Ginger Nuts of Horror
Things hit you differently based on your age, and the age of the world when the impact occurs.
1982 America was a much different beast than the one in which we now live, as the country still clung to a hopeful, purposely naïve outlook that would soon be punctured by various internal and external forces, never to be the same again. But back then, in those first shaggy days of the ridiculous 80s, we the people were blissfully dumb and insulated. Or at least I was - a dumb, scared, awestruck little boy.
Consider the backdrop of the year: After decades of bloody conflict, the United States wasn't (publically) at war. Ronald Reagan was in his second year of his first term, still the actor with the reassuring smile and "aw-shucks" mannerisms. The radio was playing "Eye of the Tiger," Wonder and McCartney's "Ebony and Ivory," and "Hard For Me To Say I'm Sorry" by Chicago on a three song loop. At the cineplex, the feel-good story of a wayward botanist alien, pasty British guys running on the beach, and a sassy musical about the joys of prostitution ruled the screens in between showings of Rocky Balboa still kicking ass for the secret pride of all white people. Nighttime soaps about the obscenely rich and a series devoted to a talking, crime-fighting Trans Am clogged the television, paid for by Masters of the Universe and the Bye Bye Diapers Doll. After the gritty, dismal 1970s, the hair spray and toothpaste smile of the spandex 80s was just gearing up, and economic positivism, military industrialism, and a nasty case of American exceptionalism was on the rise. Like I said, it was a different time.
I was ten years old in 1982, barely a decade on this planet, and my molecular structure was still pink and pliable and deeply in the clutches of Evangelical Christianity, which grew like a weed in open soil during those blissfully dumb days (digging deeper into the ground to find new water in each year that followed). Naturally, with the threat of eternal hellfire dangled over my head like a flaming Sword of Damocles every waking hour of my life, I was strongly - and naturally - attracted to dark and arcane things that would most certainly spell my doom (like, say, such profanities as Dungeons & Dragons or Heavy Metal Magazine). This incessant pull toward the shadowlands terrified me, but to a greater degree, also thrilled me. I'd repeat my salvation prayer each morning, then go set out for the local hobby shop for lead figurines and Savage Sword of Conan comics.
Based on a short lifetime of Biblical teaching, I was increasingly preoccupied with fantasy and horror, gods and monsters, angels and demons and Lucifer himself, thrilled by the possibilities and the danger of it all. In 1982, out in Nebraska farm country, those things were best found in rock 'n roll music, that exotic import from far off lands ruled by mad deities of distortion, darkness, and a middle finger extended to quivering piety.
Over the course of the previous decade, two older siblings had already introduced me to bands like Led Zeppelin, KISS, Pink Floyd, The B-52s, Kansas, ELO, Boston, The Cars, Cheap Trick, Rush, and a variety of others in that vein. I obsessed over this music, the bands, and especially their album covers. The artwork was what set the tone for each band, giving me a glimpse into what was really going on beneath the guitars and drums, and those lyrics I could barely understand. Church propaganda had already informed the congregation that rock music was rife with agents of Satan, hiding in plain sight, spreading their disease via FM radio, seedy record stores, and live shows that amounted to public black masses. And the clues were everywhere, if one only knew where to look. KISS, with their monster makeup, blood, fire, and platform boots, were clearly performing under an acronym that stood for Kings In Satan's Service. Canadian fantasy nerd rockers Rush, with their willy-nilly use of pentagrams, were employing the same clever dupe, as Rush (R.U.S.H.?) actually stood for Right Under Satan's House. AC/DC's Highway to Hell and Meatloaf's Bat out of Hell were less coy in their intentions ("Hell" is right there in the title of both, for crisssake!), with the former featuring Angus Young sporting devil horns and spiked tail, and the latter a muscled longhair bursting from a graveyard on the back of a horse skull motorcycle, with a massive, demonic bat looking on the background. Even 60s flower power metalists Led Zeppelin were on the infernal payroll, skillfully employing "back-masking" on "Stairway to Heaven" so that the properly initiated could spin the record in reverse and hear something that sort of resembled the phrase "My sweet Satan" after the 47th attempt.
The Devil was everywhere, the Satanic Panic crusaders told us, and especially in record stores, waiting to unleash the underworld into the unsuspecting (or most likely fully suspecting) brains of children across the great Christian nation of the United States of America. Naturally, I loved it all and listened to it all, looking for the signs. It was tough sledding, with very little results, but I kept searching, looking for that proper vein that would firmly connect me to the source of all corruption.
