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Channelling the darkness: Group flow and environmental expression in the music of Black Sabbath and Joy Division



Although they superficially belong to different genres of music, Black Sabbath and Joy Division share a fundamental commonality in that their music was shaped by – and powerfully depicted – bleak urban industrial environments. This article highlights a number of specific ways in which both bands’ music depicted (and was influenced by) this environment, including an unusually bass-heavy sound, the repetitive and continuous quality of their music, an austerity of sound, the rigid structure of songs and performances and lyrical content. Both bands attained such a high – or pure – degree of environmental expression because they were examples of the phenomenon of ‘group flow’. I examine the aspects of group flow identified by psychologists and show how both bands exhibited these, including a highly cooperative creative process, a lack of conscious deliberation and a prolific and spontaneous output. It was their group flow that enabled the two bands to ‘channel’ their environment directly and powerfully.
MMS 7 (1) pp. 85–102 Intellect Limited 2021
Metal Music Studies
Volume 7 Number 1 85
© 2021 Intellect Ltd Article. English language.
Received 24 February 2020; Accepted 20 October 2020
Leeds Beckett University
Channelling the
darkness: Group flow and
environmental expression in
the music of Black Sabbath
and Joy Division
Although they superficially belong to different genres of music, Black Sabbath and
Joy Division share a fundamental commonality in that their music was shaped
by – and powerfully depicted – bleak urban industrial environments. This article
highlights a number of specific ways in which both bands’ music depicted (and
was influenced by) this environment, including an unusually bass-heavy sound,
the repetitive and continuous quality of their music, an austerity of sound, the
rigid structure of songs and performances and lyrical content. Both bands attained
such a high – or pure – degree of environmental expression because they were
examples of the phenomenon of ‘group flow’. I examine the aspects of group flow
identified by psychologists and show how both bands exhibited these, including a
highly cooperative creative process, a lack of conscious deliberation and a prolific
and spontaneous output. It was their group flow that enabled the two bands to
‘channel’ their environment directly and powerfully.
Black Sabbath
Joy Division
group flow
Steve Taylor
86 Metal Music Studies
1. The heaviness and
darkness of both
bands’ music can be
polarizing. As Yavuz
(2017) has described in
relation to death/doom
metal (two genres
on which Sabbath
have had a significant
influence), heaviness
and darkness – and a
preoccupation with
themes of isolation,
alienation and
depression – can
have a comforting
and consoling effect
on some listeners
depressing’ in Yavuz’s
term), while others
may find it oppressive.
Barnett (2017) has
suggested that Black
Sabbath’s bleak lyrics –
depicting extremes of
human suffering – have
a powerful cathartic
effect that is similar
to Greek tragedy. Such
potentially positive
effects of listening
to metal music were
also identified by
Sharman and Dingle
(2015), who found that
even extreme metal
music did not increase
aggression in listeners
but, on the contrary,
served as a positive
means of processing
Scholars have established a connection between urban life and certain forms
of music, including heavy metal (Gillet 1994; Lashua et al. 2014). This article
extends this discussion by focusing specifically on two British bands – Black
Sabbath and Joy Division – and offering a detailed analysis of how their music
was an expression of the bleak urban environment of England in the 1960s
and 1970s. The article connects this environmental expression to the phenom-
enon of ‘group flow’, arguing that this phenomenon enabled both bands to
channel their environment directly and powerfully.
The concept of ‘flow’ was originally developed by psychologist
Csikszentmihalyi (1990), referring to a state of intense absorption in which an
individual loses awareness of themselves and their surroundings. Flow arises
through the focusing of attention on a stimulating and challenging activity
and generates a state of enhanced well-being and creativity (Csikszentmihalyi
1990). In recent years, psychologists have become increasingly interested in
the communal aspects of flow (e.g. Sawyer 2007; Walker 2010; Engeser 2012;
van den Hout 2018), referring to the phenomenon variously as ‘group flow’
(Sawyer, 2007), ‘social flow’ (Walker 2010), ‘team flow’ (van den Hout 2018) or
‘networked flow’ (Gaggioli et al. 2013). This is when the state of flow is shared
by a group of individuals, such as a sports team or a working group. Group
flow has been found to bring enhanced creative production and improved
performance (Sawyer 2007; van den Hout 2018). Although a strong associa-
tion has been found between flow and music on an individual basis, there has
been little focus on group flow in the context of music (Chirico et al. 2015;
Hart and Di Blasi 2015). In this article, I will examine the nature of group flow
of Black Sabbath and Joy Division and how it facilitated their high degree of
environmental expression.
Separated by around ten years, Black Sabbath and Joy Division were
loosely allied to musical trends of their time. Black Sabbath emerged from
the blues rock genre of the late 1960s, whereas Joy Division emerged from
the post-punk movement of the late 1970s. Nevertheless, both bands were
highly original and have proved to be remarkably influential. I will argue that
the power and influence of both bands stems from the two sources I have
mentioned above, that is, their high degree of group flow and their ability
to channel their shared environmental experiences. The bands’ group flow
enabled them to channel music spontaneously and instinctively, without
conscious deliberation, facilitating a level of creativity and performance that
transcended them as individuals.
In other words, the music of Joy Division and Black Sabbath (including
their lyrics) can be seen as a ‘soundscape’ depicting broadly similar environ-
ments. As Bernard Sumner of Joy Division wrote 34 years after the band’s
demise, ‘Joy Division sounded like Manchester: cold, sparse and at times,
bleak’ (2014: 7). Or, as McIver has noted of Black Sabbath, ‘[t]hanks to the
group’s terrible socioeconomic background, glum worldview, limited skills and
dearth of opportunities, Black Sabbath’s route was always likely to be into the
darkness’ (2013: 35).1
On one level, Black Sabbath and Joy Division may not seem to have much
in common. Indeed, it is probably not so easy to find music fans who admire
both of them, since the bands are usually seen as belonging to different genres.
Channelling the darkness 87
Blues rock and post-punk are not particularly amenable genres – in fact, one
of the core principles of both punk and post-punk was to eschew hallmarks
of blues rock (and heavy rock or progressive rock) such as overt musical virtu-
osity, extended soloing, long songs and escapist, non-socially relevant topics.
Punk and post-punk rejected these in favour of concision, lack of pretension,
simple musical technique and topical socially conscious lyrics (Savage 2005).
However, it could be argued that, whilst still being affiliated with their genres
to some degree, Black Sabbath and Joy Division moved beyond them into a
shared musical and cultural space.
