Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

An in-depth lyrical analysis

The year was 1979, and I was just getting into rock music in a big way. Rainbow, Whitesnake, Led Zeppelin, Rush; they’d all just dropped on to my radar and made their presence known. Zep were about to bow out, but the remainder were in their heyday. I was hungry for new albums, but my favourite format – vinyl – was prohibitively expensive. At least it was for someone who had only just had his pocket money income increase to £5 a week. A typical album in those days cost £4.99 or £3.99 if you were lucky and got a deal. So, how to increase your library of music? One option was to sign up to the Britannia Music Club, which allowed you to buy four albums at £0.99 each (as long as you bought four more at full price.) I remember choosing Rainbow Rising, Rush’s Farewell to Kings, Jean Michelle Jarre’s Oxygene and Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. This was six years after the album’s original release and yet, to me, it seemed like an age ago, like the early seventies were akin to the Jurassic Age.

I hesitated before choosing SBS because Sabbath had a reputation of being devil worshippers. As the product of a fairly stringent religious upbringing, dare I dabble with listening to Satan’s music? Well, I was in my mid-teens, the years of rebellion, and this was my chance to grasp the nettle. I’d managed to brazen it out by watching Hammer House of Horror and the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, so what could mere sound-scapes of hard rock music threaten me with? On top of all this, the Sabs recording offered the lure of the forbidden. This mysterious four-piece was mentioned in hushed tones at school; one mate even describing how he had listened to the album just the night before and screamed out Ozzy’s accusation, ‘You bastards!’ from the title track. The die was cast.

These were the days of the gate-fold sleeve too. Which meant you could listen to the album while gazing at full size art work spread across four sides of cardboard. I’d spend hours just staring at the art, picking out small details, letting it evoke images and possibilities. Linked with the lyrics, this opened up a Pandora’s Box of delight and (in this case) dread.

This, then, is the back-drop to my treatise. It’s not so much about the history of its recording and production, or the shenanigans the band got up to at Clearwell Castle (although I’ll touch on these), but concerns the lyrical imagery and impact it had on one aficionado. If you want a broader account of the album, you can check out Wikipedia.

So, let’s provide a little context. This was Sabbath’s fifth studio album, and Tony Iommi recalls: ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was a real turning point for us. We started getting more involved in what we thought we should sound like, not what other people thought we should sound like. We had a good time in LA and we moved back there for Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, hoping to recreate the sound of Vol. 4. Musically, we liked that drug-oriented sound. [laughs] So we went back to L.A. and rented the same house, the same studio, the same drugs, everything. But we weren’t able to create anything there, so we returned to England. We started thinking the band didn’t ‘have it’ anymore, and we knew we had to do something to get ‘it’ back. So we rented an old castle in Wales (Clearwell Castle) and rehearsed in its spooky old dungeon. After we wrote “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” things just started coming fast and furious again.’

The art work itself, to me, is the best cover for Sabbath’s Ozzy-era material. It was produced by a Los Angeles artist named Drew Struzan. He became renowned for his work on famous film franchises, such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones. He was also responsible for Alice Cooper’s Welcome To My Nightmare. Struzan says the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath cover still generates interest and questions from fans the world over. Surprisingly, he didn’t hear the record until it was played in his design shop after he finished the project. The fact that the images mesh effortlessly with Sabbath’s music was serendipitous. His thinking was to depict an evil man dying on the front cover, and a good man’s last moments on the back. His final realisation was something that perfectly enshrines the essence of Black Sabbath—malevolence at war with man’s angelic nature. You can read a more in-depth article about Struzan here.

Part of the magic surrounding Sabbath’s approach to song writing is their ‘linear’ approach. Right from the initial strains of their first album, the songs would feature two, three or more segments blended together to give the sense of going on a journey. This was in contrast to the typical ‘verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, guitar solo, repeat first verse and fade-out’ approach employed by so many outfits. This meant that you were motivated to listen to the whole song intently. There was something to look forward to, like exploring over hill and dale, not quite sure what was over the next crest.