My quest came to an end the day my brother brought home a cassette he most likely filched from the mall. The name of the band was Black Sabbath, which I had never heard of before. Black Sabbath? Good Christ, they're not even trying to hide it!
Oddly enough, as a child of the 70s, I had never heard of Black Sabbath until I heard Black Sabbath. At the time, I had no idea that Ozzy Osborne was their founding singer, that Tony Iommi played the way he did because he was missing parts of his fret fingers due to a factory accident, that they were founded in 1968 as a blues band in the rivet-tough English steel town of Birmingham (a year later changing their name, inspired by the Karloff/Bava film "Black Sabbath"), or that they weren't practicing Satanists who got together to write songs in some sort of religious tribute to Lucifer. Why would you name your band Black Sabbath if you weren't a Satanist? This was a more literal time, mind you, and I at a much more literal age.
The title of the album was "Live Evil," which - literally - confirmed everything I needed to know. I looked at the cover art, and was transfixed by the images. The mob rules figure, swaddled in Tatooine robes and holding a whip. A screaming man imprisoned in a straight jacket. The horrifying image of a pig in Vietnam era helmet and uniform, clutching an M-16. The golden glowing angel and the crouching devil.
This was the real shit. I'd found the jugular to Hades, and I wasn't sure I was ready.
My brother slid the cassette into the double tape boom box, pressed play, and leaned back on his bed, seemingly unconcerned about what he was about to unleash. Across the room, I was sitting bolt upright, unfolded liner notes in my lap, eyes and ears wide open and mind open wider, and waited for it to begin.
"E5150" set the stage, with odd, otherworldly atmospherics priming the listener for what was to come. It sounded like something large and evil rising from the sea, ascending to join its kind raining down from the heavens. I was locked in.
This initiation was cut off by the first high hat shimmers of "Neon Nights," which introduced me to the voice of Ronnie James Dio, whose grandiose, operatic style was edged with a metal snarl, while Iommi showed that he has always been more than just thundering grooves with an impressive solo.
Next came the droning guitar of "N.I.B.," offset by soaring vocals, and the first lyrical sledgehammer blow was delivered to my fragile salvation. When Dio sang "My name is Lucifer, please take my hand," I felt myself pushed back against the wall. Everything was confirmed in that moment. The band name, the album title, that artwork, all of it was legit. These were Satanic verses set to a metal soundtrack, and I grinned with a guilty, nervous pleasure that embarrassed me. I was obviously an awful person, with the fate of my eternal soul on the line, and the fact that I was willingly taking this risk was as freeing as it was horrifying.
"Children of the Sea" brought me back to the music, where I found my first taste of Lovecraftian weirdness before I knew what I was dealing with. The lyrics sent my mind spinning with possibilities, tapping into a thirst for cosmicism I never knew I possessed.
And then came "Black Sabbath," a song that furthered the communiqué with Satan started with "N.I.B." Swirling guitar and chimes served as a prelude to a roaring siren signaling the end of the world. The music faded back, clearing room for this desperate lament of the doomed, a final journal entry of a regretful soul who made a pact with the Devil that had finally come due. On the day of payment, Lucifer comes to collect, smiling and laughing as the flames grow and the last call to a spurned God goes unanswered. This was horror fiction. No, to me, at that time, this was HISTORICAL fiction. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, or what I was feeling. To this day, "Black Sabbath" has stayed with me as the most transformative song I heard that day back in 1982. It was horrible. It was glorious. "Black Sabbath" on Live Evil made me a Black Sabbath fan, a fan of Ronnie James Dio, and a fan of horror. All horrors, but especially those that cross the physical and dimensional veils.
My atoms still humming and turning things over inside, the dual dystopian dirges "War Pigs" and "Iron Man" stood up from the speakers like rusted steel girders, bones of ruins and charred glory, while "The Mob Rules" proved to be mostly forgettable. "Heaven and Hell" took me from side one to side two, which - even finishing with the epic "Children of the Grave" - isn't as notable in my memory, including "Paranoid," which has since become one of my favorite Ozzy/Sabbath songs. It doesn't suit Dio as well.