The most obvious similarity between the two bands is their darkness and
heaviness in sound and subject matter. (In fact, both bands possessed a strong
congruity between form and content, which gives their music a strong sense
of cohesion.) The darkness and heaviness in sound are related to a low-end,
bass-heavy overall sound, with an avoidance of major keys and a lack of the
circularity and resolution of conventional song structures. The darkness and
heaviness of lyrical content relates to a preoccupation with bleak and nihilistic
themes, including personal alienation and mental disorder and (particularly in
the case of Black Sabbath) social issues such as war and drug addiction. These
factors will be examined in detail later in this article.
The common darkness and heaviness of the bands can be seen as a direct
influence (and depiction) of the similar environments that their members
emerged from. The members of Black Sabbath grew up in the bleak, war-
ravaged environment of Aston, an industrial inner-city area of Birmingham,
in the heart of the Black Country. Their immediate environment consisted of
factories, terraced houses, chimneys spewing smoke into the air and uncleared
bomb sites from the Second World War (Osborne 2010).
The background of Joy Division was similar. The two main musical forces
of Joy Division – bass player Peter Hook and guitarist Bernard Sumner – grew
up in the deprived area of Salford, near Manchester, in the 1960s and 1970s.
As Sumner has described his childhood environment, ‘within a few minutes’
walk, there was a potted version of the entire, industrialized north-west:
an iron works, copper works, cloth-finishing works, paint factory, chemical
works, cotton mill, saw mill and brass foundry’ (2014: 10). Although there was
a healthy sense of community spirit in 1960s Salford – fostered by the rows of
terraced houses that opened directly on to the street – there was a continual
threat of violence and a strong emphasis on ‘toughness’ in character, express-
ing itself in a cold, emotionless masculinity (Hook 2012; Sumner 2014). Joy
Division’s singer Ian Curtis was also from a working-class background, born in
Manchester but raised in Macclesfield, a small town about twenty miles south
of Manchester. Drummer Stephen Morris was also from Macclesfield, the only
member of Joy Division from a more affluent, middle-class background.
The connection between both bands’ music and the urban industrial envi-
ronment has been made before. For example, Cope (2010) has linked the
anger, aggression and angular nature of Black Sabbath’s music to their bleak
industrial environment. As he writes,
[O]ne cannot dismiss simply as coincidence that the dark, angry and
serious forms of music evident in the early work of Black Sabbath seems
to correlate to the darkness, depression, boring school and dead end,
working class factory life of the industrial Midlands.
(2010: 27)
Steve Taylor
88 Metal Music Studies
In the case of Joy Division, music critics recognized the ‘psychogeographic’
aspect of their music right from the beginning. As John Savage wrote in a
review of Unknown Pleasures shortly after the album’s release in 1979, ‘Joy
Division’s spatial, circular themes and Martin Hannett’s shiny, waking-dream
production gloss are one perfect reflection of Manchester’s dark spaces and
empty places: endless sodium lights and hidden semis seen from a speed-
ing car, vacant industrial sites’ (Savage 1979). Or, as McCready has put
it, ‘Unknown Pleasures would have seemed a perfect psychogeographical
soundtrack. Ian Curtis intones bleakly of walking through the city limits, of
drinking and shadowy passers-by, of rust and decay and sinister cars waiting
outside’ (2002: 96–97).
The sound that both bands created was highly redolent of this barren
industrial background. As Nevarez has put it, ‘[p]erhaps more than any other
Mancunian band, Joy Division are claimed to sound like Manchester, at least
the Manchester of a certain era’ (2013: 56). Clearly, most music carries some
environmental influence, and there is a strong relationship between city life
and rock music in general (see Lashua et al. 2014). As Gillet has put it,
rock and roll was perhaps the first form of popular culture to celebrate
without reservation the characteristics of city life that had been amongst
the most criticized. In rock and roll, the strident repetitive sounds of city
life were, in effect, reproduced as melody and rhythm.
(1994: viii)
In this context, one could argue that Black Sabbath and Joy Division simply
expressed the relationship between city life and rock music especially power-
fully and directly – and also that, in both cases, they depicted a particular type
of degraded and bleak urban environment.
In the following section, I will highlight a number of more specific ways in
which both Black Sabbath and Joy Division channelled their industrial envi-
ronment. These are (1) their low-end, bass-heavy overall sound, (2) more
specifically, the guitar sound of both bands, (3) the austerity of their sound, (4)
the repetitive and continuous quality of their music, (5) the rigid, mathemati-
cal structure of songs and performances and (6) lyrical content. I will examine
each of these aspects in turn, before moving on to examine the unusual level
of group flow that allowed the bands to channel their environmental influ-
ences so directly and powerfully.
The primal, bass-heavy, riff-based sound of both bands is redolent of the
factory environment. Sonically, industrial environments are full of bass
frequencies, including the rumble and thunder of machines, conveyor belts
and trains and cars. Of course, high frequencies may also be present in indus-
trial environments, such as screeching of metal or the hammering of metal,
but these tend to be more incidental and sporadic than the bass frequencies,
which form a constant background noise. There is also a relative absence of
natural higher-range frequencies, such as bird song and the sound of wind
blowing through trees or bushes. The lack of melodic brightness and high
range in both bands’ sounds helps to convey the actual darkness of the indus-
trial environment, with smoke and tall buildings (and the cloudy skies of both
Manchester and Birmingham) blocking out sunlight.
Channelling the darkness 89
Until the advent of thrash metal, it was unusual to find bands who
contained so much low end and so little mid or high end in their music
(Herbst 2017). In Sabbath’s case, riffs were mainly played with power chords
(also known as fifth chords, since they consist simply of a root and fifth note)
on the bottom two strings of a (usually) down-tuned guitar. In Joy Division’s
case, riffs were played on a mildly distorted bass guitar.
In a discussion of the use of distorted electric guitar in metal music, Herbst
(2017) notes that the quality of heaviness in metal music largely stems from
the use of power chords and distortion, which extends the guitar signal both
to higher and lower frequencies. Although power chords were not frequently
used by Joy Division, Hook’s mildly distorted bass riffs accompanied with the
further distortion of Bernard Sumner’s guitar, and the frequent use of tom-
toms by drummer Stephen Morris, created a similar sense of heaviness (e.g. in
the songs ‘Dead Souls’ or ‘Atrocity Exhibition’).
Both bands also avoid the brightness of major third notes. The absence of
third notes is a primary characteristic of power chords. Third notes – whether
minor or major – offer a sense of completeness and resolution, and their lack
confers a sense of both primal simplicity and slight ambiguity and even unease.