In this respect, the rhythm and pace of the track listing was important. Remember, I was a relatively impressionable mid-teen awed by Sabbath’s reputation, so the impact of hearing Iommi’s growling SG on the first track, linked with Ozzy’s malevolent high-pitched vocals was a punch to the gut right from the opener. You then have a slower, more ponderous National Acrobat with a heavier second segment, then an acoustic Fluff, followed by an insane Sabbra Cadabra. This contrasting light and shade approach gave a cinematic approach, akin to a horror film where you have long periods of tension building, segments where the Sabs lull you into a moment of respite, only to bombard you with their demonic riffery and bludgeoning rhythm section. This ‘musicality’ creates a much greater sense of suspense and impact compared with the death, doom and black metal that were later influenced by Sabbath. Thematically, the whole album takes in the concepts of life, love, death and what lies beyond. Pretty universal, right?

This being a ‘literary’ blog, I will give the most space to the lyrics. I must therefore talk about Geezer Butler, the band’s bassist and primary lyric writer. In short, the man is an inspired wordsmith and heavy rock poet extraordinaire. It speaks volumes to the man’s humility that when Ronnie James Dio joined the band circa 1979/80 he stepped aside to let the Man on the Silver Mountain take the reins. He was no mean lyricist himself!

Butler’s approach with lyric writing was to work with Ozzy closely. As he writes: ‘​I was quite good at literature at school and got an A-Level in English. In fact, I think I was the only one in the band who could read and write! I thought the lyrics to (the song) Black Sabbath weren’t that great to be honest, especially the ​‘Satan’s coming ​’round the bend’ bit. I always felt that was a bit weird. Ozzy would come up with off-the-cuff lyrics when we were writing the rest of that album. Of course, they didn’t make much sense, so it was left to me to sort the lyrics out.

‘It was trial and error. I wrote the lyrics that I wanted to write and then I’d give them to Ozzy. He’d sing them to his melody and if a certain word didn’t fit, I’d rewrite it or he’d rewrite it. But usually because I dealt in syllables, I’d fit each word that I wrote [to] match his syllables. So usually it was matched.’

I’m going to give a perspective that describes what I used to see in the lyrics, although my interpretation is probably wide of the mark compared with Butler’s initial motivations. A lot of the time, he would take a current issue such as the band’s frustration with managers and record companies, or his objection to war-mongers and dress it up with satanic imagery for effect. In fact the bassist himself is on record as saying, ‘Satan was hardly ever conjured up in our lyrics, and when he was, it was not in the religious sense, but in the sense that Satan was alive and well in the people who govern us, manipulating us and killing us in their wars.’

With that preamble out of the way, I’ll dive into the music track by track. I’ve listed the actual lyrics followed by my interpretations. It’s my hope that you’ll add your own perspectives in the comments. I’d be interested to know what you think.

The songs

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

According to bassist Geezer Butler, ‘This song is about the ‘Sabbath experience.’ The ups and downs, the good times and bad times, the rip-offs, the business side of it all. It was a backs-to-the-wall rant at everyone who tried to cash in on Black Sabbath, including lawyers. When Tony came up with the riff, it was almost like seeing your first child being born. It was the end of our musical drought. It meant the band had a present, and a future, again.

For me, this is a song that epitomises the ideal of ‘Light and Shade’ in Black Sabbath’s approach. It interposes lighter acoustic sections with the dirtiest, most evil sounding riffs played in drop D tuning. The quieter major/minor chord section lulls you for a while, and then Iommi’s riffing hits you like a battering ram when it returns after the chorus. The lyrics are quite something else too. Geezer Butler was amazing at evoking a sense of dread, and the absurd howling of the following stanza in Ozzy’s crazy voice makes the hairs at the back of your neck stand on end:

The song is essentially composed of two parts; the first built around one of Tony Iommi’s most classic chord sequences, followed by a second section of muffled, fuzz-tone riffery. Word must be mentioned here of Geezer Butler’s bass work. It is, in a word, chimerical. As if the god, Pan had picked up the four-stringed instrument rather than his pipes and used it to create the most devilish bottom end ever encountered in hard rock. Butler’s bass was always well up in the mix (something that many progressive metal bands could learn a thing or two from) and this aligned itself perfectly with Tony Ward’s kick drum.

