What is this that stands before me? Heavy Metal turning fifty.
February 13, 2020 8:48 AM   Subscribe

On This Day in 1970, Heavy Metal was born with the release of the song 'Black Sabbath' on the album Black Sabbath by the band Black Sabbath. 50 years later, the band reflects on their groundbreaking debut.
posted by robocop is bleeding (57 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
The gravity and atmosphere of this album is singularly awesome. The packaging, the vibe, the auditory landscape. I've often wondered what it would've been like to hear for the first time upon it's release. I declare a multinational holiday to celebrate.
posted by Liquidwolf at 9:37 AM on February 13 [18 favorites]


Somewhere around 28 or 29 years ago, I walked into a record store with 20 bucks in my pocket, and there was Black Sabbath on CD on the sale rack for $9.99 or $11.99 or something like that (i.e., cheap for a CD at the time). I bought it, brought it home, and proceeded to have my mind blown.

And I've still got that disc.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:58 AM on February 13 [6 favorites]


The packaging, the vibe, the auditory landscape.

Yes! I love the witchy vibe of this era of early British metal. It feels truly ominous and, well, evil in a way that later generations of "satanic" heavy metal could never quite capture. Those bands always seemed corny and try-hard by comparison.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:02 AM on February 13 [9 favorites]


Came into Black Sabbath with Master of Reality after a couple of years grooving on the Beatles, and Jesus, was my shit blown away. Blasting Sweet Leaf out of my room, my parents must have thought the gates of Hell had opened up or something. What a magical time.
posted by e1c at 10:05 AM on February 13 [5 favorites]




About two years ago, my wife peeked me watching an old performance of Sabbath and said, "Holy shit, young Ozzie was hot." And dark, honey, and dark.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 10:26 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


It seems rare and special to me that a whole (sub)genre can be given such a specific date of birth with a specific song. I wonder if there's any other similar situations with other genres, or if anyone seriously contends for a different birthpoint of Heavy Metal?
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:29 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I listened to this album a few weeks ago for the first time in a while, and it rules as fuckin' hard from start to finish as it ever did, especially "N.I.B.". Years ago, back when you could still find used cheap vinyl with former owners' names written in ballpoint pen on the sleeve, instead of expensive-ass represses, I lent the LP to a friend of a girl I was kinda seeing and never saw it again, which is one reason it's not in rotation as much as other Sabbath records.

One of the many things I love about this album is that the almighty Flower Travellin' Band covered "Black Sabbath" the same year it came out.

Of course, the greatest Sabbath tune ever came a couple years later, but that's a discussion for another time.
posted by heteronym at 10:32 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Métal hurlant was 1974. And Heavy Metal was 1977. But I know you're talking about music.

Personally, I loved early heavy metal music, but as it progressed (and I got older) it just became noise.
posted by valkane at 10:35 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


The first time I heard the song Black Sabbath, I was actually really spooked by it. This early live performance is just amazing.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 10:43 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]


it just became noise.
And therein lies at least some of the glory of heavy metal.
posted by heteronym at 10:45 AM on February 13


if anyone seriously contends for a different birthpoint of Heavy Metal

None of it occurred in a vacuum; the Yardbirds doing "I'm Confused" is pretty fucking metal, and before that was The Kinks doing "You Really Got Me." In the States we had Roky Erickson and 13th Floor Elevators.

Black Sabbath is still probably the beginning of what most people would consider metal, and this is one of those albums that, however ridiculous, just never gets old for me.

Personally, I loved early heavy metal music, but as it progressed (and I got older) it just became noise.

Glorious noise.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:50 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]


I wonder if ... anyone seriously contends for a different birthpoint of Heavy Metal?

