut album to realize that Ozzy Osbourne was fleeing desperately from the devil. He was not attempting to encourage himself or others toward a life of satanism.

Upon very slight inspection of the music, it also becomes clear that Black Sabbath were also moving beyond the flower-power musicality that was unfurling in a crisis in 1970. Music was ripe for the changing.

When I was 19, some deep part of me also knew this. Weekend after weekend, my two roommates and I would retreat to our basement to spin Black Sabbath on our two-bit turntables. I was once caught air-guitaring on that concrete floor to Tony Iommi’s solo on “Warning,” alone at three in the morning where I wouldn’t have thought anyone would find me. If the music was madness, there was an inescapable method to it.

Undoubtedly, Black Sabbath delve into rock’s most miserable subject matter. You can hear it on “Hand of Doom,” where our protagonists post-trauma heroin use only serves to bring them as close to death as the Vietnam War itself. These moments are almost always balanced by an equal and opposite polarity.

Let’s face it: They rocked the blues just as hard as Zeppelin, a band only a few small steps away from Sabbath’s low-end leanings. If you find yourself reeling from Ozzy’s tales, you need only wait a few minutes for the next Geezer Butler groove or Bill Ward drum fill to find solace.

It’s in this way that the music of Black Sabbath is so timeless. Their balance of blues and blacks are representative of reality. No one life is all happy or sad. And, whether accompanied by artwork of skeletons and death or not, no one Sabbath record is, either.

Here we are, 45 years after the band begat metal, looking at a final tour. Never missing an opportunity to evoke something bleak, they’ve humorously dubbed it “The End.” If the increasing mania of the politics of this world cause its end tomorrow, Ozzy and company would be able to play the “I told you so” card.

In the meantime, the world is, most definitely, not ending — and Black Sabbath is still performing live.

Black Sabbath

With: Rival Sons.

When: 7:30 p.m. Mon. 

Where: Target Center.

Tickets: $35-$149; more info here.

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