Seventh notes and chords are also rarely – if ever – used by both bands. Since
seventh notes are associated with blues and folk, one would not expect to
find them in the post-punk music of Joy Division, but they were commonly
used by Black Sabbath’s blues rock contemporaries such as Cream and Led
Zeppelin. This is further evidence of Sabbath’s originality and their departure
from the conventions of blues rock. The absence of third and seventh notes
conveys an elemental, stripped-down quality, creating an overall sense of
intensity and power.
This points to another feature of both bands’ overall sound: their avoid-
ance of the melodic conventions of blues and blues rock. Again, this is not
surprising in Joy Division’s case, but more so in relation to Sabbath. Although
Sabbath’s eponymous first album occasionally flirts with blues rock conven-
tions (using twelve bar structures and blue scales in ‘The Wizard’ and ‘Evil
Woman’, for instance) from the Paranoid (1970) album onwards, these were
largely abandoned. Cope has suggested that, while Tony Iommi occasionally
used the blues scale in riffs, ‘he made no significant use of the blues scale in
his soloing’ (2010: 63). This is in complete contrast to Eric Clapton and Jimmy
Page (of Cream and Led Zeppelin, respectively) whose solos and riffs were
largely blues-based (particularly in Clapton’s case). Cope has characterized
Sabbath’s ‘melodic syntax’ as consisting of ‘pure pentatonic and modal styli-
sations’ (2010: 63). Sabbath made use of unusual features such as flattened
second notes (e.g. when an E is followed by an F) and tritones. The tritone
(also called a diminished fifth) was once known as the ‘devil’s interval’ because
of its sinister dissonance (McIver 2013). It was used prevalently in Sabbath
songs such as ‘Black Sabbath’ and ‘Symptom of the Universe’.
The darkness and heaviness of both Black Sabbath and Joy Division also
stems from drumming styles. The drum patterns to most of their songs are
unusual in that they frequently (most frequently in the case of Joy Division)
avoid the brightness and stability of traditional regular, 4/4 hi-hat and snare
patterns. One example from Black Sabbath is the song ‘Black Sabbath’, which
utilizes rumbling tom-toms throughout the verses and irregular snare-
based rhythms elsewhere. Both drummers (Stephen Morris of Joy Division
in particular) used tom-toms to an unusual degree. Joy Division songs such
as ‘Atmosphere’ and ‘Dead Souls’ utilize sixteen notes throughout on the
Steve Taylor
90 Metal Music Studies
2. There is a similar case
of creative innovation
through enforced
limitations in another
guitarist, Joni Mitchell,
who lacked strength
in her fingers after
contracting polio
as a child. Finding
normal full chords
difficult to hold down
on an acoustic guitar,
Mitchell developed a
playing style based
entirely on different
open tunings, so that
she could hold down
the root chord of a
song without using
her left hand at all.
From 1968 to 1998, Joni
Mitchell did not record
any songs in standard
tuning and has used
51 different tunings in
her songs (Williamson
tom-toms, with no use of hi-hat at all. Therefore, percussively both bands are
unusually oriented around the bass range.
Another way in which Sabbath’s drummer Bill Ward was unusual is the
extent to which, rather than ‘laying down’ a rhythm for the rest of the band to
play on top of, he closely followed Tony Iommi’s riffs. In a song such as ‘Iron
Man’, for instance, the drum pattern exactly echoes the rhythm of the riff.
(As in many Sabbath songs, Ozzy Osbourne’s vocal melody simply follows
the riff as well, resulting in a monolithic, primal sound.) Bill Ward has specifi-
cally linked his drumming style to the percussive industrial sounds he would
hear in his bedroom in Birmingham. He has described how, lying awake at
night listening to the pulsating rhythms of machinery, he would tap out fills
and rolls on his headboard (Cope 2010). McIver also notes that Ward often
‘dragged’ the beat for ‘a microsecond or two for a dark, doomy feel that gave
the songs enormous power’ (2013: 39). According to McIver, this created a
sense of ‘grogginess and awkwardness in the music’ (2013: 39).
The industrial influence of Joy Division and Black Sabbath is perhaps most
obvious in the guitar sounds of both bands. Tony Iommi’s and Bernard
Sumner’s sounds are similar – a bass-heavy, metallic, distorted sound mainly
utilizing the low-end notes of the guitar (except for solos) and avoiding full
chords. Significantly, both used Gibson SGs, although Sumner used a Vox
amplifier (with distortion pedal), while Iommi used Marshalls (and later
Working in a factory at the age of 17, Tony Iommi had an accident in which
he lost the tips of the two middle fingers of his right hand (his fretting hand,
since he played guitar left-handed). He feared that his career as a guitarist was
over, before his foreman at the factory lent him an LP by the Belgian guitarist
Django Reinhardt, who fretted the guitar with only two fingers, after losing
the others in a fire. Encouraged by this, Iommi made plastic tips for his fingers
and found that he was still able to play, although he had to make signifi-
cant adjustments. He began to use thinner banjo strings rather than regular
guitar strings to ease the pressure on his fingers. In addition, since he found it
hard to play full chords, he began to mainly play two-finger fifth chords (with
his two undamaged fingers), moving up and down the sixth and fifth strings
(Iommi 2012; Pepper 2013).
Thus, Iommi’s use of power chords – which became a defining feature of
metal music (Herbst 2017) – was accidental. As Iommi himself put it, ‘I had to
work really hard to get around it. I had to play more simply […] I had to think
of ways of playing that were effective but still possible for me’ (in McIver 2006:
38). As Pepper points out, these limitations actually equated to creative free-
dom and led to a ‘monumental creative achievement (the invention of metal)’
(Pepper 2013: 59).2
Perhaps the most influential aspect of Tony Iommi’s guitar sound was
his practice of downtuning. Again, this was a measure to reduce the pres-
sure on his fingers. At the start of their career, Sabbath tuned down a semi-
tone for live performances, but recorded their first two albums in standard
tuning. However, by Master of Reality (1971), Iommi had begun to downtune
his guitar three semitones, so that E string became C#. This continued (with
some variation, such as downtuning just two semitones for some songs) until
later albums such as Technical Ecstasy (1976) and Never Say Die (1978), when
Channelling the darkness 91
Iommi reverted to standard tuning (Iommi 2012). Combined with his thin-
ner strings and use of power chords, this guitar sound became the primary
component of the bass-heavy, dark, doomy sound that was (at the time)
unique to Black Sabbath.
Iommi’s guitar sound was extremely influential – although curiously
this influence did not manifest itself noticeably until the 1980s and 1990s,
with the development of death and doom metal. Many bands adopted the
practice of downtuning as a way of darkening sound and gaining power
(Mynett 2013). Typically, death metal and grindcore bands (such as Cannibal
Corpse and Napalm Death) tuned down between one and three semitones.