Absolutely; Deep Purple, Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, Steppenwolf, and many others were all playing loud distorted blues before 1970. And if you want satanic imagery, Oz Osborne, and Black Sabbath, along with 🤘, you might want to look into Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, by Coven. Don’t let that “One Tin Soldier“ song fool you; they were the real deal. Plus it’s kind of cool to think that a woman started heavy metal.
posted by TedW at 11:09 AM on February 13 [11 favorites]


Sabbath rules. Imagine seeing them in Paris 50 years ago, just before Paranoid came out. I mean holy smokes.
posted by saladin at 11:13 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Don’t get me wrong; I love Sabbath; Paranoid is one of my favorite albums ever. But it is fun to revisit some older music and see the genre of heavy metal coalescing; for example, King Crimson with future ELP member Greg Lake shouldn’t be too metal, but here you go.
posted by TedW at 11:19 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Oh yesssss, that Coven album. In particular, that last track. I had no idea it predated Black Sabbath. KISS! THE GOAT!
posted by phooky at 11:30 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


It seems impossible, but even Billy Joel was on this wavelength in 1970. His proto-metal band Attila (a duo!) on youtube.
posted by Harry Caul at 11:38 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]


Maybe I'm too literal, but i always tied the birth of heavy metal to the line "heavy metal thunder" in Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild".
posted by willnot at 11:41 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


It seems impossible, but even Billy Joel was on this wavelength in 1970. His proto-metal band Attila (a duo!)

Oh no, someone just played that for me about a month ago for the first time. It's hard to believe that's him and because it's him I just can't seem to like it. I know that's not fair of me. But it's mediocre as an album on it's own anyway isn't it?
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:41 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Listening to it now for the first time probably since the '80s. Still sounds pretty great.
posted by octothorpe at 11:42 AM on February 13


But it's mediocre as an album on it's own anyway isn't it?
In retrospect, yes. But pretty innovative and out there for it's time. Especially with the Piano Man at the helm.
posted by Harry Caul at 11:43 AM on February 13


One thing that being exposed to the awesome Bill McClintock mashups on youtube has done is make me realize how much I like the instrumental part of metal. I mean, the lyrics are fine, often fairly silly and over-the-top, but the music itself rocks in a way that a lot of other (perfectly cool) "rock" doesn't. I mean, arguably, this mashup of "Who Are You?" and "Paranoid" (using The Who's vocals and Black Sabbath's music) is the tastier peanut butter cup resulting from mixing the two tasty originals.
posted by maxwelton at 12:04 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I mean I know it didn’t come literally from nowhere. All genre birth stories are a little messy when you dig enough. I guess I’m more interested if any other songs/albums have such genre-beginning power, especially lasting for a say a decade or so in hindsight. Probably not the best thread for that discussion though :)
posted by SaltySalticid at 12:06 PM on February 13


Brit of an age to pick up on this when it came out. This is absolutely not the birth of heavy metal though it may, for some, be the first metal album you heard. There were many metal bands formed in the 60s, Atomic Rooster, Uriah Heep, possibly Hawkwind, arguably Led Zeppelin though perhaps they were more heavy blues. All of these, along with Sabbath were known on the live circuit before 1970. This is one of those cases where a musical style emerged from live performance and Sabbath got to release the first well known album in that style just before the others

I would pick Steppenwolf's "Born to be wild" in the previous year as perhaps the first heavy metal record but the already mentioned "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks is frequently cited as the origin of heavy metal and that was 1964.
posted by epo at 12:10 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Genre' birth happens slow.... a slow start here [SYTL)] with the tune Iron Butterfly Theme, at Fillmore East in 1968.
posted by swlabr at 12:16 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


It seems rare and special to me that a whole (sub)genre can be given such a specific date of birth with a specific song. I wonder if there's any other similar situations with other genres

A case could be made for The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," insofar as it introduced a nascent underground genre to a mass audience.
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:22 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


Maybe the Prodigy's Firestarter for Big Beat as well?
posted by Harry Caul at 12:25 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I love Sabbath, and was really happy to see them the last time they came through Toronto (which will probably be their actual last time here), but I definitely don't think of them as the originators of metal (Led Zeppelin's first album came out more than a year earlier, and as people have mentioned upthread, Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, Deep Purple, etc. are all easily on the leading edge of that).

