soundstreamsunday #99: “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath

blacksabbath1.jpgIf they’re the only band on the infinite linear mixtape to be featured twice, and back-to-back at that, it’s because of the singularity of their two lead singers, who so influenced their respective versions of Black Sabbath that each iteration of the band made a distinct impact on rock and metal.  Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi has stated that the difference lay in writing for Ozzy Osbourne, who sang the melody of the riff, versus writing for Ronnie James Dio, a far more technically accomplished singer, who sang around the song’s chords.  But even with Dio’s vocal expertise stretching Sabbath’s range, the core of Black Sabbath’s legacy really does belong to Ozzy, whose shakily intoned shriek conveyed — at least across their first six records, and before it became Ozzy’s schtick — the terror of a man trapped inside a nightmare.

When Sabbath took to the studio in October 1969 to make their first record, they were like dozens of other post-Cream British blues rock bands struggling to find their own voice.  But, they had some advantages that maybe weren’t immediately apparent.  Iommi’s short and ultimately unsuccessful stint in Jethro Tull in 1968 was an education, as that band was finding its own, heavier feet following the departure of Mick Abrams (Martin Barre, the definitive Tull guitarist, would be hired shortly after Iommi filled in, with a thunderingly loud but finessed guitar style not unlike Iommi’s).  And Ian Anderson provided an object lesson for Iommi when Iommi went back to his band Earth: success would largely depend on the labor you put in.  Tull worked for its fortune.  As Earth transformed itself into Black Sabbath, Iommi demanded the band become a workhorse, and the group began developing a set of songs around bassist Geezer Butler’s night frights, a fascination with horror movies (e.g., Black Sabbath), and two significant technical issues that became key to a conceptual breakthrough: the tips of Iommi’s fingers on his right (fretting) hand had been shorn off in an accident in 1965, and it was while developing his newly renamed band’s sound and songs that he down-tuned his guitar to make it easier to play with the plastic tips he adhered to the tops of his fingers; also, Butler’s facility on bass was limited in their early days, so he ditched melodic runs and just mimicked Iommi, also down-tuning his bass.  The result was literally diabolic.  From the opening notes of “Black Sabbath,” the sound sends shivers, and it is here that heavy metal was born, out of imaginative use of limitation — such is Art — and the doom-laden tritone, the diabolus in musica, that Sabbath employed as its calling card.  Iommi, riffing on Butler’s attempt to mimic Gustav Holst’s “Mars: The Bringer of War” from The Planets suite, produced a metal manifesto so potent that it resonates almost 50 years on, remaining a rock touchstone of its era as significant as Velvet Underground & Nico, Astral Weeks, Forever Changes, or Funhouse, ever begging the question: What is this that stands before me?

Studio version here but also the Paris ’70 version, with Ozzy jumping like Iggy.

There is, in fact, none more black.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #98: “Children of the Sea” by Black Sabbath

heavenandhellMetal is a tricky business.  So is memory.  I first heard “Children of the Sea” soon after it was released,  I think, as a young teenager in 1980, tutored by an older sister in thrall to Rush’s Permanent Waves, Judas Priest’s Unleashed in the East, and, most of all, Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell.  It was later that I learned of Sabbath’s late 70s identity crisis, their parting of ways with Ozzy Osbourne, and Ronnie James Dio’s efforts to help salvage a band worthy of his prowess.  It couldn’t have been an easy road, and by all accounts wasn’t, BUT… the fruit of Osbourne’s dissolution, Dio’s post-Rainbow quest, and the Sabbath juggernaut’s need to produce a next record, was a pair of LPs blueprinting one way forward for metal: operatic vocal facility, pop-tinged melodies, subject matter less doom-and-gloom than dungeons-and-dragons.  With, of course, guitars fully and thunderously intact.  It was what Heart showed it could be with 1978’s “Mistral Wind,” and would be taken to its natural conclusion by Iron Maiden in the next decade; but, as the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal began to draw its borders as the 70s turned into the 80s, it was Black Sabbath, the original metal wellspring, still sitting in the center of the compass rose.