Personally, I approached this song with the pre-conceived idea that it was about a descent into hell following the death of a less than virtuous mortal. In this respect, the insight that it was more about the band’s frustration toward record company executives makes more sense. But that doesn’t stop me from adding my own take.

You’ve seen life through distorted eyes

You know you had to learn

The execution of your mind

You really had to turn

 This first stanza raises the notion that we wander through life, viewing it through the prism of our own perspectives, and this hides the possibility of what lies beyond death, that maybe we while away our time on frivolous things rather than having an eye to eternity. Then, often unexpectedly, it all comes to an end.

The race is run the book is read

The end begins to show

The truth is out, the lies are old

But you don’t want to know

 This to me evokes the dread that the sands of time have run out, and the future is revealed in the second part of the song. You’re confronted with the truths that you’ve been avoiding all your life, yet still you don’t want to know — the enormity of the truth is much too hard for your mind to take. Who is revealing the truth at this point? Is it God? Is it the Devil? Either way, the person passing through the veil is not enjoying this confrontation. On my first time of hearing, these words chilled me. If this is in fact the reality of what lies ahead, will I be faced with an eternity of damnation like the chap on the front cover?

Then comes the ‘quiet section’

 Nobody will ever let you know

When you ask the reasons why

They just tell you that you’re on your own

Fill your head all full of lies

 This could be those that attempt to mislead you during your mortal life, or does this psychological torment continue even after death? Although it would be a couple of decades until it was written, the protagonist occupies a similar state to that of Shadow Moon in ‘American Gods’ (Neil Gaiman). He’s constantly questioning his place in the grand scheme of things, but instead he’s only offered half-truths, cryptic clues or vague descriptions.

The people who have crippled you

You want to see them burn

The gates of life have closed on you

And now there’s just no return

The first two lines are a natural line to take when faced with those who would torment you — whether in this life or the next. Yet you’re powerless once the gates of life have closed, and there’s no going back. This just underscores the sense of doom that pervades this track.

 You’re wishing that the hands of doom

Could take your mind away

 Better to be insane than to suffer this continual torment.

And you don’t care if you don’t see again

The light of day

 Oblivion — a total switching off of consciousness would be infinitely more preferable

 Nobody will ever let you know

When you ask the reasons why

They just tell you that you’re on your own

Fill your head all full of lies

A repeat of the chorus here.

 You bastards!

 Ozzy’s scream of protest — delivered as only he can.

 Solo Iommi adopts a very understated and melodic approach. No fancy runs up and down the fretboard. The discordant harmony part at the end underlines the chaotic frenzy of the assault on the protagonist’s mind.

There follows what I would call an interleaving piece (I’m sure there’s a musical term for it), announcing the transition to the next part. I love the sustained A chord here. Iommi’s guitar tone was never more evil.

 Where can you run to

What more can you do

No more tomorrow

Life is killing you

Dreams turn to nightmares

Heaven turns to hell

Burned out confusion

Nothing more to tell, yeah

 So here, the idea that the protagonist is suffering torture in the afterlife breaks down. This is clearly pointing to the torment one can suffer during life itself. It mirrors the sentiments of ‘Killing yourself to live’ on side two of the album. Yet, could it be pointing to the existence of a second life after death, where the worst parts of the first are repeated over and over again? This is indeed the stuff of nightmares.

 Everything around you

What’s it coming to

God knows as your dog knows

Bog blast all of you

 This nonsense phraseology sounded so blasphemous when I first heard it. To me, it seemed that the protagonist was cursing God himself for the predicament he found himself in.

Sabbath bloody Sabbath

Nothing more to do

Living just for dying

Dying just for you, yeah

 The eternal cry of the pawn, the tormented, the dispossessed. The ultimate indignity would be that one has to undergo this psychological torture over and over again.