Also interesting to me upthread is how it intersects for folks with stuff like The Kinks' "You Really Got Me," which I tend to think of as being more on branch of rock that came from garage/bubblegum and would eventually become punk.
Personally, I loved early heavy metal music, but as it progressed (and I got older) it just became noise.
I went the other way. I listen to 10x more metal at 40 than I did as a teenager, although I to tend to be more into the stoner/witch/sludge/doom metal spectrum. Elder, Blood Ceremony, Graveyard (the band from Sweden, not the one from Spain), True Widow, Heilung (sort of), etc.
posted by Fish Sauce at 12:32 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


There were many metal bands formed in the 60s, Atomic Rooster, Uriah Heep, possibly Hawkwind

But none of those bands preceded Sabbath.
And yes Cream had some riff heavy tracks in the late 60s but no other band had the absolute sonic heaviness and tone that Sabbath did at this time. Deep Purple didn't really start being that heavy until 1970. Budgie and Zeppelin came close at times.
When someone says Sabbath started metal I think they mean that Sabbath started a specific sound along with an image which defined Metal thereafter.
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:42 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Another great starting point for metal, on top of the already excellent suggestions made in this thread that point to the many forces at play in the genre that weren't Black Sabbath, are acts like Lucifer's Friend, which were Sabbath's contemporaries.
posted by jordantwodelta at 12:57 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Sabbath didn't precede them because all these bands emerged at the same time. Progressive rock was a very broad church in the beginning (before it disappeared up its own a*se). Indeed I wonder if Sabbath's satanic gimmick was just a pose to differentiate them from all the very similar bands which were around at the time.
posted by epo at 1:01 PM on February 13


Exit Planet Dust was a full two years before Fat of the Land from Prodigy, and Better Living Through Chemistry beat it by a year, too. Big beat was already huge in the UK by the time Prodigy had transitioned from hardcore.
posted by jordantwodelta at 1:01 PM on February 13


(If you like musical genre history, check out the No Dogs in Space podcast. They're doing a series on punk at the moment and just finished a 4 episode deep dive into Iggy Pop and/or the Stooges.)
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:07 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


1993 Me also believed heavy metal more or less began with Sabbath, but was then informed by a very angry proto-hipster that heavy metal was in fact invented by the Beatles, specifically with the song Helter Skelter. This was followed by the general implication that I should never pretend to know anything about music ever again.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:11 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Indeed I wonder if Sabbath's satanic gimmick was just a pose to differentiate them from all the very similar bands which were around at the time.

It's been reported that Warner Bros pushed a lot of that Satanic Occult image onto them, then they later played it up to some degree.
posted by Liquidwolf at 1:12 PM on February 13


SaltySalticid: I wonder if there's any other similar situations with other genres, or if anyone seriously contends for a different birthpoint of Heavy Metal?

This is a great question, and I'm intrigued to see if anyone can come up with watertight examples. My suspicion is that genres cannot form from a single example, much like trends have to be drawn between a minimum of two data points.

My best suggestion for an instigator might be Sister Rosetta Tharpe for rock and roll, but I'm not sure.
posted by Acey at 1:23 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


I think Sabbath gets it for the birth of Heavy Metal because their first album as an Oops, All Berries! moment. While there had been crunchberries of metal in previous rock, Black Sabbath was the first widely released album to go all in.

I always thought it was funny that they were accused of being baby-munching devils when it feels like half their songs are about the fear of nuclear war or the dangers of drug addiction.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:38 PM on February 13 [11 favorites]


Indeed I wonder if Sabbath's satanic gimmick was just a pose to differentiate them from all the very similar bands which were around at the time.

