Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nativity in Black

What if the devil fell in love and decided to clean up his act? Surely out of all the bands out there, he would most appreciate Black Sabbath telling his story, as they did in "N.I.B." on their self-titled 1970 debut album. They took their name from a Boris Karloff horror film called Black Sabbath after guitarist Tony Iommi noticed people lining up around the block to pay to be scared, and with that revelation, music history was forever changed for the darker. Black Sabbath basically defined heavy metal as a genre, with its sludgy tempos, tuned-down guitars, and lyrics dealing with horror/occult themes. 

While heavy metal lore has long held that "N.I.B." stands for "Nativity in Black," and three Black Sabbath tribute albums have been released with that name, the writer of the song, bassist Geezer Butler, swears it was a nickname for their drummer Bill Ward, whose beard looked like a pen nib. The song's storyline is unambiguous, though: "My name is Lucifer," Ozzy wails in the verses, "please take my hand." 

Even though many of Sabbath's songs deal with scary stuff, however, most are scary in much more realistic ways than "N.I.B." Songs such as "Children of the Grave," "War Pigs," and "Paranoid," are about non-violent revolution, the horrors of war, and mental instability. Their lyrics often shared peace-loving sentiments with the hippie/folk culture, but the head-on way they faced the despair and menace they saw in the world peeled away flower power's cheerful veneer and unveiled its angry underside.

After releasing eight classic albums, the band gave Ozzy the boot in 1979 because of his drug abuse and he went on to a stellar solo career. Black Sabbath continued with various singers and musicians, but in recent years, the original line-up has reunited for shows and just released their first studio album with Ozzy since 1979, titled 13. Forty-plus years ago, who would've thought these scruffy guys from Birmingham singing a love song about the devil would still be making music together today, or that they would've changed the course of music history? But they are, and they did.

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