Mention must be given here to the outtro. The pick scrape along Iommi’s strings must feature in the greatest pick scrapes of all time. It sounds like the plummeting of a hundred supersonic aircraft. His crazy soloing at the end elicits a feeling of eternal insanity.

Is it any wonder I found this track so horrific?

To see the accompanying video to the song. Check out this link. It’s not particularly dread-inducing and seems almost throwaway in nature. Basically the band goofing around in a wood.

Of course, the song has been covered so many times by heavy metal acts, e.g. Metallica. But one of my favourites is from an unexpected source – the Cardigans

A National Acrobat

In his autobiography, Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath, Iommi reveals that the initial riff for “A National Acrobat” was written by Butler, to which the guitarist “added his own parts.

Butler’s lyrics contemplated the mysteries of birth and DNA in ‘A National Acrobat’ and “Spiral Architect’, respectively.” “‘A National Acrobat’ was just me thinking about who selects what sperm gets through to the egg”, Butler explained in the liner notes to Reunion in 1998.

The lyrics describe the thoughts of an unborn child and, in the end, give some general advice about life itself.

There are a number of sub-themes brought here, all expressed in a psychedelically infused narrative: life before birth, the feeling of protection inside the womb and reincarnation. Musically, the pace is a little slower with a simple riff followed by both bass and guitar. Ward’s rhythm has a slight lilt to it if you listen carefully, lifting the music beyond what could be an overly monotonous dirge otherwise.

I am the world that hides

The universal secret of all time

 An intriguing opener. What is this universal secret? As we are about to find out, it is held within the womb.

Destruction of the empty spaces

Is my one and only crime

 This is one of those lines that I can’t find an interpretation to. However, it has a poetic ring to it. I treat this as the singer contributing to the sound-scape rather than trying to communicate anything literally.

 I’ve lived a thousand times

I found out what it means to be believed

 A reference to re-incarnation. It comes across as mysterious, however, because it’s as if the foetus in the womb is communicating at a level of consciousness and sapience that is not possible. Could it be that this exists in the womb but that it is lost at birth? This soul seems to have been viewed as some sort of seer or prophet in a previous life. They know what it is like to have others believe in them. These are the kind of things that a modern day guru might say to their acolyte followers. If they say it in an intriguing way. Wrapped up in poetry like this, then many will follow them. The lyrics operate at many levels — the mark of a genius word-smith.

The thoughts and images

The unborn child that never was conceived

 This stanza reminds me very much of Ronnie James Dio’s approach in many of his lyrics: that of reversal and paradoxical statements. How can an unborn child exist without being conceived? A virgin birth? Is this soul claiming godhood?

 When little worlds collide

I’m trapped inside my embryonic cell

 One of my favourite lines on the whole album. How often, in adult life, or when we are growing up, have we longed to be protected from the tribulations of the physical world. We long to go back to the time we were completely shielded from all this strife. Is it any wonder that when humans are severely traumatised, they adopt the foetal position?

And flashing memories

Are cast into the never-ending well

The name that scorns the face

The child that never sees the cause of man

The deathly darkness that

Belies the fate of those who never ran

 Could this refer to that notion of a superior intellect being subsumed just before birth? Those memories of past lives are lost and the nine month meditation of them brought to an end. The last line is particularly melancholy. Is this the experience of those who are never born? Those who are still birth or miscarried?

Here comes the change to the second part, followed by some vocal ad-libbing by Ozzy. Iommi employs the famous E7(#9) chord over a rhythm that has lots of breathing space in it. (Perhaps these are the empty spaces that were criminally destroyed by the MC in the first part? Then again, I’m probably over-thinking this.)

You gotta believe, yeah

I’m talking to you

 

Well, I know it’s hard for you

To know the reason why

And I know you’ll understand

More when it’s time to die

 Repeating the message of the first song. These same meditations will return at the close of life, only to be repeated at re-birth:

Don’t believe the life you have

Will be the only one

 This lyric echoes a similar vibe to Ted Nugent’s ‘Stranglehold’. During the mid-section, Uncle Ted says, ‘Some people think that they will die someday. I got news you never gotta go.’ Immortality or re-incarnation? We’ll let these heavy metal; greats agree to disagree on the nuanced differences!

