Noisey Vs. MetalSucks: Who Still Cares About Black Sabbath Anyway?
Welcome to Noisey Vs. MetalSucks, a bi-weekly column in which the staff of Noisey and the staff of MetalSucks will engage in vigorous academic debate concerning some of extreme music’s most relevant topics of the day. For this week’s edition, MetalSucks’ own Axl Rosenberg does battle with Noisey’s Jon Wiederhorn on the subject of whether or not Black Sabbath are still relevant. Read Axl’s position below, then head over to Noisey to check out Jon’s counter-argument. Enjoy!
My uncle was a war hero. He fought at Guadalcanal in World War II, where he got an ass full of shrapnel and contracted malaria and one his brothers — I mean literally, one of my other uncles — was killed. And he didn’t come home ’til the warring was done. He was, by all accounts, a guy you wanted fighting on your side.
He was in his 80s when the United States went to war first with Afghanistan and then Iraq earlier this century, and the Army never called him to see if he was willing to re-enlist.
My point is this: people get old, and just because you were great once doesn’t mean you’re still great.
In theory, at least, the new Black Sabbath album, 13, might be good. After all, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler managed to make a terrific Sabbath record without Ozzy Osbourne or Bill Ward in the form of Heaven & Hell’s The Devil You Know, and that was just four years ago. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Ronnie James Dio on vocals. I’m not someone who prefers the Dio years to the Ozzy era of Sabbath — true be told, I enjoy both equally — but there’s no denying that Dio was an amazing singer right up until his health made it impossible for him to perform any longer. Ozzy was never really an amazing singer, but he’s been downright awful since sometime in the 90s. Sure, Rick Rubin and autotune will probably ensure that he sounds good on record, but live? He’s going to be warbly, weak, off-key, and tired-looking: beyond doing the froggie hop and repeatedly shouting phrases like “GO FUCKING CRAZY!” and “LET ME SEE YOUR CIGARETTE LIGHTERS!”, the man has no moves anymore. Ozzy Osbourne in the 21st century has the on-stage charisma of a life-size cardboard cutout of Ozzy Osbourne in the 70s. Possibly even less.
But let’s pretend for a moment that Ozzy’s voice isn’t relevant to this discussion (even though it definitely is). Is 13 really worth getting excited about? Why? There’s absolutely no chance that any of the material reinvents rock n’ roll the way Sabbath did in their prime; that Heaven & Hell album may be really good, but I doubt you could find a metal fan who prefers it to Heaven & Hell or Mob Rules or even Dehumanizer. Likewise, 13 isn’t going to be as good as Paranoid or Master of Reality. The shadow those albums cast is immeasurable — there’s no possible way 13 could ever live up to that! Which is okay, because 13 is really just an excuse for a legacy band to go play their greatest hits for fans willing to pay too-much for tickets. Lots of people will go see Black Sabbath’s coming tours, and none of them will be there to hear that song that’s going to debut on CSI.
And let’s talk about that CSI thing for a moment… could ANYTHING possibly be any less cool? This is a show for old people on a network for old people, and it’s almost completely lacking in artistic merit. It is not the way a band that seeks to be relevant, in the truest sense of that word, promotes their music; it’s the way a bunch of old men looking to make money do so. We know this because a) we have common sense, and b) it’s how Ozzy debuted the single from his last release, too. And that album wasn’t worth the plastic it was manufactured on. But it’s a perfect marketing plan for Black Sabbath’s target audience: old people who want to relive their glory days.
The good news is, the fact that new Black Sabbath music isn’t relevant anymore doesn’t really matter, because we still have all those old Sabbath albums that DO matter, and we have young bands making better Sabbath music than actual Sabbath. Fuck, I could probably play you the latest album from The Sword and tell you it’s new Black Sabbath and you wouldn’t know the difference.
So while it’s perfectly okay to revere what Black Sabbath accomplished forty years ago, to pretend that anything they do now should warrant more than some passing curiosity is, frankly, to be delusional. I mean, hey, it’s your money, waste it if you want. Just don’t forget to tell some starving children to suck a dick while you’re at it.