More extremely, Carcass tuned down five semitones to B. In more recent
years, the trend has continued, with some bands tuning down even further
(Herbst 2017). Berger (1999: 58) noted that the history of metal was charac-
terized ‘as a progressive quest for ever-heavier music’, and this process has
continued ever since.
In the case of Joy Division, Bernard Sumner’s style was very different from
Iommi’s in that he seldom played along with the riffs of bass player Peter
Hook, preferring to embellish them with short melodic phrases, often in the
spaces between verses. Despite the similarity of sound (and choice of instru-
mentation) to my knowledge, Bernard Sumner has never referred to the influ-
ence of Tony Iommi. It is perhaps the case that the common elements of their
sound were not the result of direct influence but of the indirect influence of
their shared industrial environment.
Another way in which the bands expressed their industrial environment is
through sparseness of instrumentation and sparseness of sound. Both bands
stuck largely to a simple arrangement of guitar, bass, drums and vocals, with
occasional overdubs for guitar solos (and occasional basic keyboard accompa-
niment). Some Joy Division songs (particularly on their first album Unknown
Pleasures [1979]) consist mainly of bass and drums, overlaid with fragments
of guitar sounds or melodies, sound effects and minimal vocal lines. This
sparseness conveys spaciousness, but whereas the spacious minimalism of
(say) Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue or Brian Eno’s ambient work creates a sense
of rich and relaxing openness, Joy Division’s spacious minimalism creates a
sense of threat and unease. One could make an analogy between a relaxing
spaciousness of a natural landscape (which applies to Kind of Blue or Eno’s
work) and the threatening emptiness of a derelict wasteland in an urban land-
scape (which applies both to Black Sabbath and Joy Division). It appears that
the sparseness and spaciousness of sound amplify the qualities of the music
that inhabits the empty sonic space. For example, the dark and angular music
of Joy Division creates a sense of unease that reverberates through the open
sonic space, while the harmony of Miles Davis or Eno generates a positive
atmosphere that fills the space.
Another similarity and source of austerity are the vocals. In both bands,
vocals are almost always performed solo, without backing vocals or harmo-
nies. In Joy Division’s case, Ian Curtis’ vocal lines are short, sung in a stac-
cato style, without vibrato. The stiff, staccato style conveys a sense of distance
and emotionlessness. Ozzy Osbourne sang fairly minimally throughout many
Black Sabbath songs, many of which contain extended instrumental passages.
Although his low tenor voice is clearly very different to Ian Curtis’, Osbourne
Steve Taylor
92 Metal Music Studies
also sang largely without vibrato. This is one of the many factors that distin-
guished Sabbath from their blues rock or heavy contemporaries, since vibrato
was a key element of the vocals of blues rock singers. For example, Osbourne’s
singing of the lines of the verses of ‘War Pigs’ (e.g. ‘Generals gathered in their
masses’) contains a single note that is held for a whole bar without vibrato.
Compare this to Ian Gillan’s singing in Deep Purple’s ‘Child in Time’, when
high notes are held for one bar or longer with extensive vibrato.
The sparseness of instrumentation and general austerity of sound can be
seen as an expression of an austere and barren industrial environment. The
lack of harmony and melodic richness helps to convey the bleakness and
deprivation of cities such as Birmingham and Manchester in the 1960s and
Machines are characterized by repetition and continuity, which are also
features of the music of Black Sabbath and Joy Division. Neither band played
songs in any traditional sense – that is, they did not utilize a standard pop
structure of verses and choruses (or hooks) with middle eights or bridges.
There are very few songs with conventional structures in either band’s cata-
logue. Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ – not coincidentally their only
significant chart success as a single – is an exception. It is not easy to think
of Black Sabbath songs with a chorus – ‘Changes’, from Vol. 4 (1972), springs
to mind, which was later a chart success in an asinine duet between Ozzy
Osbourne and his daughter. As Cope (2010) points out, Sabbath’s songs are
generally multisectional and episodic, lacking the circularity of conventional
pop or blues songs. Although Sabbath had roots in blues rock, it is notable
that (especially after their first album) they eschewed blues conventions such
as a repeating twelve-bar structure. Sabbath songs often contain a ‘main body’,
based on a primary riff, followed by a series of segments based on other riffs,
some of which seem to be only loosely connected to the main riff. Sometimes
the different sections are in a different rhythm and even in a different key
to the main section of the song. In many cases, the band does not return to
the main riff. This description fits to many of the band’s most revered songs,
including ‘Wheels of Confusion’, ‘Killing Yourself to Live’, ‘Sabbath Bloody
Sabbath’ and ‘Symptom of the Universe’. Like Joy Division, Black Sabbath only
had one ‘hit single’‘Paranoid’ – which, unusually for a hit single, does not
feature a chorus. Another single, ‘Never Say Die’, was a minor hit in 1978 and
did feature something approximating to a chorus.
Because of this departure from traditional song structure, there is a sense
in which both bands’ songs do not resolve or even end, which lends a strange
sense of incompleteness to the songs. Less complex than Sabbath songs, Joy
Division songs usually contain one single riff, locked together with a drum
rhythm and repeated without variation, in a metronomic and mechanical way.
Guitar phrases overlay and intersperse the repeated riff, with a vocal melody
on top. Songs such as ‘Heart and Soul’ and ‘Colony’ are based on two-bar bass
guitar riffs that repeat for the whole duration of the song, and which one
could imagine repeating indefinitely, like the endless churning machines of
a factory. Live recordings reveal Joy Division songs grinding to a close rather
than finishing, almost like a machine being turned off and slowly petering
out. Many songs end with each instrument dropping out in turn after the final
verse – first the guitar, then the bass and finally the drums. In other words,
both bands’ songs do not resolve in the same way the highly structured songs
Channelling the darkness 93
of the Beatles or the Kinks – or even tightly structured progressive rock bands
such as Yes or Genesis. This is another source of the unease and austerity of
both bands, since a resolution usually brings a sense of order and cohesion to
a song.
However, this is not to say that the bands’ songs are unstructured. In fact,
their songs are rigidly structured, but according to different criteria. This is
a further way in which they express their shared urban industrial environ-
ment. In relation to Joy Division, there is a regular, mathematical quality to
their music that is clearly redolent of industry. Drummer Stephen Morris was
heavily influenced by ‘Krautrock’ bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk and their
motoric, repetitive rhythms (Morris 2019). On top of Morris’ motoric rhythms
(often providing sixteen beats to the bar hi-hat or tom-tom patterns), Peter
Hook’s bass riffs are almost invariably eight beats to the bar throughout the
whole song, while Ian Curtis’ vocal lines are also extremely regular, with the
same syllabic patterns rigidly repeated (and also, as mentioned before, sung
without vibrato).