You have to let your body sleep

To let your soul live on

 

I want you to listen

I’m trying to get through

 

Love has given life to you

And now it’s your concern

Unseen eye of inner life

Will make your soul return

Still, I look, but not to touch

The seeds of life are sown

Curtain of the future falls

The secret stays unknown

 So, despite the universal secret being available in this embryonic existence, we continue to search for it. Maybe that’s why we have to live our lives over and over again, allow the process to repeat until we reach enlightenment.

 Just remember love is life

And hate is living death

Treat your life for what it’s worth

And live for every breath

 Some basic advice from the seeker here. The best you can do is live your life with truth, sincerity and love, making the most of every minute until the curtain falls.

Looking back I’ve lived and learned

But now, I’m wondering

Here, I wait and only guess

What this next life will bring, haha!

 The final expression of mirth speaks to me of the Tarot’s Fool card in the major arcana. He steps off into the unknown with a look of carefree abandon. No point worrying about the future, we can only guess what it’s going to be like, anyway!

On first hearing, I felt a little relieved by the sentiments of this song. It holds out a kind of hope, based on Eastern style religions rather than the Judeo-Christian views of heaven and hell in the previous song.

Fluff

 This instrumental piece was named after DJ Alan “Fluff” Freeman. He was one of the few people on the radio who would play Black Sabbath songs. It was also used as outtro to Sabbath concerts during the Dio era. Apparently, it was even played at Tony Iommi’s first wedding, although the tape malfunctioned (much like his marriage a few years later.) Iommi was always able to come up with whimsical, melodic acoustic guitar parts: ‘Laguna Sunrise,’ the outtro to ‘Heaven and Hell’, the beginning of ‘Too Late’ to name but a few. This song features a harpsichord which gives a whole new dimension to the piece. Iommi played both this and piano, reflecting his willingness to try out new instruments (much more successful here than on his ill-fated attempts to master the bagpipes on the final track!)

Fluff provides a welcome and measured change of pace before the onslaught of the next track.

Sabbra Cadabra

Sabbra Cadabra is a love song written by bassist Geezer Butler and features a Moog solo by Rick Wakeman of the rock band Yes. Ozzy originally wrote the lyrics, but Butler later changed them. Producer Tom Allom used phasing effects at the end of the song to hide what we can imagine must have been pretty unacceptable things to say on records back in the 70s.

This is a love song, pure and simple. I love the driving rhythm of the first part of the song, and the transition to arpeggiated guitar in the second. The ending is perhaps a little over long, but then, it’s not everyday you get to jam with Rick Wakeman! Was this also the day that Led Zeppelin visited the band? Apparently Bonzo wanted to play drums on one of the tracks.

I’m not going to dissect the lyrics. They speak for themselves and aren’t particularly esoteric:

Feel so good I feel so fine

Love that little lady always on my mind

Gives me lovin’ every night and day

Never gonna leave her, never goin’ away

 

Someone to love me

You know she makes me feel alright

Someone who needs me

Love me every single night

 

Feel so happy since I met that girl

When we’re making love it’s something out of this world

Feels so good to know that she’s all mine

Going to love that woman ’til the end of time

 

Someone to live for

Love me ’til the end of time

Makes me feel happy

Good to know that she’s all mine

 

Lovely lady make love all night long

Lovely lady never do me wrong

I don’t wanna leave ya

I never wanna leave ya

Anymore

No more

 

Lovely lady, mystifying eyes

Lovely lady, she don’t tell me no lies

I know I’ll never leave ya

I’m never gonna leave ya anymore

No more

Killing yourself to live

This is an all-time favourite of Sabbath fans, and rightly so! As with many other songs on this album, we’ve got not two, but three parts to it, each blending perfectly and acting as a vehicle for the lyrics.