Side two is a bit of a blur, but the first side of Live Evil has remained with me since that day in the bedroom I shared with my brother, in the house built by my great grandfather on the rolling plains of eastern Nebraska. Those songs, hit me at just the right time, when my brain was aligned in the perfect way to receive an album such as this, allowing for maximum impact of the music and the message. I would soon discover bands like Slayer, Judas Priest, King Diamond, Deicide, and the kings of Satanic marketing, Iron Maiden, but Live Evil by the band that truly started it all, that has birthed and/or influenced so many of my favorite groups to this day, will forever live on deep inside me as that first glimpse of the truly dark. And flamboyantly so. Proud of their heresy. That was huge to me. Transformative. Now, it was all a bit of fantasy and cool occult symbolism to main lyricist and bassist Geezer Butler, but how it was interpreted by those who listened showed the power of the written word, when framed against a particular backdrop. Religions have risen and failed by this, wars started, genocides unleashed. The illusion is real if one wants to believe it.
And I believed it then. Back in those silly, dumb days of 1982, the (im)properly prepared mind could morph blue collar, pint-swilling, steel town rock and rollers into Satanic high priests. Looking around, in this age of hyper self-awareness, cynicism, nihilism, and the furtherance of rationalism, those blissfully dumb days are most definitely still with us, as is the written word, and the thoughts and feelings and actions they can inspire. Because of the framing. The context.
Maybe it will always be 1982, two years prior to our Orwellian end. Luckily, I'm no longer that dumb, scared, awestruck little boy, although enough of him remains inside me to keep things interesting.
You’ve nothing to say, they’re breaking away, If you listen to fools, the Mob Rules
November 4, 1981, saw the release of Black Sabbath’s highly anticipated tenth studio album. Mob Rules was the second and last with Ronnie James Dio until he returned for the Dehumanizer album in 1992. The lineup included Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio and Vinny Appice who replaced Bill Ward after he suffered a heart attack. It was mixed by Martin Birch who had worked with Iron Maiden, Deep Purple and White Snake. Ronnie James Dio ended up being offered a contract for solo work after the success of the previous album, Heaven and Hell, which created a feeling of separation amidst the band. Entering the studio there was already a shift in the balance of power that made working together strained which some claimed was apparent in the final product. It was revealed years later that during the recording of the first Album with Dio, Heaven and Hell, Ronnie and Iommi had worked mostly separately on it so when they came back together to work on Mob Rules the relationships were pushed to the point of nearly snapping. A tour followed and in 1982, during the mixing of Live Evil, Ronnie James Dio and Vinny Appice parted ways with the rest of the incarnation of Black Sabbath.
Mob Rules, was admittedly an awkward album to record for the band, who were all struggling with personal conflicts, and was met with mixed reviews but spawned some real gems that are truly unforgettable, like the title track Mob Rules, which was recorded for the soundtrack to the cult classic movie, Heavy Metal. There was also Voodoo, Turn up the Night and the classic The sign of the southern cross. In 2010 a deluxe edition was released with a bonus limited edition CD of Live at Hammersmith Odeon which included recordings of classics like Children of the Sea, Neon Knights and Paranoid. The cover art was a Greg Hildebrandt piece that some fans complained had a secret message to the former front man, Ozzy Osbourne, which spelled out “Kill Ozzy”. The band says it was complete bullshit and just the mind of rabid fans trying to stir up more conflict.
Though when it was released, it wasn’t met with the enthusiasm the band hoped, it has become an essential album for many metal heads. It was created by some of the founding fathers of the genre and did produce a great track listing. After decades the music still holds true. There is still a heaviness many only aspire to and the strong hypnotic voice of Dio leading the listener onto a path of dark horizons, an image only he could paint in your mind. Timeless lyrics that cryptically follow each generation through their woes, like a band of bards foretelling the bleak futures of all to come.
Break the circle and stop the movement, the wheel is thrown to the ground.
Just remember it might start rolling and take you right back around.
You’re all fools!
The Mob Rules!
Back in 1980 when HEAVEN AND HELL came out I was twelve years old. These type of records received no airplay where I lived and if one turned in late at night, the signal from a station near Chicago would pipe out hard rock, not really typed as “Heavy Metal” then. I was a big Sabbath fan for my brother Mark left 8 tracks of MASTER OF REALITY and PARANOID when he went to the army in 73. Anyhow, I recall hearing Black Sabbath had a new singer. No one my age had a fetish for the previous singer and Ozzy had not bitten his first bat head off yet.