One of the most striking differences between Black Sabbath and their
heavy rock contemporaries was their strict adherence to song structures in
live performances. In the late 1960s and early to mid-1970s, rock music was
characterized by jamming. Songs were extended and extemporized and rarely
played the same way twice. As in jazz, the basic structure of the song served
as a springboard for variations and improvisations, often with extended guitar
and keyboard solos (and sometimes drum solos too). The songs of Black
Sabbath’s close contemporaries Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple could extend
for more than twenty minutes. The bands’ live albums, The Song Remains the
Same (1976) and Made in Japan (1972), respectively, contained seven and nine
songs over four sides of vinyl each. But Black Sabbath rarely (if ever) jammed.
Live recordings show them adhering very rigidly to the original structures of
songs as recorded.
This was specifically true of Ozzy Osbourne’s style of singing too, and
another way in which his style differed from his contemporaries. Whereas
rock singers typically improvise and vary melodies – Robert Plant in his Led
Zeppelin days is a good example – Ozzy Osbourne tended to stick rigidly to
the pre-established melody lines in a way that is more typical of pop and new
wave (or post-punk) songs than rock. The rigid structure of both bands’ songs
and performances arguably relates to the mechanism of the industrial envi-
ronment, which is characterized by mathematical regularity, monotony and a
lack of spontaneity.
Finally, the shared bleak industrial environment of the two bands was also
expressed through their lyrics. The lyrics of Joy Division tend to be subjec-
tive and personal, often alluding to a sense of alienation and mental disor-
der, the extent of which was shockingly revealed with the suicide of singer
and lyric writer Ian Curtis in 1980. At the same time, Joy Division’s songs
depict a psychogeography of barren urban landscapes, made up of motorways,
concrete and streetlights. The bleak urban landscape mirrors the bleak mental
landscape that is the primary theme of the lyrics.
Steve Taylor
94 Metal Music Studies
The lyrics of Black Sabbath tend to be more outward-looking and socially
oriented, with songs about war (such as ‘War Pigs’ and ‘Hand of Doom’),
drugs (such as ‘Sweet Leaf’, ‘Hand of Doom’ again and ‘Snowblind’) and
religion (e.g. After Forever’) as well as songs with satanic themes (such as
‘N.I.B.’ and ‘Black Sabbath’). Barnett summarizes Sabbath’s lyrical themes as
‘war, death, social chaos, the supernatural and the conflict between good and
evil’ (2017: 82).
Nevertheless, both bands share a similar bleak, even nihilistic outlook.
There are many Sabbath songs that deal with alienation and mental disorder,
such as ‘Paranoid’, ‘Wheels of Confusion’ and ‘Am I Going Insane?’ The lyrics
of such songs occupy a very similar psychological space to Joy Division, deal-
ing with fears of encroaching mental dislocation, a fear of losing control over
one’s mind, disillusionment (with the death of naive childhood hopes and
dreams) and feelings of alienation. Clearly, death and doom metal bands were
influenced by Black Sabbath in terms of lyrics and subject matter (Yavuz 2017).
In fact, there are a number of Sabbath lyrics that are almost interchangea-
ble with Joy Division lyrics. For example, here is a sample verse from Sabbath’s
‘Wheels of Confusion’: ‘Lost in the wheels of confusion/Running through
valleys of tears/Eyes full of angry delusion/Hiding in everyday fears’ (Black
Sabbath 1972). This is also true of some of the lyrics of ‘Paranoid’: ‘I need some-
one to show me the things in life that I can’t find […] Happiness I cannot feel
and love to me is so unreal’ (Black Sabbath 1970). There are many Joy Division
lyrics that resonate with these lines, conveying a similar sense of disillusion
and desperation – for example, ‘Now that I’ve realised how it’s all gone wrong/
Gotta find some therapy, this treatment takes too long’ (from ‘Twenty Four
Hours’, Joy Division 1980) or ‘Can I go on with this train of events?/Disturbing
and purging my mind/Back out of my duties, when all’s said and done/I know
that I’ll lose every time’ (from ‘Passover’, Joy Division 1980). Barnett has noted
that ‘the plight of the tragic hero in “Paranoid” is synonymous with the univer-
sal theme of mental affliction and suffering permeating Greek tragedy’ (2017:
91). This is true of many Joy Division songs too, such as ‘Passover’ and ‘Twenty
Four Hours’, in which the protagonist describes feeling alienated and over-
whelmed by a hostile world and yearning for healing and escape.
This bleakness of outlook was part of the cultural landscape of the post-
punk era, shared by many of Joy Division’s contemporaries such as PIL and
Gang of Four. In the case of Black Sabbath, this outlook was more idiosyn-
cratic, since most of their late 1960s contemporaries were still singing opti-
mistically about love and peace. Such naive positivity seemed incongruous
in the bleak landscape of Aston in the 1960s. Froese has suggested that the
‘sinister sounds’ of Black Sabbath were a rebellious response to the ‘the liberal
1960s middle-class counter-culture’ (2013: 21). This was true of their lyrics too,
which, as Barnett has suggested, ‘ran counter to the more uplifting and opti-
mistic lyrical themes inherent in many songs synonymous with, the hippie era’
(2017: 82). This again highlights the organic and authentic nature of Sabbath’s
music. At the same time, as I mentioned previously, this meant that, for both
Joy Division and Sabbath, music and lyrics cohered closely, to produce a holis-
tic, well-integrated and artistically satisfying body of work.
One of the most striking aspects of Black Sabbath’s lyrics is the lack of
what Walser (1993) has referred to as ‘gender anxieties’ – that is, a preoccu-
pation with heterosexual romantic and erotic relations, including themes of
romance, unrequited, heartbreak, misogyny, jealousy and sexual conquest. This
is another factor that differentiated Sabbath from their blues rock and heavy
Channelling the darkness 95
3. Cope (2010) has
discussed the
originality of Sabbath’s
music at length,
contrasting them
with Led Zeppelin,
whose music was
largely an adaptation
and development of
pre-existing blues and
folk conventions. This
became, according
to Cope’s taxonomy,
heavy rock, while Black
Sabbath invented a
whole new musical
form – heavy metal.
While Zeppelin used
conventional forms
such as the blues
scale, twelve bar forms
and gender anxiety-
based lyrics, Sabbath
pioneered a wholly
new musical form.
