Black Sabbath is one of the most well-known metal bands of all time having amassed millions of fans for more than 40 years. Though the memorable riffs and vocal delivery by many of the band’s singers are the first elements to stand out from Black Sabbath’s sound, it was ultimately the lyrics that added a dark, heavy, and contemporary relevancy to the songs. Throughout the many incarnations of the band, Sabbath was able to put out 20 studio albums with memorable lyrics, and today, we’re going to take a look at Black Sabbath’s five best lyrics and verses that stand out the most and have stood the test of time.
When Black Sabbath started off as a band, the members decided to make music as scary as possible, and the very first track on the first album is that dream coming to realization. “Black Sabbath” the song was written by bassist Geezer Butler retelling a nightmare he once had, which is perfect material to work with given the intention they were going for. In the song, a black figure appears before the protagonist and just points and smiles as flames get higher and higher. In the end of the song, people run from the demon because they’re scared and that’s the end of the song. No resolution, no hope for a brighter tomorrow, just evil appearing and taking over. That’s a pretty sinister story, and a great way to start off the band’s career.
Black Sabbath’s lyrics covered many themes in the early days, from war, to drugs, to the occult. The feeling of paranoia was not off topic and the resulting song created from this mind-altering state ended up being one of the band’s most successful songs. Singing the words “people think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time” was a complete turnaround from the previous decade’s peace and love stance. The impact from the lyrics themselves and also the shock from Sabbath’s willingness to embrace the dialogue of mental problems is what made “Paranoid” stand out in its day. Though time has passed, the topic is still relevant long after its release.
Heaven and Hell
Ronnie James Dio had a nice stint with Sabbath, recording three albums during his tenure. His debut album with Sabbath was the heavy metal classic “Heaven and Hell,” and the title track delivers on many fronts. Putting aside the great guitar and vocal performances, what really sticks out in this song are the lyrics that showcase Dio’s trademark dungeons and dragons theme he incorporated into many of his 80s tracks. The powerful juxtaposition between the light of heaven and fire from hell are portrayed with tenacity throughout the song, but the real gem is toward the end when Dio boasts: “They say that life’s a carousel / Spinning fast, you’ve got to ride it well / The world is full of Kings and Queens / Who blind your eyes and steal your dreams / It’s Heaven and Hell.” His delivery amongst the mayhem of the band is one of the most magical moments in Dio’s illustrious career.
Many teens feel isolation and would like to get revenge on those who make them feel like outsiders. The song “Iron Man” is about an iron man who nobody wants or helps as they pass him by and ignore him. But the iron man does have feeling and thoughts in his head, and as he stares out blankly into the world, he is plotting his vengeance. As the iron man spreads fear, gains power and takes over the land, he finally puts those who made him feel like outcast in their place. It is a fantasy story that made those aforementioned teens feel empowered and let them know that Black Sabbath knew how they felt and was looking out for them.
“War Pigs” is one of the most iconic songs in the Black Sabbath discography thanks to its doom-like intro, stadium-filling rhythms, and its chilling anti-political stance found in the lyrics. When Ozzy Osbourne delivers the opening lines, “Generals gathered in their masses / Just like witches at black masses,” you know the slow build up is amounting to something powerful. The song talks about bodies burning in the war created for fun by politicians who leave it to the poor to fight on their behalf. The twist is that Ozzy declares the politicians who treated people as pawns will face their Judgement Day “begging mercy for their sins.” Ozzy knows they aren’t getting off scot-free.