It's a familiar refrain. You hear it at the end of every sports season when teams are asked the pointed question of whether or not they will rest starters and risk losing momentum before the playoffs begin. If there is anything equivalent to the playoffs in the doom blogging world it's the end of the calendar year. A time for best of lists and looks back. In truth, a time of increased traffic and increased workloads.
I took a couple of weeks off at the beginning of the year (after the "playoffs") and the truth is, it's been a struggle to get back up to full speed. I haven't been in "game shape". And so that old familiar refrain has proven true. The spirit is willing but the clock makes weaklings of us all.
One thing I always have time for however, is the first six Black Sabbath albums. Last week, I was on my way to work and had just finished listening to 'Not So Bad', the killer sophomore outing from Polish stoner band Naked Brown (you better believe a full review is coming!) and stuck for ideas of what to listen to next, I went to the old stand-by solution. I threw on "Into the Void" by Black Sabbath and chased it with 'Vol. 4' and got through the first half of 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' before my shift started. It ended up being a productive day at work. I was energized, excited and just felt good to be me, good to be alive. I was singing and head nodding on the break room deck, walking around, unable to sit down. Some 15 years after "discovering" the band, this is what Sabbath still does to me.
The truth is, the feeling I get from listening to those albums is nearly indescribable, but I'll try to do it anyway. If we all had somebody in our lives that made us feel this way after so many years, I think we'd all be truly happy and basically cut all the petty shit, be productive people and just get on with our lives. This may seem like a superfluous statement but I think Sabbath fans would all understand what I mean when I say, "fucking people, man! People!" Who among us Sabbath fans hasn't found (or at least tried to find) that quiet spot at the party, away from people, in the basement or on the porch or on the un-lit side of the house? Why? Because you just need a break from people, because you don't feel like being judged or pressured and just want to relax for a minute, collect your thought and be yourself. Basically, Sabbath makes me feel like it's okay to be me. Sure, I feel that way much of the time anyway, but those first six Sabbath albums make me feel like it's really okay and not just something that I take on faith.
I remember my redneck metalhead uncles discussing Black Sabbath reverently and with a twinge of fear or awe in their eyes when I was very little. The name and associated imagery along with my uncles's reaction to the band made me shy away from them for years. It's not that I wasn't interested, that I wasn't drawn to this dark, secretive music and its forbidden promises, it's that I knew I wasn't ready. Surely, this was evil, evil music. Just hearing it in the background might infect my mind with devils. Knowing that it was older, slower and heavier than the Venom's and Slayer's of the world just made it seem all the more unholy. This mysterious entity emerged like a chthonic god of the underworld at a time when feel good hits dominated AM radio. This was primordial heavy metal, it just had to be the most evil thing in the entire world. Without hearing too much of it I just knew it was too hardcore for my little mind to handle. So I latched on to AC/DC and Metallica, Faith No More and Guns n Roses. Safer stuff. But in the back of my mind I always knew I'd get there eventually.
My mom tried to raise us Christian and though she failed ... miserably, some of that stuff just never leaves you. If nothing else, she instilled in me a healthy dose of paranoia. When I was eight or nine years old she told me that the government was watching me through the TV screen. She told me that paper money and coins were going to be replaced entirely by "credits" or numbers on a computer and that in order to have access to my credits a future one world government was going to try to make me receive the mark of the beast, which I always imagined was a tattooed barcode on my forehead, and that it all had to do with a final war between God and Satan. Only those who didn't receive the mark would find their place in heaven. I only found out last summer that she was raised as a Jehovah's Witness until she became pregnant with my older brother at the age of 14. It seemed the community elders didn't take too kindly to the little miracle that was my sibling and she was summarily excommunicated for the act of life-giving. All of this goes towards describing my young mindset which was inquisitive, but tempered by superstition. I didn't "believe" in any of the stuff she told me, but I thought it a good idea to hedge my bets by not diving head first into the wrong side of the eternal struggle.
But by the time I was 17 years old, I knew I was ready.
I got my hands on the first album and "Paranoid" and there's been no looking back ever since. The music was incredible with a dark atmosphere like no one else and an otherworldly heaviness. The subject matter wasn't ao shocking to me though because I saw it coming. "Black Sabbath", "War Pigs", "Electric Funeral" and "Hand of Doom" were almost tame compared to my expectations. The shock came later, when I heard "After Forever" for the first time. Now that I didn't see coming. Being the age I was I hated the song at the time because it was pro-God and flew so much in the face of what I expected of the band. Maybe listening to Black Sabbath wasn't the most bad ass thing in the world I could do. The song is now one of my many favorites from the band and I've even grown to love it's positive nature. Matter of fact, it's almost the perfect song to capture and articulate the entire ouevre of Black Sabbath (or at least the first six albums) which is: Don't judge a book by it's cover and question everything, especially yourself.
And so, they are the perfect band for the introvert. The heaviness enshrouds you and comforts you in its darkness, creates a still, internal place where you can really examine yourself, the world around you and your place in it. Important stuff! You go this place with headphones and maybe dark sunglasses on and either your hair or a beer hiding your face. This is a place to get lost in, a place where it's okay, really okay to be who you are, even though you're still working on it. Above all else, though they are discussing some heavy topics there remains and overlying positivity to it, especially on "Master of Reality" and beyond.
15 years later and through all the changes I've gone through in my musical tastes and trying new things and new genres, Black Sabbath has remained the one constant. There are other bands that do similar things to me: the first four Metallica albums, Monster Magnet, Alice in Chains and The Beatles spring instantly to mind and perhaps even Nine Inch Nails if I ever listened to it, but Sabbath is Sabbath and I've never failed to observe it and keep it "unholy". They all do different things to me, but none of them are as "life affirming" as Sabbath. You go through life and you do your thing, you float through it doing your best and once you pass a certain age it doesn't occur to you that you need some kind of external boost until you get one. I'm as comfortable in my own skin as I'm ever going to be, but it still feels great to listen to The Six and have that deep seated belief that it's okay to be an outsider confirmed. The first six Black Sabbath albums (or "The Six" as I call them) are always there for me even when I'm not. Maybe you can't just turn it off and on like a switch, but The Six will always turn me on when I'm feeling uninspired. They are like a best friend, a constant companion, they are a part of my life and I couldn't imagine what life would have been like without them. That's the power of music.
Thanks for reading.