Birmingham’s Black Sabbath created horror heavy metal. Guest writer ANDREW GARVEY highlights five of their greatest (and spookiest) songs.
Named after a 1963 Boris Karloff film, Birmingham quartet Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward (and the seemingly hundreds of others joining and leaving Black Sabbath over the years) can lay a very credible claim to inventing horror-influenced heavy metal music. Here’s five of their very best and spookiest.
Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath, 1970)
A slow, heavy six minutes that simply reeks of foreboding (nicely enhanced by the church bells and the rain in the intro) this, the opening song on Sabbath’s first album, which was released on Friday the 13th in the UK, was genuinely shocking at the time. Picking up the pace for the final minute-and-a-half (much like the final showdown of a horror film) and with Ozzy Osbourne’s final pleading “no, no, please, no” sounding more convincing than the acting of hundreds of slasher movie victims, this may be the best, most cinematic of all scary songs.
Iron Man (Paranoid, 1970)
One of the band’s most iconic efforts, Iron Man tells of a time traveller who sees the future obliteration of mankind, but, unable to communicate, is mocked and ignored, eventually becoming angry and vengeful enough to destroy humanity, thereby fulfilling his original prophecy. This catchy tale of apocalyptic sci-fi/horror was predictably but fittingly used as the theme music for the (otherwise unrelated) 2008 Marvel film of the same name.
Children of the Grave (Master of Reality, 1971)
A perennial live concert favourite among Sabbath fans since the 70s, this boasts one of the most overtly ‘horror’ titles of any song ever written. However, this infectious, galloping tune is, like many early Sabbath songs (see War Pigs, Electric Funeral and Hand of Doom) an anti-war, anti-nuclear weaponry song. And considering atomic warfare is the most terrifying thing imaginable, the subject matter surely counts as ‘horror’.
Lady Evil (Heaven and Hell, 1980)
This list just wouldn’t be complete without something from the Ronnie James Dio era. A legendary heavy metal vocalist, Dio died of stomach cancer in 2010 after a singing career spanning six decades. In 1980 he replaced Ozzy Osbourne and the tiny, evil-looking singer with great stage presence scored a big hit with his first Sabbath album. This, its third song is a gloriously cheesy tale of witches and evil which includes at least two great lines – “there’s a lady they say who feeds the darkness / it eats right from her hand.”
Headless Cross (Headless Cross, 1989)
Two decades on from their debut, and with only Iommi still left from the classic early days, Sabbath were still banging on about Satan. In fact, the entire Headless Cross album seems heavily preoccupied with the occult. With lyrics about the Devil, witches, sacrifice, darkness and death, the title track’s spooky credentials were enhanced on the album’s live tour as every night the show opened with Ave Satani, better known as the main theme from 1976 film classic the Omen, segueing into a short Sabbath instrumental and then this.