Officially, Killing Yourself to Live talks about the craziness and futility of the music industry, it also describes the rockstar life the bandmates were living at the time. Apparently, Butler composed the tune while he was receiving treatment in hospital for kidney problems caused by heavy drinking. One can only surmise that Sabbath carried massive resentment toward those who controlled their music, management and marketing. This theme carried over into the next album (Sabotage), most notably on their song, The Writ.

You can hear a live version of this song played at the 1974 California Jam supergig here. But it’s the studio track that benefits from all the overlays and touches that bring the track to life.

Well people look and people stare

Well I don’t think that I even care

You work your life away and what do they give?

You’re only killing yourself to live

 An experience shared by so many. It could be your boss at work, your family, your girlfriend or your record company.

The chorus that follows features that staple descending chord sequence prevalent on tracks such as Black Sabbath, Iron NIB, Iron Man etc. It’s amazing to me that Sabbath could have repeated this device in so many different forms without it getting old and tired.

Killing Yourself To Live!

Killing Yourself To Live!

 

Just take a look around you, what do you see?

Pain, suffering, and misery

It’s not the way the world was meant

It’s a pity you don’t understand

 A jaded view of the world here. Not that you’d expect anything else from Sabbath!

Killing Yourself To Live!

Killing Yourself To Live!

The first solo delivered by Iommi occurs here

I’m telling you!

Believe in me!

Nobody else will tell you

Open your eyes!

And see the lies!

Oh yeah!

A similar transition as we saw in Sabbra Cadabra  occurs here. The change of pace with swelling drone keyboards adds extra atmosphere

Smoke it!

Get high!

I wonder what Ozzy’s entreaty could be about here?!

You think that I’m crazy and baby I know that it’s true

Before that you know it I think that you’ll go crazy too

 There’s another interlude sequence here which seems to conjure up the sense of soaring above the clouds, or maybe through a dream scene. However, the pace really speeds up for the next section. I reckon that Motorhead must have stolen/acquired the lick here to use in their song, Bomber. The similarities are too close to dismiss. However, Sabbath can’t complain. Iommi has admitted that their Paranoid riff was stolen from Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused (which in itself was stolen from Jake Holmes’ song of 1967.

Everyone has their breaking point. The pressures and influences cause you to feel that you’re going insane. So much so, that it’s no wonder many find refuge in narcotics. It’s well known that Sabbath indulged in a host of drugs, ranging from pot to cocaine to speed. My guess is that the next two stanzas might well have been influenced by a judicious dose of LSD:

I don’t know if I’m up or down

Whether black is white or blue is brown

The colors in my life are all different somehow

Little boy blue’s a big girl now

Despite their nonsense nature, I just love the craziness of these lyrics.

So you think it’s me who’s strange

But you’ve never had to make the change

Never give your trust away

You’ll end up in paying till your dying day

 Trust — hard-won or easily given? It’s a dangerous path to tread, and the lyricist has obviously been bitten many times.

Another guitar solo. This time two twins, playing blues scales against each other, panned in a sweeping manner from left to right. This really adds to the psychedelic vibe.

Finally the ending riff, punctuated by the double kick/tom beats from Ward’s drums.

Who are you?

This song was originated by Ozzy Osbourne on a moog synthesizer. There’s a completely different atmosphere created here. The pace is ponderous, the mood sinister. There are echoes of the dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Some see this as the protagonist wanting to show how world leaders underestimate the people, thinking that everyone is ignorant to see the truth and understand their real intentions.

There are many layers, however; and I see this from the viewpoint of an oppressed soul, railing at the powers that be, or some overlord, or God himself.

Yes, I know the secret

That’s within your mind

You think all the people

Who worship you are blind

You’re just like Big Brother

Giving us your trust

And when you have played enough

You’ll just cast our souls

 

[Chorus]

Into the dust

Into the dust

 Isn’t this the very nature of an omniscient, omnipotent God? Someone who knows literally everything, even the decisions we will make. Someone who is powerful enough to prevent suffering but seemingly unwilling to do so. The ultimate chess master.

