A Look At Sabbath Bloody Sabbath 40 Years Later
When I interviewed all four original Sabbath members about this album for an essay in The Black Box: The Complete Original Black Sabbath (1970-1978), drugs came up often in discussing Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Ozzy told me, "Cocaine was a big thing — the evil f***ing cocaine. We were a rock and roll band meddling with drugs, and we ended up being in a drug band meddling with rock and roll. It took over."
Geezer Butler, who answered all of my questions via a seven-page fax, noted that their drug usage changed dramatically around this time: "We were using drugs as a necessity rather than for fun, and the cracks were beginning to show."
To make things worse, Tony Iommi was experiencing writer's block. The band returned to L.A., where they'd had a blast recording 1972′s Vol. 4. But while that album yielded metal anthems like "Supernaut," "Under The Sun" and "Tomorrow's Dream," this time around the City of Angels offered no inspiration. "We had a huge mansion in Bel-Air whee we all lived while writing and recording Vol. 4, and it was the most fun we ever had," Butler told me. "It was the ultimate extreme of sex, drugs and rock and roll, but with lots of laughter thrown in. When we went back, the atmosphere just wasn't there any more."
So the band packed up and returned to England, where Iommi rented Clearwell Castle in Wales to restart their attempt at recording album number five. They rehearsed in the dungeons "to get a vibe going." "That place was haunted, no question about it," Ward said. Iommi tells his own tale about experiencing an apparition, and Butler says that a presence in his room appeared after he'd locked the doors and windows. (Ozzy's response: "That's bulls***!")
Paranormal activity aside, the band found the vibe they were searching for, and it scared off the writer's block so fiercely that Iommi was able to come up with what may well be his greatest riff. "When Tony came up with the riff to 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,' it was almost like seeing your first child being born," Butler recalls. "It was the end of our musical drought. It meant the band had a present — and a future — again."
With Iommi on a musical roll, Butler was free to start on the lyrics, which came quickly based on their first few years in the biz. "The lyrics to 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' were about the Sabbath experience: the ups and downs, the good times and bad times, the rip-offs, the business side of it all," Butler said. "[The line] 'bog blast all of you' was directed at the critics, the record business in general, the lawyers, accountants, management, and everyone who was trying to cash in on us. It was a backs-to-the-wall rant at everyone."
Butler, an extremely underrated lyricist, covered a lot of ground on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, some of it more philosophical than autobiographical. Sabbath were often cast as "Satan worshippers" at the time, but anyone who believed that stereotype hadn't listened to the lyrics on "A National Acrobat": "Just remember love is live/And hate is living death/Treat your life for what it's worth and live for every breath." This was almost hippie stuff! "Satan was hardly ever conjured up in our lyrics, and when he was it was not in the religious sense, but in the sense that Satan was alive and well in the people who govern us, manipulating us and killing us in their wars," Butler said."
The band dove into more R-rated territory on "Sabbra Cadabra," a song Metallica would cover years later. The lyrics to that song were originally written by Ozzy Osbourne. Butler remembers, "His original lyrics were based on a sex tape we'd been listening to; in the studio where we were recording, they'd been recording English voiceovers on a German porno. Unfortunately, I changed them into a more 'acceptable' version."
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