This week, the numbers are in and according to Nielsen SoundScan, it is official that the wide-renown heavy metal band Black Sabbath has entered the Billboard 200 album chart at the number one position – selling 155,000 copies. The album titled ’13’ marks the first time the band has released a record that made it to the top slot since the group hit the scene in 1969. Called by some as a ‘doomy’ and ‘gloomy’ collaboration, the record brings together original band members who led a colorful life while participating in Black Sabbath – including earning a reputation for embracing the occult.
Record companies do not care how they make their money, and will go to great lengths to present to the public – celebrity personalities and influential musicians that are easy to accept. In order to attract a large following or set a trend, record producers and the higher-ups often mold the image of bands and their members – even if it goes against their initial wishes or lifestyle. Some say that Ozzy Osbourne has tried throughout his career to denounce the occult-like persona and antics that ‘Osbourne the Musician’ portrayed as the frontman for Black Sabbath, while others feel he greatly benefitted from embracing a dark image.
Osbourne formed the heavy metal band in 1969 while in Birmingham, England – along with guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward. For years, the band has had a dark cloud of ‘evil’ hanging overhead, and was believed to worship the Devil or display the influence of Lucifer. A lot of people saw Black Sabbath as a band comprised of Satan worshippers.
While ‘Black Sabbath’ was not the initial winner for a new band name, their first choice (the harmless0-sounding ‘Earth’) was already taken by another group in England. Whenever most people hear the name of Black Sabbath, they tend to imagine a group that embraces a black mass, which is something that is connected to the occult and witchcraft. However, there are a few theories as to why the group chose their designation, including naming themselves after a book by horror writer Dennis Wheatley or paying homage to the Boris Karloff movie of the same title.
Whatever the case, Black Sabbath got their start in 1969, and when the first album (titled Black Sabbath) hit the market, there were no overt endorsements for Satan. However, their record label, Warner Brothers, wanted to make the band take a walk on the dark side for publicity’s sake. They pulled out the big guns, and during an early record release party in Los Angeles, Satanist Anton LaVey made an appearance. The band members were not present, but the move was one that followed the musicians for years.
To make matters worse, when the British release of the same album took place, an upside down cross was placed on the inside record sleeve. The band did not sign off on this design. Instances such as these played a role in fueling the image of a Satanic band.
However, the band is not completely innocent – they did dabble in the occult, and have already admitted to being influenced by the occult – Butler and Iommi revealed that in the band’s early days, they did frequent black magic shops and show an interest in related subjects. Iommi noted that while there was a lot of interest, there was no practicing of the occult. Interestingly, Osbourne is the member of the band who has received the most associations with Satanism. It certainly didn’t help that he went along with the nickname of the ‘Prince of Darkness.’ Nonetheless, the symbolism and actions of the band also gave meaning to the signs of Satan and other questionable themes that their fans readily absorbed.
Perpetrating a hoax that you are affiliated with or perpetuating what Satan and the occult stands for is just as bad as truly believing in the message. While one person may whole-heartedly follow the occult, the next person is simply spreading the word in order to make money and influence fans to think and feel the same way. You are still doing the ‘Devil’s work’ and turning a profit doing so, which some see as being worse. Others feel that it’s almost like selling your soul to the Devil.
In regards to the first album, one band member noted that N.I.B. was originally written as a funny tune about Satan falling in love with a mortal woman, but Butler believes the humor of the song was lost in translation to the public. Written from the Devil’s point of view, lyrics such as “I will give you those things you thought unreal. The sun, the moon, the stars all bear my seal” only furthered the Satanic ties to the band. At one point, Osbourne cries out, “My name is Lucifer please take my hand,” which is believed by some to have struck a chord with young Satanists.
As the group continued to release albums, they made obvious attempts to distance themselves from the dark cloud of the occult hanging over their heads. At one point, some songs were considered a friend to Christianity. Over the years, the media still pressed to fit the band into the mold of a Satanic music group, and it seemed they couldn’t shake their past. For example, the affiliation with the occult was too tempting and profitable for Iommi to resist, and after the original band underwent dissolution, it is said that he embraced the occult theme once again as a way to sell more records.
Osbourne also tried to recreate the dark magic that Black Sabbath enjoyed in their earlier days. While he did not identify himself as an occultist, he did put out songs such as Mr. Crowley, which is an obvious reference to Aleister Crowley, the English occultist and mystic whose one of a handful of nicknames is the ‘Great Beast 666.’ Supposedly, his early solo career embraced the occult and dark stage persona in an attempt to sell more records.
The album ’13’ will be the first time that Osbourne joins Iommi and Butler on a collaboration since the release of their “Never Say Die!” in 1978. Ward would have been the fourth member to participate in the band’s reunion when the announcement first surfaced in 2011, but was forced to back out because of a contract dispute. In the coming month, Black Sabbath will also kick off a tour in North American – stopping first in Houston, and then passing through Los Angeles on September 3.