You thought that it would be easy

From the very start

Now I’ve found you out

I don’t think you’re so smart

I only have one more question

Before my time is through

Please, I beg you, tell me

In the name of hell

 

[Chorus]

Who are you?

Who are you?

This seems to be less of a query from the curious; more an accusation: Who are you to presume to visit your depredations and machinations upon us? When I was in my teens, this was transgression of the highest order. Question God and his will for your life? Dare to gainsay his divine right to manipulate mankind for his ‘greater glory? I hardly dared think on these words, but I must admit they laid a seed that started me questioning my assumptions.

The song could have gotten monotonous if it wasn’t broken up by the mid-section. Ward’s drum beat at the end is reminiscent of a pre-battle scene with its rolling snare. Does it signify the underdogs taking up arms to throw off the yoke of their oppressor?

The song ends with a repeat of the previous verse.

Looking for today

Some might class Looking for Today as filler? It’s certainly a well-crafted, almost ‘pop’ song, the like of which Sabbath were very capable of delivering. It’s upbeat, with a major feel to it, despite the disconsolate nature of the lyrics. It reminds me of songs like Never Say Die and Walk Away from later Sabbath platters. I think these interstitial songs are necessary as they provide a pause for breath, only appreciated when one listens to an album through in its entirety.

This song sees a return to Sabbath’s pre-occupation with the sins of the music business and how most acts get maybe a couple of days of fame before becoming outdated and obsolete.

I’ll not offer a full dissection here. Only that the song’s theme can be applied to anyone who understands that life’s pleasures are fleeting. National Acrobat exhorted us to live life for every breath, but remember, all things pass. Musically, we have another descending chord sequence. This also forms the final outtro, overlaid by Iommi’s soloing.

It’s complete, but obsolete

All tomorrows become yesterday

In demand, but second-hand

It’s been heard before you even play, yeah

Up to date, but came too late

Better get yourself another name

You’re so right, but overnight

You’re the one who has to take the blame, yeah

 

[Chorus]

Everyone just gets on top of you

The pain begins to eat your pride

You can’t believe in anything you knew

When was the last time that you cried?

Yeah-ay-ay-ay, yeah!

 

[Verse 2]

Don’t delay, you’re in today

But tomorrow is another dream

Sunday’s star is Monday’s scar

Out of date before you’re even seen, yeah

At the top so quick to flop

You’re so new, but rotting in decay

Like butterfly so quick to die

But you’re only looking for today, yeah

 

Everyone just gets on top of you

The pain begins to eat your pride

You can’t believe in anything you knew

When was the last time that you cried?

Yeah-ay-ay-ay, yeah!

 

[Refrain]

Looking for today

Looking for today

Looking for today

Looking for today

Looking for today

 

[Verse 3]

Listen!

Glamour trip so soon to slip

Easy come but, oh, how quick it goes

Ten foot tall, but what a fall

Hard to open, yet so easy to close, yeah

Front page news but so abused

You just want to hide yourself away

Overpaid, but soon you fade

Because you’re only looking for today, yeah

 

[Refrain]

Looking for today etc.

Spiral architect

The sister song to National Acrobat. In fact, I often interchange the titles when I’m not thinking clearly.

From Wikipedia: Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi originally attempted to play bagpipes on this track by simply going out to a music store, buying some, and bringing them back to the studio. The experiment was not a success: after struggling to fill the instrument’s bladder with air, the band tried using a vacuum cleaner to inflate it. No luck there either. Tony was not destined to become a bagpipe player in a single day, and after wasting a bit of valuable studio time they scrapped the idea.

The Sabs also shipped in an orchestra, but Ozzy’s attempts to explain what he wanted them to play like some sort of mad conductor were met with quizzical expressions. He had no written music to give the orchestra, so he just hummed the part and they picked it up.

In Butler’s words: “‘Spiral Architect’ was about life’s experiences being added to a person’s DNA to create a unique individual. I used to get very contemplative on certain substances. I still do, but without those substances.”