Thus, Cope has referred
to Sabbath as ‘the
progenitors of heavy
metal through the
evolutionary formation
of a specific set of
musical and aesthetic
principles which set
them apart’ (2010: 95).
Bremer and Cohniz
echo this viewpoint,
describing Deep Purple
as ‘a predictable
development of
earlier blues rock’
and Led Zeppelin as
a predictable result
of a combination of
folk and blues rock,
while ‘Sabbath was an
unpredictable creative
breakthrough’ (2013:
rock contemporaries. In fact, as Cope (2010) points out, these are the themes
that drive most blues, rock-and-roll and pop songs in general. However, these
themes were largely absent from Sabbath’s songs, which was another facet of
their originality.3
Now I will turn to the second main aspect of this article: the group flow
that enabled both bands to channel their environmental experiences so
directly and powerfully. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, flow
refers to a state of intense absorption in a challenging or stimulating activ-
ity (Cskiszentmihalyi 1990). Group flow is similar, but with the added quality
of the synergy and intersubjective connection of two or more individuals. In
group flow, a group of individuals becomes more than the sum of their parts
and ‘tunes in’ to one another in a subtle way. In doing so, they become capable
of remarkable creative (or athletic, in the case of sports teams) feats.
One of the leading researchers into group flow, Keith Sawyer, has defined
it as ‘a collective state that occurs when a group is performing at the peak of
its abilities’ (2003: 167). Sawyer has even suggested that group flow can exist
when the members of a group are not individually in a state of flow:
Group flow is not the same thing as the psychological state of flow.
It depends on interaction among performers and it emerges from this
process. The group can be in flow even when the members are not; or
the group might not be in flow even when the members are. The study
of group flow thus requires a fundamentally social psychology and must
proceed by examining the interactional dynamics among members
during performance.
(2006: 159)
Group flow emerges from a number of interacting factors, mostly depend-
ing on the relationships between members of a group. Psychologists have
stressed the importance of factors such as team interaction (Russel 2001),
partner unity (Jackson 1995) and balanced decentralization and synchroni-
zation (Armstrong 2008). According to Quinn, group flow emerges when a
group of individuals move ‘together toward shared or complementary goals,
adjusting in real time to each other’s expectations, needs, and contributions’
(2005: 637). Similarly, Sawyer (2007) has highlighted a number of conditions
that must be met in order for group flow to emerge, including a common goal,
spontaneous creativity (without conscious deliberation), the blending of egos,
equal participation, communication, familiarity and a sense of forward move-
ment. If such conditions are met, what Sawyer (2007) describes as a ‘genius
group’ may emerge.
These are criteria that both Black Sabbath and Joy Division adhere closely
to. It is significant that the members of both bands had strong personal friend-
ships (at least in their initial most creative stages). They were not bands made
up of hired hands or session musicians, but friends from the same (or at least
a similar) environment, who had developed their music together from the
beginning, forming a close personal and musical bond. They were of similar
ages, from similar socio-economic backgrounds, with a similar limited degree
of musical experience and lack of professional status. These factors must have
fostered factors such as the blending of egos, equal participation, communica-
tion and familiarity (Sawyer 2007).
Steve Taylor
96 Metal Music Studies
It is significant that both bands created music in a highly collabora-
tive, organic way. Unlike most bands, there was not one or two single crea-
tive forces, who pre-wrote most of the songs, which were then arranged and
rehearsed by the whole group for performance and recording. The collabora-
tive nature of both bands’ creativity is reflected in the fact that – unusually –
songwriting credits were shared equally amongst all members.
In Black Sabbath, the raw material of songs was normally the guitar riffs of
Tony Iommi, which were then collaboratively honed into finished pieces. Ozzy
Osbourne would find vocal ‘top lines’ – or melodies – that fitted with the riffs
(Wall 2014). Although Ozzy sometimes provided basic lyric phrases (and occa-
sionally whole songs), lyrics were mainly written by bass player Geezer Butler
(Osborne 2010; Wall 2014).
In Joy Division, songs were collaboratively honed in a similar way. Songs
were built up during rehearsals, from the ‘raw material’ of either the bass riffs
or tom-tom-based drum patterns. The three musicians would collectively jam,
with singer Ian Curtis leafing through a notebook of lyrical ideas, and trying
out vocal ‘top lines’ over the music (Hook 2012; Sumner 2014). In the cases
of both bands, this collaborative creative process would have lent itself to the
development of social flow, fostering the qualities of interaction (Russel 2001),
partner unity (Jackson 1995) and balanced decentralization (Armstrong 2008).
Both bands’ high level of social flow is also indicated by the unconscious
nature of their creativity, involving a lack of conscious deliberation. This is a
theme that continually crops up in the memoirs of the surviving members
of Joy Division. As Stephen Morris has recalled in relation to Joy Division’s
music, ‘[w]e never talked about it or thought about it. It just worked’ (2019:
171). Or again: ‘[o]ne thing we never did was sit down and talk about what
the hell we were doing’ (in Male 2020: 75). Similarly, Ozzy Osbourne noted in
relation to the spontaneous creation of ‘Paranoid’: ‘[t]hat’s the way it always is
with the best songs: they come out of nowhere, when you’re not even trying’
(2010: 111).
In retrospect, Peter Hook reflected that Joy Division’s intense and sponta-
neous creativity was partly due to a lack of knowledge of musical conventions
and a lack of conscious deliberation:
Musicians stop writing great music when they learn about the formal
process of making music […] The more proficient you become at writ-
ing music the less risks you take because you become aware of all the
rules and theories that may be the proper way to do things but end
up constricting you, throttling all the creativity out of what you’ve got.
No more risk-taking. Back then we didn’t know anything about rules or
(Hook 2012: 141)
Under conditions of social flow, the spontaneous and collaborative creative
process often leads to a high level of effectiveness and performance, with
a high level of productivity (Hackman and Wageman 2005; Sawyer 2007).
The prolific output of both Black Sabbath and Joy Division offers evidence
of this. In a professional recording career lasting less than two years, Joy
Division recorded over 40 songs. In a period of two and a half years – February
Channelling the darkness 97
1970–September 1972 – Black Sabbath released four full-length albums, at a
time when they were touring almost constantly.
