It has long been acknowledged that the origins of metal as a manifested form can be traced back to Black Sabbath. Nevertheless, there are serious discrepancies amongst several interpretations regarding the role of the classic band in metal history. Some consider them to be a proto-metal, that is, containing the seeds of what consider metal but not metal yet. Others regard their music as metal proper, but in a very basic stage. The stance sponsored by this article lies somewhere in between these two views, considering that some of the songs by Black Sabbath in their first two albums are, by all means, metal while others simply belong to an older genre, even though all bear the strong mark of the band.
War Pigs is an excellent collection in that the first seven , out of a total of eight, tracks represent the metal side of this, earliest Black Sabbath. Here we find so-called progressive tendencies in structure displayed by advanced forms of underground metal which are later attributed to seventies rock, although probably erroneously. We also find the longer phrases which characterize metal as a direct musical descendant of horror movie soundtracks which use Holst-like, modern romantic simplicity. The patterns in voice and percussion that will later develop into very distinct forms in a differentiated metal genre are also born of these early incarnation.
It is easy to overlook these aspects when Black Sabbath, as a child of its own time, still expresses certain musical gestures in the language of its peers. We see it in the amalgam of jazz and hard rock percussion, the blues soloing of the guitar, the rhythmic ostinato bass, and the gospel-like lament of Ozzy’s vocal curls. But what they build up to turns into something else entirely. This is due primarily for the emphasis on phrases. Lines no longer lie on top of chords, though a harmony may be implied, and metal’s propensity towards more modal playing is used to take motifs within riffs to the forefront of the music. Furthermore, the flexibility of song structures in these early Black Sabbath works cannot be overestimated. These do not seem to follow a fixed formula but are tailored to the characteristics and wants of every one of the compositions.
The music is minimalist in the sense that very few notes are used, yet it can and has been accurately described as “very clever”. It is heavy metal beyond what many acts that followed ten years later ever accomplished. This heaviness is given by the alternating use of very low and high notes that provide tension, and less frequent middle-frequency lines that tend to be more stable. Furthermore, it is the proper spacing between notes, and the patience with which each riff phrase and idea is exploited before its momentum is expended, that deals the final blow. It should not be doubted that half of the tracks on 1969’s Black Sabbath and most of the content in Paranoid should be considered metal of the highest caliber.
Songs to check out in detail:
- ‘Hand of Doom’ ( da capo aria ?)
- ‘Black Sabbath’ (progressive piece with two distinct sections ?)
- ‘N.I.B. (rondo ? —easily mistaken for verse-chorus)