Others have noted that this song might be about maintaining hope in a grim, difficult world. The value of not losing perspective in life. While the world can often seem like it is falling apart around, we should always strive to understand what is good about our lives.

I think the song goes even deeper than this. It is sheer lyrical brilliance. Ozzy recalls the circumstances of its inception: “I said [to Butler], ‘We need the lyrics to this song, do you have them?’ He says, ‘Give me an hour.’ So I called him in an hour and he said, ‘Sorcerers of madness, selling me their time/Child of God, sitting in the sun, giving peace of mind/Fictional seduction on a black snow sky, sadness kills the superman, even fathers cry’. I said, ‘Are you reading these out of a fucking book?’ I was mind-boggled!” When Butler stated that he wrote it lying down in his garden Ozzy, laughing, said, “Can I buy your garden?”

The intro features another of Iommi’s acoustic segments. Soon after hearing this, I learned it on my own nylon strung acoustic. It was easy to pick up but yet sounded so cool — like so much of Iommi’s creativity. He saw what so many saw, but dared to play what no one else would play.

And so, to the lyrics:

Sorcerers of madness selling me their time

Child of God sitting in the sun, giving peace of mind

Fictional seduction on a black-snow sky

Sadness kills the superman, even fathers cry

 This first stanza could easily have been written by Jimi Hendrix or Joni Mitchell with its ‘Child of God’ references. I’m not going to offer any literalistic meanings here. The words simply flow, creating images that blend with the melody and overall musical backdrop.

[Chorus]

Of all the things I value most of all

I look inside myself and see

My world and know that it is good

You know that I should

 In contrast to Who are you, the protagonist (a personification of DNA?) here is in control of their destiny, not dictated to by some external force. The phrase ‘know that it is good’ has echoes of God’s words in Genesis — ‘He saw that it was good.’

[Verse 2]

Superstitious century, didn’t time go slow

Separating sanity, watching children grow

Synchronated undertaker, spiral skies

Silver ships on plasmic oceans in disguise

 Sometimes poetry and lyrics become so interwoven with the music that they need to be hammered into a plastic, amorphous synchronicity. For them to be made coherent would detract from the overall work. This last verse illustrates the point magnificently.

[Chorus]

Of all the things I value most in life

I see my memories and feel their warmth

And know that they are good

You know that I should

 

[Instrumental Bridge] – Let the orchestra of madness hold sway!

 

Watching eyes of celluloid tell you how to live

Metaphoric motor-replay, give, give, give!

Laughter kissing love is showing me the way

Spiral city architect, I build, you pay

 Apart from the chorus repeat, the last line of this verse concludes the story; and what a way to end. A typical ‘reversal’ again. Normally you pay the architect, but in this organic city it’s the builder that receives the money. Whether this is just or not is immaterial. Apart from any meaning, real or imagined, the very combination of words seems uniquely satisfying.

There’s a false ending to the song that reminds me of Van Halen’s Women and Children First album and the final song, Love in a Simple Rhyme. It has the effect of giving the sense that the music continues, even though the listening experience on this spiritual plane is over. Death and rebirth ad infinitum.

Writing this, forty years after first hearing Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, my philosophy and spiritual perspective has changed somewhat. My atheistic outlook accords more with Dio’s Heaven and Hell than the traditional imagery of good and evil as portrayed in this album. I think God and the Devil are played out in our every day lives. We make our own Heaven and Hell, as it were. That said, the lyrics penned by Butler are so written that one can apply more or less any interpretation and mode of thinking that you would care to apply.

A final exhortation: Buy the album. I only have a CD player now. I would love to be able to play the vinyl again but a typical record now costs more than £20 — and I thought the prices were exorbitant in the late seventies!

All songs on SBS are credited to Butler, Iommi, Osbourne and Ward reflecting the joint contributions they all made to these tunes.

I am grateful to comments left by users on the Genius.com site. I have used input from these, in addition to Wikipedia, for extra detail. Here are the links:

https://genius.com/Black-sabbath-sabbath-bloody-sabbath-lyrics

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabbath_Bloody_Sabbath

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