Every Metal Subgenre Began as a Black Sabbath Song

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Some people out there argue that heavy metal was not invented by Black Sabbath. These people are wrong. To be sure, the Led Zeps and Deep Purples of the world certainly had their metallic moments, but it wasn't until Tony Iommi sheared off his fingertips in a metal stamper and down-tuned his guitar to compensate for this maiming that a new and sinister strain of rock and roll was truly sired.

Now, it's a fact that Sabbath didn't consider themselves heavy metal — not at first, anyway. They viewed themselves simply as putting a slightly new twist on the thunderously heavy blues-rock pioneered by the likes of Cream. There's a lot of truth in that self-assessment. But not even Clapton and co. can claim quite the broad influence on rock and roll that Black Sabbath has produced.

Need proof? Well, how's this for a premise: Practically all of heavy metal's 18 jillion, multifaceted subgenres can be traced back to a specific Black Sabbath song. In cranking out nearly an album per year back in the '70s, the band did a lot more stretching and exploring than they're sometimes given credit for. The result is that they managed to create an entire heavy-metal universe, one track at a time.

They didn't do it alone, of course, and today's metal is as rooted in hardcore punk as it is in '70s hard rock. But the seeds are there.


"Into the Void," 1971
Let's start with an easy one. Nowhere in the wide, wacky world of heavy-metal subgenres is Black Sabbath's influence more keenly felt than in doom metal. The band's slow grooves, down-tuned guitars and murky riffs embody the style to this day. The eerie spirit of impending doom on their early songs remains the template for the majority of doom metal's modern practitioners. "Into the Void" is a particularly good example of the doom metal sound from Master of Reality, but it could easily be replaced on this list by any number of tracks from the band's first few albums.

"War Pigs," 1970
Black Sabbath wouldn't truly lead the charge toward power metal until Ozzy was replaced by Ronnie James Dio, one of the preeminent operatic voices in rock history. But the predilection for power was there almost from the very beginning. "War Pigs," possibly the greatest anti-war screed ever set to a backbeat, ranks as one of the most spine-tingling songs in heavy-metal history thanks largely to the most powerful vocal performances of Ozzy Osbourne's long career. It doesn't get a lot more anthemic than this one. If you needed any additional proof of the profound influence of "War Pigs" on the formation of the power metal subgenre, consider that it was a favorite cover tune of Dio's pre-Rainbow group, Elf.

"Symptom of the Universe," 1975
Sabbath infinitely preferred a slow, rumbling sound to high-octane speed. Almost nobody had more influence on the powerful guitar riffage that was the hallmark of thrash metal than Tony Iommi, however. The chugging crunch of "Symptom of the Universe" clearly predicts the rise of bands like Metallica and Slayer in the decade to come, not to mention Geezer Butler's lyrical themes dealing with evil, war and, uh, dirty women that were employed throughout the group's run in the '70s.

"Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," 1973
A gore-obsessed outgrowth of thrash metal, death metal retains almost none of the blues-based rhythms in which Black Sabbath trafficked. Thematically, though, Sabbath's influence still looms large. The song "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," with its lyrical allusions to "living just for dying," strongly hinted at the attraction to oblivion that would be cranked up significantly by early death metal bands in the '80s and early '90s. Not to mention the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album cover! Seemingly scientifically engineered to freak out your mom, the artwork depicts a terrified man tormented by demons on a bed evidently possessed by Satan himself. It set a benchmark for horrifying imagery that death metal bands are still trying to outdo today.

"Black Sabbath," 1970
Black Sabbath never sounded anywhere near so ugly and extreme as the earliest practitioners of black metal did, but there's no denying that their influence is present. In particular, there's black metal's fascination with Satanism: While never expressing overt sympathy for the devil, early Sabbath flirted heavily with the Adversary; never more so than on their signature tune, "Black Sabbath." The song was constructed around a tritone, a dissonant musical interval derided as diabolus in musica (the devil in music) since at least the 18th century. The song's moody, cinematic opening, full of heavy rain and droning church bells, would also heavily inform the softer, more atmospheric strains of black metal that would arise in the genre's second wave.

"After Forever," 1971
The Satanists weren't the only rockers finding inspiration in Sabbath's music and lyrics. While they typically preferred to explore the dark side of the struggle between good and evil, Geezer and the gang weren't above occasionally inserting Christ and the Church into their musical morality plays. The song "After Forever," in fact, makes the claim that "God is the only way to love," and scolds nonbelievers for their faithlessness. While no one has ever called Black Sabbath "Christian rock" with a straight face, there's no doubt the band throws in solidly with the light side on this tune. Lord knows it rocks a damn sight harder than Stryper, too.

"Changes," 1972
Birmingham, England, is a hell of a long way away from the Sunset Strip, and while Tony Iommi has rocked a few questionable poodle-dos in his day, nobody has ever confused Black Sabbath with Poison. That doesn't mean their contributions to the now-reviled subgenre known as hair metal can be ignored, however. Though Sabbath's dark, sludgy sound was a far cry from the upbeat, overdriven L.A. style of '80s metal, they did practically invent one of the hair bands' most infamous tropes: the metal power ballad. "Changes" would be ripped off by a slew of teased and permed groups in the '80s, from the plaintive vocals right down to the piano accompaniment. Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home," for instance, could have never existed without it.

"Sweet Leaf," 1971
Black Sab loved the herb as much as they loved any other drug — which is to say, quite a lot. Marijuana smoking was damn near universal at their '70s concerts, with the band's deep, slow grooves matching up with weed's pleasant effects like peanut butter and jelly. An out-and-out love song, "Sweet Leaf" cemented the connection between banging and stoning very early on in metal's development. Its sound has been replicated and expanded upon by the likes of Weedeater, Electric Wizard and other dojah aficionados. The song remains a cherished staple of the band's live show today, and it's possibly the most-covered tune in Black Sabbath's history. Draw your own conclusions.

"Behind the Wall of Sleep," 1970
Sabbath aren't thought of as a particularly funky bunch, despite their preternatural ability to lock into deep grooves. While they'll never be confused with James Brown, they did have their moments — the funkiest of which can be found on their debut album. In addition to the irresistibly bouncy "N.I.B.," Black Sabbath contains the song "Behind the Wall of Sleep," a riff-sterpiece featuring a sublimely funky drum break by Bill Ward. How funky? Well, funky enough to be sampled by the likes of Outkast, Beck, Too $hort and the Fugees, among others, according to WhoSampled.com. Not a lot of funk metal bands can claim to have influenced a roster of hip-hop artists that talented. Pretty much none, I'd say.

"The Writ," 1975
Much of Black Sabbath's heyday coincided with the rise of progressive rock, and though they were never a part of that scene, they were certainly touched by it. Hell, as a hard rock band in the '70s, it was hard not to be. Particularly as the decade wore on, Sabbath toyed with some proggier elements — even adding a Moog synthesizer to tracks like "Who Are You?" and "Sabra Cadabra." For my money, though, "The Writ" from Sabotage stands alone as the first truly progressive heavy metal song. Coming in at more than eight minutes, the weird, lengthy song is notable for providing the first glimpse of the more dynamic vocal range that Ozzy would later employ to great effect on his '80s solo records.

Black Sabbath and special guest Andrew W.K. perform tonight at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Gates open at 6:30 p.m.

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