I seem to remember Ozzy complaining in the early eighties that no one ever accused Vincent Price of being a satanist. He was pretty upfront about it just being a gimmick.
posted by octothorpe at 1:56 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I probably shouldn't say this out loud. I like early Sabbath just fine, but I prefer Dio era Sabbath.
posted by COD at 3:12 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


Please don’t say that out loud. The children might hear.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 4:13 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I probably shouldn't say this out loud. I like early Sabbath just fine, but I prefer Dio era Sabbath.

I wouldn’t want to have to choose between the two, quite frankly. Because Dio fuckin’ rules generally speaking.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:44 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


Who has Headless Cross? Who had Headless Cross? I have Headless Cross.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 5:40 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Something about Live Evil. Wish they would have attempted The Wizard on their live album.
posted by Increase at 6:10 PM on February 13


I’ll suggest Bardo Pond for the earliest post-rock.
posted by sjswitzer at 6:42 PM on February 13


In the early 70s, I knew youngsters into heavy metal. Black Sabbath, especially. It was a culture, even in small towns. Not a happy one, but I may be misrembering things. Everyone has happy times. But the kids were indiscriminate in their drug/alcohol intake, and rebellious in a pretty amorphous manner. That sludgy trudgy sound was a product of the post-hippie world.
posted by kozad at 6:45 PM on February 13


The Cars? Somehow I feel like The Cars are accidentally the answer to this conundrum. WTF Ocasek? Was New Wave your fault? Slash legacy? Ack.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:47 PM on February 13


before that was The Kinks doing "You Really Got Me."

I vividly remember the music press circulating the theory that "You Really Got Me" was in fact the first heavy metal song. This was 1981 and The Kinks were about to headline the Reading Festival on top of an otherwise more or less completely heavy metal lineup, and I think the organisers were keen that the audience shouldn't stone them to death on stage with beer cans.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 11:40 PM on February 13


Dave Davies got that fuzzy sound by slashing his amp's speaker cone with a razor. That's pretty metal.
posted by epo at 3:00 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


ahem, wiki even has a page of all the metal pre 1970
posted by readyfreddy at 3:13 AM on February 14


One thing that being exposed to the awesome Bill McClintock mashups on youtube has done

See also Andy Refehlt's reworks of songs, like the metal version of Call Me Maybe which turns into a perfectly serviceable Lacuna Coil song, or the jazz version of Raining Blood.

is make me realize how much I like the instrumental part of metal. I mean, the lyrics are fine, often fairly silly and over-the-top

The thing about (lots of) metal is that it occupies basically the same niche as sorta-weepy woman-singer-songwriter, in the sense that both are these just painfully earnest and sincere expressions of concerns that resonate with young-adolescent boys'n'girls. Black Sabbath = musical Judy Blume.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:34 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


. There were many metal bands formed in the 60s, Atomic Rooster, Uriah Heep, possibly Hawkwind, arguably Led Zeppelin

None of these are metal. At best they're hard rock.

Black Sabbath was the first band to take all those proto-metal vibes and coalesced it into its own musical form, moving firmly away from the mainstream of rock all those bands stayed in.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:12 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Actually, let's be clear on this because it happens so often: it's not enough to be metal just to have heavy or rawer guitars and drums. So much of what people want to call early metal is just looking back from Sabbath and finding bands who did some of that.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:16 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Liquidwolf: It's been reported that Warner Bros pushed a lot of that Satanic Occult image onto them, then they later played it up to some degree.

Yeah, that's my understanding too.

Here's Bill Ward talking about the label decisions around some of the artwork.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:28 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


\m/ \m/
posted by gottabefunky at 9:41 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Birth-of-metal debate aside, one thing I think we can all agree on is that there's never been another riff as heavy as the one that kicks in at 3:19 in Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:17 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


So much of what people want to call early metal is just looking back from Sabbath and finding bands who did some of that.

Of which there are plenty of examples and a demonstration that Sabbath did not invent the genre, either in whole or in part.
posted by epo at 12:22 PM on February 14




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