From the members of both groups’ descriptions, songs almost seemed to
be coming through them rather than from them, as if the band members were
serving as channels for the music. In a 2013 interview with Mojo magazine,
Geezer Butler said, ‘[t]he first four albums just came from nowhere. We were
on the road forever, and in two years we had done four albums and God knows
how many tours’ (Alexander 2013: 75). Similarly, Joy Division bassist Peter
Hook has described how their songs ‘just flowed like rain […] We couldn’t
stop writing them’ (2012: 140). Drummer Stephen Morris has recalled that,
when not touring, Joy Division would usually write a new song every week,
during two short rehearsal sessions. Typically, a new song would be worked
up during a three-hour rehearsal on Wednesday evening and completed the
following Sunday, during a two-hour session (Morris 2019).
Joy Division’s most famous song ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ was written
in three hours (Hook 2012), while Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ was written in
twenty minutes, after the band were asked to ‘jam something’ at the end of
a studio session, as they were still a few minutes short of a full-length album
(Osbourne 2010; Iommi 2012). Similarly, both bands’ pivotal albums were
recorded very quickly. Sabbath’s eponymous first album was recorded in one
day, while Joy Division’s first album Unknown Pleasures was recorded and
mixed over just three weekends. Although it had been common for bands to
record albums quickly during the early to mid-1960s, by the late 1960s and
early 1970s, it was becoming increasingly common for bands to spend long
periods in the studio. For a point of comparison, another 1970 album, Déjà
vu, by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, is reputed to have required 800 hours of
studio time (Crosby 1988).
A related theme here is both bands’ lack of intellectual understanding
of their own music, which provides further evidence of the spontaneous or
unconscious creativity that emerges in group flow. As McIver has concluded
after several interviews with members of Black Sabbath:
The truth is, none of them really know how they made their music
sounds so evil […] ask any of them abstract questions about how and
why Sabbath’s songs possessed nebulous qualities such as heaviness,
scariness, and so on, and you’ll get nowhere.
(2013: 34)
McIver concludes that Sabbath created ‘their music from a position where they
didn’t understand the significance of what they were doing’ (2013: 34).
In the case of Joy Division, there was a marked disconnect between the
band members’ outward personalities and behaviour and the music they
created. As individuals, Joy Division were – at least superficially – completely
unlike the serious and dark image projected by their music. They were, as Peter
Hook describes it, ‘young lads, fucking about, living the rock and roll dream,
playing jokes, having a laugh, reading dirty magazines’ (in Morley 2016: 124).
Only singer Ian Curtis displayed an overtly serious and intellectual aspect to
his personality, although he often behaved in the same ‘laddish’ way as the
other members of the band (Morley 2016: 124). This disconnect again illus-
trates the quasi-channelled nature of Joy Division’s music, as if the music was
coming through rather than from them.
Steve Taylor
98 Metal Music Studies
As mentioned previously, social flow is a subtle state depending on a variety of
different factors. As such, it is easy to lose. In Black Sabbath’s case, the state of
group flow appears to have dissipated in the mid-1970 due to legal problems,
substance abuse and fractious relationships, leading to a loss of conditions
such as the blending of egos, equal participation, communication, familiar-
ity and a sense of forward movement (Sawyer 2007). This was reflected in the
band’s declining creativity and productivity. In particular, later albums such
as Technical Ecstasy (1976) and Never Say Die! (1978) had a difficult gestation
and were viewed as highly unsatisfactory by band members (Osborne 2010;
Iommi 2012).
After the demise of Black Sabbath, singer Ozzy Osbourne initiated a very
successful solo career, with significantly higher record sales than Sabbath
themselves. However, Osbourne’s solo music was largely a pastiche of Black
Sabbath, full of ersatz heaviness and darkness, and exaggerating Sabbath’s
satanic or ‘black magic’ themes to an almost comic degree. The remaining
members of Sabbath managed to sustain their creativity for two critically
respected albums with Ronnie James Dio, but after the departure of drum-
mer Bill Ward and bassist Geezer Butler, the band’s main creative force, Tony
Iommi, struggled to replicate Sabbath’s previous alchemy with a succession
of different vocalists and musicians (Wall 2014). In 2013, three-quarters of
the original band (all except drummer Bill Ward) reconvened to record the
critically acclaimed album 13, which suggested that the group flow they had
established earlier could be rekindled.
In Joy Division’s case, the death of Ian Curtis in 1980 meant that the band
ended at the peak of their creativity and productivity – that is, in the midst
of a sustained state of group flow. After Curtis’s death, the three surviving
members of Joy Division renamed themselves as New Order and pursued
a very different musical approach. In some ways, their music was a logical
extension of the mathematical and rigid elements of Joy Division, with New
Order’s extensive use of sequencers and drum machines. However, overall,
the music was much lighter, moving away from the bass-heavy sound of Joy
Division towards treble frequencies and major keys. Lyrical themes of aliena-
tion and mental illness were abandoned, as was Bernard Sumner’s metallic
guitar sound. This was a conscious attempt at reinvention and led to some
ground-breaking music, showing that the three remaining members were able
to generate a different form of group flow. However, New Order have argu-
ably never managed to recapture the same spontaneous, quasi-channelled
creativity of Joy Division, perhaps because of the conscious deliberation that
their reinvention required.
Group flow has been studied extensively in the work environment (e.g.
Lucas 2018), and the relationship between flow and music has been studied
intensively on an individual basis (see Croom 2012), but as yet, there is little
research on group flow in a musical context. As Chirico et al. note, ‘another
future challenge for research in this field could be a group perspective of
analysis toward flow in music. Indeed, in all the selected studies the relation-
ship between music and flow has been investigated mainly at the individual
level’ (2015). In my view, it would be very fruitful to investigate this in all areas
of popular music, including all forms of metal music. It would be interest-
ing to find out whether different forms of music (e.g. jazz) are more strongly
Channelling the darkness 99
associated with social flow, or at least different levels or different types of social
flow. It would also be interesting to examine levels and types of social flow in
successful bands, focusing on the different factors that gave rise to it and how
it was maintained or lost. How common is what Sawyer (2007) calls a ‘genius
group’ in popular music? Can a genius group transcend the talents and
abilities of individuals, so that the group becomes much more than the sum
of its parts?
One could argue that any successful band has to develop some degree
of group flow. Perhaps, one could make a distinction between two types of
groups, relating to how group flow expresses itself. The first is groups whose
music stems from one or two (or perhaps more) individual creative forces,
usually songwriters (and perhaps also arrangers and producers) to whom
other members of the group are subservient. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The
Smiths or the Sisters of Mercy are good examples. Such groups might well
possess a degree of group flow, but this may manifest itself primarily in the
context of performance. As musicians, the members may develop a deep
understanding that facilitates improvisation, or simply ensures that they play
the band’s songs fluently and proficiently. Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple are
perhaps good examples of bands whose members had (at their peak) a group
flow that manifested itself primarily in performance, which enabled them to
improvise with great facility.
