What you get and what you see
Things that don’t come easily
Feeling happy in my pain
Icicles within my brain
So begins the first verse on ‘Snowblind‘, succinctly capturing the essence of the most unassumingly seductive of Black Sabbath classics. It is a song of big, discrete ideas, on an album that follows the same philosophy, in no small measure spurred on by the hedonistic excesses of a young band on the rise. A quilt patchwork of themes, with no right to work as well as they do, come together of will, or altered states of consciousness, becoming irreplaceable and unforgettable to the greater score. The doom persists, undeniably, and so does the attitude, but it is now as a rich, seething vein under a more expansive ambition, a bastard of 60s psychedelia and nascent heavy metal thunder that suits the hopeless nihilism of the lyrics.
Life’s an illusion, good things exist only as prelude to the bad, people let you down, substances might help you to get through till they, too, turn on you, but, ultimately, you only have yourself to fall back on in an unfeeling, uncaring universe. Before the other-dimensional writings of H.P. Lovecraft came to be widely embraced by heavy metal bands, Black Sabbath articulated much the same premise, in a more egoistical, everyday manner. Resignation is followed by a spurt of self-empowerment is followed by realization is followed by resignation, again. Is followed by death. Every Black Sabbath album during their glory phase was a constant battle between the best and worst of human tendencies, and all the flaky stuff of life that goes in between.
Sinuous bass, muscular drums, riffs from Thor, and a banshee’s sad wails, all descriptors that can be applied to any Black Sabbath album with the classic line-up, but is there not an even more pronounced sense of desperate urgency and paranoia to the band’s performance as a unit, here? Hear how ‘Snowblind‘ picks itself out from its middle to reassert the original refrain with supplementary mellotron, hear how the bookending codas ‘The Straightener‘ and ‘Every Day Comes And Goes‘ break off from the main thread and foist their own narratives as if they couldn’t give any less of a fuck, as if what they had to say couldn’t be held in any longer. Hear ‘Supernaut‘, for the love of God, the irrepressible precursor to ‘Killing Yourself To Live‘!
So many bands have copied the plodding power chords of Black Sabbath, yet no one but no one has been able to reproduce the composite whole of their sound, and therein lies the futility of mindless aping. Events as they originally transpire are left far behind in the rear-view mirror, existing all by themselves in an isolated pocket of time with its own idiosyncrasies. Modern technology gives us the opportunity to revisit those events and make something more than just wistful memories of them, but this is like the video transmissions that might belatedly reach a spaceship moving ever further away from its home planet. Those events don’t belong in our immediate time frame, the actors involved have long since moved on, what we are, in fact, witnessing is history and a snapshot; and history, by definition, is static as soon as it “comes into existence”. In it is inspiration to be had and the eternals to be appreciated, undoubtedly, but the present is its own entity and needs solutions tailored to its unique dynamics.