The idea that the same guy who sang MAN ON THE SILVER MOUNTAIN would be doing vocals for Sabbath didn’t really mean much at the time, but I knew who Ronnie James Dio was…and from the moment they played NEON NIGHTS I became hooked. I really enjoyed his vocals more than the other guy. Then again, RJD sang about things I liked as a kid, as a fan of Robert E. Howard and high fantasy…rings, dragons & kings…the supernatural and all that. Plus, Sabbath sounded reborn. The music was BAM there and great. I understood nothing of the band’s politics or any of that stuff, the tunes were boundless. The older I became and more I delved into the works, the bigger fan I became.
After the opening salvo of NEON NIGHTS we move into the melodic CHILDREN OF THE SEA. I understand from Iommi’s book and other sources this tune sort of existed before in the Ozzy era, and another new singer they tried to get going, Michael Bolton (yes you read that right) even is demoed singing it someplace. I adored the grandiose sweeping tale spun in this one. The images it conjured in my head were incredible. The bluey, bass bottom heavy thud of LADY EVIL rolled out next and damn, was a string puller and cool track. Evil ladies? Yes indeed.
The title track HEAVEN AND HELL is an epic piece and probably one of Sabbath’s better songs in all their canon. Up and down, going back to hard tones, driving and then exploding. RJD wrote such great lyrics and things still guessed at, but it all worked. When I saw DIO on tour, the opening chords of this song sent the arena into bedlam.
The song WISHING WELL, another hard driving track still holds up as a kick ass tune. DIE YOUNG has an eerie structure and also is highly evocative in the mind. Hitting on all cylinders, the track WALK AWAY is a simpler one, rambling and basic, but cool to the ear. RJD even sounds happy on it. The record concludes with LONLEY IS THE WORD an almost pseudo bluesy track that shows all four band members at their peak. Sadness, creepy walls closing in and a lush landscape of possibilities spread out from the words and chords.
Produced by Martin Birch (who later went on to Iron Maiden) the sounds are sort of stuffy and stifled in mono, but the record didn’t need to be clean. It was Black Sabbath and I think this adds to the overall atmosphere.
Considering this album almost didn’t happen, it is a fine testament. Ozzy had left, Geezer Butler was getting divorced (keyboard player Geoff Nichols did bass on demos and Paul Gruber played more than any want to admit) and Bill Ward had sank into his own demons of the bottle. Iommi ran into Dio, who was in a similar position and they talked of forming a new band. There is even controversy who played bass on the record for real, be it Butler or Paul Gruber.
In the end, it is a great album. But is it truly Black Sabbath? I think so, but many will argue Sabbath is only so called with Ozzy. To each their own, but after years of experiments, abuse and varied things, Sabbath sounded strong and moving forward. Fate is a fickle bitch, I say in my fiction, and one never knows where she will dance next. And even more change loomed for the band.
I recall blasting this record on my loud car stereo as a teen when everyone else was listening to Ratt or Van Halen. HEAVEN AND HELL spoke to me, it fit my mind & spirit and still does. My 19 and 12 year old sons also think it is a great work. We like all things Sabbath, but I am glad to have this one for inspiration and the memories it evokes.
This was good music in a time before the internet, before everyone over analyzed every detail of a work and felt all snooty about that crap. It’s rock & roll. Enjoy or get the hell out.
STEVEN L. SHREWSBURY lives in the middle of America. He is a blue collar worker, lives on a farm and writes horror & fantasy novels…some of which are LAST MAN SCREAMING, OVERKILL, WITHIN, PHILISTINE, BORN OF SWORDS, THRALL, BAD MAGICK and KING OF THE BASTARDS with Brian Keene BEDLAM UNLEASHED with Peter Welmerink.
BY AMBER FALLON
It begins with that low hiss, that white noise kiss of static that no other media seems to possess. Then there's a crackle, the meeting of vinyl grooves with a needle, and the music begins.
For most people, music carries memories; listening to it brings us back to different times in our lives. It's almost magical, like being able to fold a snapshot of yourself up like a sweater and tuck it away in a drawer to bring out again later. For me, records remind me of my brother.
