Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death’s construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds
Oh lord yeah!
You have to hand it to Ozzy Osbourne and his Black Sabbathmates: there weren’t that many who could defeat them in a ridiculous-lyric-off. Few others would have the audacity to rhyme “masses” with “masses” in the very first couplet of their song. And as if committing to a thunderingly obvious “War is bad, rich people send poor people to war” trope (“Treating people just like pawns in chess“) isn’t enough, they spice it up with some splendidly meaningless phrases like “sorcerers of death’s construction”. (Unnecessary personal detail: I once went to OzzFest at the Milton Keynes Bowl, aged 17 or so, but had to leave before Ozzy himself came on because my newly shaven head had got horribly sunburned; a group of punks had to rescue me from the moshpit after I started to pass out. I was very rock ‘n’ roll.)
The mighty Sabbath (not to be confused with the Saturdays) are back this week, with their first No 1 album in 43 years. It’s a lovely reminder of the glory days of British metal, the crazy time of death-and-sex-obsessed, oddly tongue-in-cheek leather-trousered rock gods. Their contemporaries Iron Maiden were also dab hands at writing utterly mental words:
In an ancient land called Macedonia
Was born a son
To Philip of Macedon
The legend his name was Alexander
At the age of nineteen
He became the Macedon King
And he swore to free all of Asia Minor
By the Aegean Sea
In 334 BC
He utterly beat the armies of Persia
Surely the only chart-topping band ever to rhyme “Aegean Sea” with “334BC”. They also had a song about The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. This Is Spinal Tap was a parody, but like when Scary Movie spoofed Scream, it was a parody of a parody.
I should admit that in my own heavy-metal days, I was more of a fan of the American stuff: Pantera, Metallica, Faith No More (Pantera’s cover of Sabbath’s Planet Caravan, and FNM’s of War Pigs, are both better than the originals). But with the exception of FNM (who are perfect in every way, and only heavy metal when they want to be), the big US thrashers lacked a sense of their own ridiculousness. James Hetfield could sing about “Dreams of war, dreams of liars, dreams of dragon’s fire” and you thought: yeah, actually, you think you sound pretty cool. They made great music, but they took themselves awfully seriously. You could never accuse Sabbath of that, or Maiden, or for that matter the part-British AC/DC, or (later) Carcass.
Anyway. In short: welcome back, Ozzy. I hope the new album’s as silly as the rest of your career.