“What is this that stands before me?” Fifty years ago when rock and roll turned seriously dark, heavy, and metallic

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It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the fact that, this year, Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut album turns 50. It’s also hard to wrap one’s head around the seismic impact this record and this band would have on modern music.

“We knew instantly that ‘Black Sabbath’ was very different to what was around at the time,” guitarist Tony Iommi says of the piece that gave the group its name.

“We always wanted to go heavier than any other band,” bassist Geezer Butler says.

“I thought the song would be a flop, but I also thought it was brilliant,” drummer Bill Ward says. “I still think it’s brilliant.”

“When we played that song for the first time, the crowd went nuts,” Butler says.

Half a century has passed since Black Sabbath first scared the bejesus out of rock fans with their eponymous anthem. The song opens with the sound of a powerful thunderstorm and ominous church chimes before crashing into its lumbering, iconic riff. The guitar chords lurch seismically, each one like a gut punch before quieting down just enough for Ozzy Osbourne to paint his own vivid portrait of fear — “What is this that stands before me/Figure in black which points at me?” It’s a scene so unnerving that he eventually pleads to the heavens, “Oh, no, NO, please God help me,” before the guitar riff and church bells come around again to strike him down. “Is this the end, my friend?” he wonders aloud. The six-minute horror vignette was spooky yet thrilling, and the song, “Black Sabbath,” would serve as the prototype for a genre poised to captivate the world.

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