Never Say Die! was a complete mystery to me when I first stumbled across it in a used vinyl bin at my local record haunt in 1981. I was in the throes of my initial discovery of the original Black Sabbath catalogue and I had never heard mention of this album in any of the Sabbath literature I’d read up until then. The cryptic image of two masked fighter pilots in full flight gear standing in front of their plane on the cover didn’t quite jive with Sabbath’s typical album art. Regardless of the strange presentation, I was still beyond intrigued and grabbed it.
It was the final studio album released by the original lineup in 1978, and for some reason, it seemed to instantly polarize Sabbath fans into “love it” or “hate it” camps with very little middle ground. To be fair, it is an odd album for them, even in light of the previous year’s release, Technical Ecstasy, which was also a major departure in style and presentation for Sabbath, but which doesn’t seem to draw nearly as much criticism from fans.
BY TERRY GRIMWOOD
Black Sabbath is my favourite band. It’s a simple as that. I have broad tastes, from Vaughn Williams to John Coltrane to Jimi Hendrix and everything beyond and between. But through it all, it is Black Sabbath with whom I shall grow old and finally settle down. It’s a love affair that began one afternoon in 1972. I was sixteen.
Why did I fall for them? No one reason. It was the deep, thunderous soundscapes of their riff-laden music. It was the imagery of the lyrics. It was the raw poetry of what they did. It was the way they tapped into a vein that had already been opened by Irwin Allen, Gene Roddenberry, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Herbert van Thal, Michael Moorcock, Robert Silverberg, Philip K Dick and their like
Black Sabbath are a national treasure now. A band whose final concert was courted by a false and fickle media that hadn’t the slightest clue of what they were about. A media who tiresomely cite Paranoid as the song the band are famous for, in other words, the only Sabbath song that most of them have heard. A band who, in their heyday, were dismissed and even treated with contempt by the music press. But the faithful will always be faithful. So, a romance in three songs…
It's odd, I don't have a favourite Sabbath album. The first six studio albums from 1970 - 1976, and the first album with Ronnie James Dio on vocals, do amount to seven of my favourite records of all time though (and I have a great many records). I can't get a cigarette paper between those seven records in terms of my own listening pleasure. Their influence on the heavy rock music around them at that time, and particularly during and after grunge, was monumental. I sometimes think that these days, it's almost hard to find a metal band without the spirit of Sabbath, and an abundance of its musical ideas, present. Like many metal fans, I also look for Sabbath in other bands. It's probably the highest tribute you can pay to a band. They were so original, and such a precursor; I often wonder what their own awareness was, at the time, of what they were doing with music? Oddly, I also enjoyed listening to these Sabbath albums more from the late nineties until the present day. I think at that time I fully appreciated just how special they were/are/always will be. I often have these records on.
That wasn’t quite what I got. Keyboards? Synthesisers? What the fuck? The record remained untouched amongst my collection for a few years, until I revisited it later, with more mature ears.
I have to admit that when I first heard Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, I didn’t like it.
It was the eighties. I was into hardcore punk, and I liked my music fast, loud and angry. I was also the guitarist in a ragged little punk band. Because I played guitar—however badly—I was drawn to heavy guitar music, and the people who made it. My peer group were all metal fans (we called them heavy rockers back then, kids), so I was drip fed a steady diet of rock—Sabbath, Zeppelin, Motörhead, Maiden, Saxon—but I didn’t own any of it...
I was playing Dungeons & Dragons at my neighbor’s house when I first heard the church bell and the thunderstorm, followed by the diminished fifth–the Devil's’ Chord. It wasn’t until the plea of “Oh, no! Please God help me!” that I stopped all dice rolling and demanded to know who played the soundtrack behind our orc-filled dungeon. It was 1980. I was 10. And Ozzy Osbourne had since been removed from my new favorite band. The good news was there was a whole catalogue of music by the band to discover, and thankfully my neighbors had acquired the majority of it. However, the quest to obtain my own collection had only just begun, which my mother prohibited. It would have to be a tucked away safely out of my concerned parent’s reach.
BY ANDREW FREUDENBERG
So it’s 1971 and those crazy young guys from Birmingham have put out their third album. You’ve kind of dug their first two releases, as bizarre and original as they are, and you’re keen to find out just what the hell they’ll do next. You’ve played ‘Led Zeppelin III’ and ‘Deep Purple In Rock’ to death; you’re ready for some new sounds. So you gather your friends, roll up a fat one, crank the stereo and it’s time. You hear that loop of Tony Iommi coughing and, boom, ‘Sweet Leaf’ is blowing your mind for the first time…