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Happy 40th birthday, heavy metal

by Cosmo Lee

Heavy metal turns 40 tomorrow, on the anniversary of the release of Black Sabbath.

Without it, you and I would not be gathered here today. There would be no Big Four, Peaceville Three, !T.O.O.H.!, or “One.” There would be no Wacken, Venom, Voivod, or Vader. No Bathory, Beherit, Behemoth, or Belial (Aus, Aus, Bra, Chl, Col, Cze, Fin, Gbr, Sgp, Slv, USA, USA). No Decibel, Terrorizer, or, um, Revolver. No metal maniacs. No Fenriz. No Abbath. No Wino. No Doro. No Danzig. No blastbeats. No mosh. No fun. We would wear lighter-colored clothes. The world would be a darker place.

I first heard Black Sabbath in high school. Some older kids impressed upon me that it was “bad-ass” — particularly Geezer Butler’s bass lines, which evoked spirited air guitar sessions. The record scared me a little. It was so unlike all the other metal I was hearing. I was absorbing so many things at once — ’80s thrash, ’90s groove metal, early Earache, Dream Theater. This skeletal record with minimal artwork was something different.

Now it scares me a lot. So much power from seemingly so little. Four guys tracking live, recording an album in a day. I could stare at the cover for days. By day four, I would probably be stark raving mad. You have to be crazy to make this music. You have to be crazy to like this music. You know what “crazy” is? Crazy is “majority rules.” Mob rules. It all goes back to Sabbath.

Here is a photo of Mapledurham Watermill, the backdrop for the album cover. I hope to make a pilgrimage there someday.

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