How One Song Linked Horror and Heavy Metal Forever

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Horror and heavy metal aren’t just relatives: they come from the same womb. There is one band, above all, that created the music genre we know as heavy metal, and that band is Black Sabbath. Sorry Led Zeppelin, yes you were important to the development of the genre (though I would posit Judas Priest as more important to what we know as heavy metal today), but it was singularly Black Sabbath who created it. Just listen to the opening doomy riff, the deep black void of a sound, of their eponymous song from their eponymous debut, Black Sabbath. Hear those evil, scary lyrics. I’ve often said on my radio show that the opening words of Black Sabbath are, as an artistic statement of intent, as a story opener and as a tone setter, the best in rock history:

 “What is this that stands before me?

Figure in black which points at me,

Turn around quick, and start to run,

Find out I’m the chosen one.”

Followed by Ozzy Osbourne’s terrified and terrifying scream of “OH NOOOOOOOO!”

The story continues, growing more and more demonic:

“Big black shape with eyes of fire,

Telling people their desire,

Satan’s sitting there, he’s smiling,

Watches those flames get higher and higher,

Oh no, no, please God help me!”

Black Sabbath, with their self-titled song, are telling a horror story with it’s own unearthly soundtrack. This song is a blueprint for what the band wanted to achieve. As huge horror fans themselves, particularly of the of likes Hammer, they wanted to make music that made people feel the same way as those movies made them and audiences around the globe feel. No one had ever really attempted to do this with music before. Sure, there was the wonderful Screamin’ Jay Hawkins with deeply voodoo inflected songs like I Put A Spell on You, but there’s undeniably an air of camp and fun to his output. Black Sabbath, however, aimed to be legitimately scary, and by Satan did they achieve it.

Even their name is taken directly from a horror movie, Boris Karloff’s 1963 Italian-French classic of the same name. You’ll even find plenty of heavy metal and horror fans sporting the same t-shirt featuring the film’s poster of Karloff’s severed, eye-rolling head at both metal gigs and horror cons across the world: it doubles as both a tribute to the original horror movie and the band who took their name from it. The first band of heavy metal is named after a horror movie and they sought to emulate the fear that those kinds of movies created. And so, setting the course for all metal bands ever to exist, they also ensured that heavy metal would forever be inextricably linked to horror.

“Is it the end, my friend?

Satan’s coming ’round the bend,

people running ’cause they’re scared,

The people better go and beware,

No, no, please, no.”

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