Analyzing Black Sabbath’s impact on heavy metal.

The funny thing about heavy metal is that it really becomes tribal at some points.

Black Sabbath

Just like with any other tribal lore, we tend to kill our heroes. We tend to cannibalize our history to fit narratives that mirror political realities.

Music is very political. I am not talking about politics in terms of conservatives and liberals, or free market and socialism. I am not talking about politics in that respect. Instead, I use that term to reflect the in-group and out-group dynamics of any music scene.

You have to remember that music fans do grow up. When they grow up, they are no longer active in the scene. They no longer buy magazines. They are not buying records. They don’t go to the shows. So a new generation takes their place. It happens all the time. This is the musical circle of life. Tell me something I don’t know.

Part of this chain of regeneration, death, and creative destruction is a sea change in the attitude of the fans. This is the whole in-group vs. outgroup, legit vs. poser dynamic plays out. When an older group established the parameters or the style requirements of a particular genre of music, there will always be a group that will follow them that may not fit or may not subscribe to those ideas. What happens then?

This is the background to keep in mind why for the most part heavy metal sub-genres don’t really think all that far back as far as the musical DNA that enabled their particular version of heavy metal to even be born. This really is too bad because Black Sabbath, which was formed by Ozzy Osbourne and others, really laid the foundation for heavy metal.

They focused on Satanic symbols and played upon the whole rock-music-is-evil mindset more as a joke. I mean they knew that it was a joke. They were trying to scare people just to make money, but they loved that heavy sound that they came up with.

so a lot of that sense of humor was lost in translation as generation after generation replaced the old guard and this tongue-and-cheek reference to Satanic symbolism, forbidden music, hidden meanings, and sexual innuendo were pretty much taken as Gospel. It’s kind of like waking up one day and finding out that your fan club took your jokes and turned them into serious literature. Of course, part of this is covered up because of, again, the political in-group and out-group dynamics.

If you’re looking for the real impact of Black Sabbath on heavy metal, there you have it. It’s kind of like it’s trapped by heavy metal’s own literalism. They don’t really see a bunch of goofballs playing around with “forbidden symbology” to create a dynamic, inspiring, and awesome musical genre.

So I hope it is obvious to you what the big challenge is. There will always be purists who will say, “This is the only way to read heavy metal. These are its limits. This is what defines it.” However, pay attention to how they define it because it may be dogmatic literalism. A lot of the wit, the sense of humor, the instability, and the commercial sarcasm was basically filtered out and you have this new dogma.

On the other hand, there are the Nihilists. These are the people who just say, “Well, Black Sabbath doesn’t matter. The past doesn’t matter. Heavy metal is all about what we think about it and how we play it now.” It’s very interesting to see the interplay between these two schools of thought.