Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

The egomaniac whine of the brain-sick teenager: no one conjured this sound better than Ozzy Osbourne. On the first four Black Sabbath albums, he screamed and wailed and did his horrific Hammer-films schtick. Still, like shouting “Boo!” in a crowded seance, the old spookshow was getting tiresome. The cover of the fifth album stays with the old satanic nightmare routine. But the music on the disc is more fit for high school vomit-buzz than human sacrifice.

1973 was the year the Romilar hit the fan. Sticky, nauseating, cheap, and available in every drugstore in America, Romilar cough syrup was the drug of choice for every self-disrespecting fifteen year old boy. Especially when drunk with loud pain-drenched metaloid music, dextromethorphan (the chief ingredient in Romilar) produces visual distortion, a messed up sense of time and space, sweats, diarrhea, dilated pupils, teeth-grinding and gut-spasms. Lo! dextromethorphan will take you there, to that wonderland of teenaged misery and madness.

By the end of ‘73, Romilar elixir had been pulled off the shelves and the brain-eating puke-euphoria tidal wave was over. So Black Sabbath’s gift for Christmas of ‘73 was perfect, like cough syrup converted into sound. Ozzy gives us a few of the usual references to hell and damnation. Still, there’s less focus on the fate of his immortal soul than on his gag reflex and the swollen tissue of his brain. With the headphones clamped on tight and the volume knob turned far into the skull-crushing zone, this album is the aural equivalent of three bottle of Romilar.

Sabbath’s earlier albums had all sold millions and the band’s wealth got them all the best liquor and drugs they wanted. While they might’ve been rehearsing with their noses burnt by high grade coke and their guts sloshing with cognac and twelve year old scotch, they continued to make music not for millionaires, but kids working at minimum wage.

The band, dulled by drugs and success, had started rehearsals in L.A. This fell apart and they ended up renting Clearwell Castle in the ancient royal forest of Dean. Guitarist Tony Iommi claimed that the fifth album really came alive in the dungeons there. Supposedly the riff for the album’s title track was born in the gloom and grue of medieval torture chambers. But like the mock-demonic doom rides of the earlier albums, this too is mostly booga-booga cooked up for gullible American kids. Even the castle itself was a fake - though looking medieval, it was built in the 1700s as a retro-nostalgia folly.

Cut away all the gothick claptrap and what’s left is primo vintage-73 pukadelic product. Here, the kings of downer metal serve up their last great heap of steamy sound-stench. They give a halfhearted nod to the prog rock of the day: there are a few synthesizer squigglies courtesy of Rick Wakeman, on loan from Yes. Iommi does an acoustic guitar noodle track, named “Fluff” for obvious reasons. The rest, the tunes that teenagers kept lifting the needle to replay, are swollen Romilar-riffs with Ozzy’s razor blade pain-shriek on top.

Not surprisingly, he adds plenty of death-yammer: “no return . . . killing yourself . . . into the dust . . . dying day . . . living death . . . execution . . . living just for dying . . .” What fifteen year old locked in his bedroom in a dextromethorphan daze wouldn’t think this is the most profound poetry he’d ever heard?

“Pain, suffering and misery!” Ozzy wails. “You bastards!” he screams. Iommi keeps grinding out the hallucinogenic buzz-sludge. Ozzy keeps shrieking about “universal secrets” and “the secret within your mind.” And fifty thousand sublimely unhappy teenagers retch into paper bags.