In 1970, what would soon be known as the dark phenomenon of the era, hard rock band Black Sabbath crept into the world of music with the release of their self-titled debut album. Sabbath took an interpretation of the psychedelic blues-rock of the time (cultivated by Led Zeppelin) and transformed it into something much darker and menacing.
Notably, their music dealt with themes of hell and the devil, which were highly controversial at the time. ‘My name is Lucifer, please take my hand’, lead singer Ozzy Osbourne exclaims with a surge of desperation in N.I.B., a song which expresses a story of Satan falling in love with a human woman. It was Ozzy’s vocal ability in this song and countless others to be soft at one point and howl in agony in another which always struck me as a defining element of not only the band but also of future heavy metal musicians, which have Black Sabbath to thank in large part for their existence.
“…fear in music is something he curated throughout his entire career.”
These days, the name Ozzy Osbourne is instantly recognisable around the world. Synonymous with it is, of course, his importance in the heavy metal community, but perhaps more crucially, in the world of horror. But this is of no insult to Ozzy, for fear in music is something he curated throughout his entire career. Sabbath had always been interested in the descriptive elements of the underworld and the occult, but it was in his solo work that Ozzy elevated this to a constant mainstream part of his songs.
In his first album, Blizzard of Ozz, Osbourne delivered one of his most iconic songs to date—‘Mr. Crowley.’ A track written entirely about infamous English occultist Aleister Crowley, with the eerie tone of the song playing to his mysterious and unclear way of life.
In 1983, ‘Bark at the Moon’ was released, and the fan-favourite music video depicts Ozzy as a mad scientist who turns himself into a murderous werewolf, as a Frankenstein-mix of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic supernatural novel Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and the iconic 1940s Universal Horror movie, The Wolf Man.
Guardian writer Robert Fitzpatrick rightly described Ozzy’s subgenre of music as “Hammer Horror theatrics”, with its exaggerated and comedic elements (like the B-list horror movies that were made by British production company Hammer from the 50s to the 70s). However, it would be a disservice to Osbourne if it wasn’t stressed that his music could (and did) reach deeper, more disturbing depths on occasion.
“…the event which most solidified Ozzy’s pop culture status as the king of fear was in 1982 when…he infamously bit the head off of a bat on stage.”
In the song ‘Suicide Solution’, we follow the turbulent world of a man coming to accept his desire to die. Haunting lyrics such as “Ask from your cask, is there life after birth?” are still striking to this day. Osbourne was in fact sued for the song, when parents of teen John McCollum claimed he had listened to the song before taking his own life.
However, although it faced fervent backlash initially, in the long-term, the song was a crucial moment for metal as a genre, and would open the gateways for future bands to tackle the issue of a longing for death, such as Metallica, in their 1989 single ‘One’.
Perhaps the event which most solidified Ozzy’s pop culture status as the king of fear was in 1982 when, during a live performance, he infamously bit the head off of a bat on stage. Many reports cite that he had previously performed the same act on a dove during a particularly severe drug-fueled episode.
This wild, unhinged character, according to the man himself, was just a fantasy, simply contemporary “folklore”. The persona was exaggerated further and exploited for the vastly successful reality TV show centering on his family, aptly titled ‘The Osbournes’. Ozzy was also the pioneer behind Ozzfest, a massive annual music festival that has been running for over 20 years, with his name and image leading the entirety of the marketing.
Coming from humble beginnings (a poor, hardworking family from Birmingham), it is impressive to think of how much Ozzy has ascended throughout his lengthy career. At this stage, fans of metal worldwide are quick to hail him as one of the genre’s forefathers, and most fans of contemporary music note his lasting influence and legacy.
To detach himself from his peers, he created an image which had never been conceived in the music industry before him. He aligned himself with the worlds of horror and fantasy, and the allure surrounding these cultures, whilst producing theatrical masterpieces for musical, visual and conceptual entertainment. It would be, therefore, almost obscene to consider the correlation of music and of the Halloween season without shining a light on Ozzy Osbourne—Working Class Hero to some, Prince of Darkness to others, yet living legend to all.
Mateus de Sá
Images courtesy of Focka via Flickr
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