The second type of group are collectives in whom creativity is not so indi-
vidually concentrated, and songs are created cooperatively by the whole band
rather than by individuals. In other words, in these bands, group flow mani-
fests itself in the compositional stage rather than just in performance. This
type of group is quite rare – in pop and rock music, it is standard practice
for songs to be pre-written by one or two main creative forces. Arguably, this
second type of group requires a more intense degree of group flow than the
first type.
Black Sabbath and Joy Division were examples of the second type of the
group. This enabled them to become pure conduits of environmental influ-
ences and unconscious psychological forces. The music of both bands is so
powerful because it carries such a strong imprint of the environment they
emerged from. It was a spontaneous unconscious outpouring of a particular
cultural experience of mid- to late twentieth-century Britain. The darkness of
their environment became the darkness of their music, in a very pure and
primal way, and with a powerful spontaneous creativity that – paradoxically –
gave the music an uplifting transcendent quality.
I am grateful to Karl Spracklen for his encouragement and his comments on
the first draft of this paper.
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Taylor, Steve (2021), ‘Channelling the darkness: Group flow and environmen-
tal expression in the music of Black Sabbath and Joy Division’, Metal Music
Studies, 7:1, pp. 85–102, doi:
Steve Taylor is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK.
He is the current chair of the Transpersonal Psychology section of the British
Psychological Society. His books include Out of the Darkness; Back to Sanity; The
Calm Center; The Leap; and Spiritual Science. He is also a poet and musician.
His previous articles and essays have been published in journals such as The
Psychologist; The Journal of Humanistic Psychology; The Journal of Transpersonal
Psychology; and the Humanistic Psychologist. He writes blog articles for Scientific
American and for Psychology Today. He lives in Manchester, UK.
Contact: Calverley Building, School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Health and
Social Sciences, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds LS1 3HE, UK.
Steve Taylor has asserted their right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents
Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work in the format that was
submitted to Intellect Ltd.
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Death/doom metal music, from both sides of the name, usually occupies itself with the darker spectrum of human emotion. Depression, melancholy, and death are common themes in the music and in the reception of this music from an outsider point of view. In line with symbolic interactionism, these emotional responses differ significantly when they originate from a well-socialized member of this music world. This suggests that one may think of emotional responses as conventions of a music world. Common responses provide an emotional repertoire for members, and furthermore they become an adhesive for the community. In this article, I discuss my research of the fans of death/doom metal, and explore the ways in which the fan responds to the music while contemplating on how death/doom function in the lives of these fans.
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The sound of the distorted electric guitar is particularly important for many metal genres. It contributes to the music’s perception of heaviness, serves as a distinguishing marker, and is crucial for the power of productions. This article aims to extend the research on the distorted metal guitar and on metal music production by combining both fields of interest. By the means of isolated guitar tracks of original metal recordings, 10 tracks in each of the last five decades served as sample for a historical analysis of metal guitar aesthetics including the aspects tuning, loudness, layering and spectral composition. Building upon this insight, an experimental analysis of 287 guitar recordings explored the effectiveness and effect of metal guitar production techniques. The article attempts to provide an empirical ground of the acoustics of metal guitar production in order to extend the still rare practice-based research and metal-oriented production manuals.
Widely credited with establishing heavy metal, Black Sabbath released their first two albums in 1970, Black Sabbath and Paranoid, and those albums’ success signalled a paradigm shift in rock, garnering the band international fame. Although having a self-perception of being a ‘heavy underground’ band, Black Sabbath would go on to sell more than 75 million albums worldwide. With Black Sabbath having their final tour in 2017, this article examines lyrics contained in a sample of hit songs appearing on Black Sabbath and Paranoid to better understand why the band’s songs struck such a responsive chord with listeners. In examining lyrics from Black Sabbath’s earliest hits, this article provides a perspective from which the band’s songs can be shown as frequently containing the basic elements of Greek tragedy – tragic situation, tragic result, tragic hero and nemesis – a recurring pattern that may have served a cathartic function for listeners. Like Greek tragedies, Black Sabbath’s songs involve stories of extreme human suffering, often under extraordinary circumstances, having the ability to elicit emotional responses from audiences. By hearing narratives about the extreme suffering experienced by persons not unlike themselves, listeners are able to participate vicariously in the heroes’ fear, pain and grief. Thus, just as Aristotle believed Greek tragedies induced a catharsis – a purging of negative emotions – in viewers, the author argues that Black Sabbath’s lyrical narratives could serve a therapeutic function for listeners.
This chapter focuses on what makes Sabbath's songs sound evil. None of the members of Black Sabbath really know how they made their music sound so evil. The most famous occurrence of the devil's interval in the Sabbath canon is in the song “Black Sabbath” itself. The slow, doomy majority of the song is a simple repetition of root note, plus octave, plus tritone. The sound of evil is literally at the musicians' fingertips. The evilness of Sabbath's 1970s music did not solely come from the guitars. The artistic imperfections – grogginess, awkwardness, inexperience, monotony – contributed to the sense of doom that lingered around Black Sabbath's music, over and above any deliberate tricks such as the devil's interval or writing in minor keys. That is why Black Sabbath's music often felt real, genuine, and lifelike.
This chapter validates Black Sabbath's sound of doom as art. Philosophers have struggled to define art, but if Devil's Dictionary is to be believed, such attempts are doomed from start. Since naturally occurring phenomena, like a case of Saint Vitus Dance and a pretty sunset, are not art, it seems that artworks must be manufactured by someone who wants to produce artwork. Sabbath's sound of doom is art, because the artworld has agreed to accept it as art. Given the musical equipment of the sixties, early black metal, like Venom, was technically feasible, but it was too far off in artistic space to appear then. It needed stepping stones to get there, the most important of which was the music of Sabbath. Sabbath not only set the stage for future developments in heavy metal in general, but also specifically set the standard for doom, which was then refined into drone.
Inspired by the late 1960s horror movie Black Sabbath, a young heavy blues band called Earth renamed itself Black Sabbath. While at times Black Sabbath songs concerned social issues such as war and drug abuse, they more often took up dark dystopic themes and employed apocalyptic and occultist imagery. Black Sabbath uses the rhetorical devices of Revelation to comment upon the despair of their own world, and this is in keeping with the multivalent possibilities of apocalyptic style. Satan is a recurring figure in the early Black Sabbath offerings. There are many tropes in apocalyptic literature, for example, cosmic journeys in time and space, talking animals, and great monsters. Several of these literary devices are found in their songs. Though it reveals horrors, apocalyptic literature often brings hope for deliverance.