Of course, many die-hard Sabbath fans don’t acknowledge Dio’s Sabbath as the real Black Sabbath — a respectable point of view, in fairness, that such distinction can only come with the inclusion of Ozzy and in consideration of the first six, genre-defining, Sabbath LPs — and the band itself acknowledged this when reuniting for a tour and LP with Dio in 2007, calling themselves, naturally, “Heaven and Hell,” out of respect for both Dio and Ozzy.  But for a certain generation of us the Dio-led band was the gateway to Black Sabbath, with Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules (1981) jewels in the crown equal in quality heaviosity to the  First Six.  And it turns out that Dio’s here-be-dragons sensibility was just what Sabbath and metal needed: dramatic vocal flights, lyrical escapism, and a feel for the sheer cliff riffs.  I imagine too that his maturity (he was in his late 30s at the time, older than the rest of the band by at least six years) brought a steady, compositional, horns-flashing hand to a Sabbath dearly in need of it.  Dio would set a solo course soon after Mob Rules but would never stray far from the tone he set in his work with Sabbath.

From the flawless first side of Heaven and Hell comes “Children of the Sea,” the kind of fantasy piece Dio trademarked, where the story lines are drawn vaguely enough to appeal broadly, and are there, ultimately, in support of the Riff King, for if there is one true hero in the story of metal, it is and will forever be Tony Iommi.  Two versions here: the original studio take and, because it counts, the Heaven and Hell band version from 2007, with Dio, at the age of 65, still bringing every bit of showmanship to the legacy he was so justifiably proud of.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

Stained Class

It’s 40th year of Stained Class.

70s sort of form that bedrock of heavy metal, those initial rungs of a genre now riddled with thousands of sub-categories. With early Judas Priest we actually get to experience that seismic shift – how that relatively upbeat hard rock and electric blues start to exhibit darker tones. In other words, Stained Class provides numerous glimpses into the impending transformation of metal.

“The streets run with blood from the mass mutilation, as carnage took toll for the bell” – is definitely not characteristic blues rock Led Zeppelin or an Aerosmith take. Nor is that intense and multi-faceted– “You poisoned my tribe with civilized progress, baptizing our blood with disease” – lyrics which could be easily perceived as a commentary, critique or British sarcasm.

Scorching leads, layered and progressive dual guitar melody and that inimitable steely Rob Halford scream. All the vital components which would later shape 80s metal can be traced back to Judas Priest. Essentially, they accentuate the downtuned darker aspects of blues rock, and did that without significant deviation from that blueprint. Stained Class is part of that framework which directly leads to speed, progressive and power metal – essentially triggering a wave – still mutating and afflicting all corners of the civilized world.

By Sibuachu (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Southern Storm

Two seconds of those blast beats and we can instantly discern, Southern Storm is no misnomer. From the land of Sepultura emerged another prominent force — Krisiun — their extraordinary precision and extremity can be always a tad overwhelming. These compositions are like a complex death metal alloy, intricately structured on electric blues like shredding with over-the-top intensity. That steady hammer of drums can be daunting, and recede slightly only when getting carved up into slices by piercing guitars.

Rooted firmly in Terrorizer, Grave, Immolation and Nile school of old school death – Krisiun’s craft is flawless. They reflect all the essential deathly qualities — constant and subtle shifts in flow, melodic leads and demanding riff/drum patterns. Quite like Sepultura, this band of brothers consistently pushes musicianship to disturbing levels of fury. With songs titles like “Slaying Steel”, “Minotaur” and “Massacre Under the Sun” – lyrics undoubtedly become that last cowing piece of this technical death storm.

By S. Bollmann (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons


‘E’ is among the most brazenly progressive Enslaved records. Experimental keyboard passages, abrupt shifts in tempo and frequent bursts of those aggressive riffs, instantly reminding us of their Viking metal roots. Basically, art rock to symphonic prog to post-metal like atmosphere is effortlessly brewed with some inhuman screams. Not to mention the use of flute, a surprising jazz segment and a Norwegian electronic synth-pop cover.

Without completely abandoning their sonic extremity, Enslaved has carefully adopted some avant-garde progressiveness. Within these uncharted fields, it’s not surprising that they sometimes lurch between sheer greatness to downright peculiar. But for long time listeners there is nothing unexpected here. The band continues to walk their chosen path – constructing a curiously rich, polarizing, and at times uneven mosaic of progressive symphonies.

Dark Apostrophe at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Evil Divide

Heavy metal scene is actually swarming with cross-genre bands, and then there are a few like Death Angel. Over thirty years, and they still wield an uncompromising intense arsenal of old school thrash. Decked with stunning guitar harmonies, intricate progressions and ultra-thrashy riffs — ‘The Evil Divide’ is a new album with mid-80s sound. Thrash at its creative best.

With that NWOBHM train of break neck riffs and pristine melodic hooks, Death Angel is elegant and aggressively loyal to their founding roots. They are sort of unique in persisting with this age old musical terrain. As expected, most of their illustrious contemporaries have mellowed, and now fear to tread through these very furious paths.

By Fileri (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons