My upcoming heavy metal horror novel An Augmented Fourth owes a lot to the band Black Sabbath. Not only because Frivolous Black - the fictional band at the center of the novel - is an obvious analogue to the Sab and not only because my main character goes by the name Codger Burton. Which - case you’re not too steeped in Sab facts – isn’t too different a name from one Geezer Butler, the bassist and usual lyricist for Black Sabbath.
That’s just the scales on the surface of this thing, the real reason that the music of Black Sabbath is in the blood and bones of An Augmented Fourth is because of what listening to that band has done to my imagination throughout the years.
While Codger Burton and Frivolous Black (Friv to all the diehards) started out as stand-ins for Geezer and company they mutated into their own entities very soon into the writing process. Which is what happens whenever I write a composite or full on analogue type of character or entity. That’s the fun of analogues, they’re similar to their source material but only as much as you want them to be. The rest you get to fuck around with. You keep the best or core attributes of a thing and then go crazy with whatever else unburdened by what isn’t important to you. Might be the reason why I’m generally more interested in Superman analogues than Supes himself.
But no matter how far off my characters might grow from their initial inspiration what remains unaltered in this project is the mood and the world that Black Sabbath at its best puts you in. Black Sabbath to me is one of those perfect bands – which isn’t saying they haven’t made a bad song (they have) or a shitty record (oh lord yeah) but more often than not they work perfectly. They deliver exactly what I want from them and more. And I’m not talking about my preconceived expectations of what their sound is after listening to them for years and years. No, I’m talking about the first time I heard “Paranoid” or “N.I.B.” or “Children of the Grave” and how the song took me somewhere and each destination was exactly where I needed to go. Each riff, each melody, each solo, bass line and drum fill landed just right. Right, not precise. They could be sloppy, or tight as a pin, whatever the song wanted or needed. I have a thing with art (We’re not exclusive, feel free to ask them for their number) where as I’m experiencing it and letting it unfold sometimes choices made by the work don’t agree with me or I feel like they could have been done better or differently. Say you’re watching a movie or reading a book, you’re enjoying it but then the work takes a wrong turn and you’re like, well shit, I wish they would have done (blank) instead.
Actually a lot of my ideas for stories come from just that: What if that story did this instead of that?
But back to Sab, the band seldom disappointed in this manner. Especially the first five records. They came through over and over again. And a lot of the time they did something even better then come though: they exceeded expectations. They’ve made musical, artistic choices that I never even saw coming. Ones that I could never even dream of and that were better than what I previously imagined possible.
They made moving, original and innovative work that was socially relevant and entertaining. What else could you want from a band let alone art?
Example of when one of their songs opened up into something more and blew away what I was expecting; their song “Children of the Grave.”
It opens with a dark, muted and bubbling guitar that builds up and finally spills over until the gates are crashed and the whole band charges in behind it. Beautiful. So far we have an exceptionally catchy riff and a galloping sort of feel; great start. Could be perfectly perfunctory if they left it at that. But they don’t. The next thing you hear is a second drum rolling around beneath the main beat that opens the song up into some almost tribal texture. White Zombie would later cover this song and really expand on these drums aspects. On top of this you have an excellent plaintive but pissed off vocal from Ozzy with some of Geezer Butler’s best and most anthemic lyrics:
Revolution in their minds the children start to march
Against the world in which they have to live
And all the hate that's in their hearts
They're tired of being pushed around
And told just what to do
They'll fight the world until they've won
And love comes flowing through, yeah
Seriously if you aren’t nodding along or straight up banging your head to this then you are a neckless wreck who has never known love nor the comfort of scarves. Really, you’re like the opposite of a snake which is just upsetting. But after all this Sab isn’t done blowing your fucking mind. Tony Iommi drops a savage guitar solo that goes full supernova at the song’s conclusion, squealing and screaming louder than God stepping on a Lego.
Where does listening to “Children of the Grave” take me? It’s like watching a lost early 70s horror crime movie masterpeice. Like if Dawn of the Dead and Dog Day Afternoon shacked up together and had a mutant baby (Dog Day of the Dead? Dawn of the Dog Day? Afternoon of the Dead? Dawn of the Dead Dog Afternoon! There we go, nailed it!) and this movie was about fighting corrupt cops and overthrowing the government and getting out of Vietnam. But also monsters. Always monsters.
But sometimes listening to “Children of the Grave” doesn’t take me anywhere, it just makes me reflect on what’s happening now in the world and how little has changed. The young are still sacrificed by the old to fight and die in wars and worlds which aren’t of their making. And they are still fighting despite this to “show the world that love is still alive, you must be brave.”
And then there still other times when I look beyond the lyrics and just feel the passion, anger and search for hope that’s there in the music alone.
And that’s just one of Black Sabbath’s songs. You see why I had to write a book after listening to them, right?