There Goes Tokyo

When KISS launched their 10-date ‘Sneak Attack Tour’ of Japan in 1977, legendary Japanese promoter Mr. Udo ensured that Japan’s biggest hard rock band would be the opening act on every date of the tour. But wait— Didn’t Loudness form in 1981? Could it be that there was another metal band from Japan? One that came BEFORE Loudness??

Yup. Bow Wow formed in 1975, and at the time they were invited to open on the KISS tour, they were already promoting their second (and best) album ‘Signal Fire’. While the ‘who was the first metal band’ debate will never be settled, it’s fairly safe to say that the first Japanese metal band was Bow Wow. Not the most successful; not the most well-known, but definitely the first, and because of that, perhaps the most important. Bow Wow blazed a trail that Loudness (and other Japanese bands) followed to much greater success… But Bow Wow was there first.

First, a few words about Japanese rock music: Rock and Roll did not begin to permeate into Japanese culture until the 1960s, with the arrival of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan. These influences were mixed with American folk music, psychedelic rock and even mod, and emerged as a Japanese version of Rock music called Group Sounds. To these ‘western’ ears, this is some of the most bizarre rock music I have ever heard. The 1970s were dominated by Japanese singer-songwriters, making the appearance of a band like Bow Wow, who emulated American and European Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, quite the anomaly.

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Back to Bow Wow. The band was put together by Yoshimi Ueno, a young manager and wanna-be producer. Ueno built Bow Wow around two musicians he had previously managed: guitarist/vocalist Mitsuhiro Saito and drummer Toshihiro Niimi, and completed the band with guitarist Kyoji Yamamoto and bassist Kenji Sano, who were found attending Yamaha Music School. The band were signed to Victor in Japan and released their first album ‘Hoero!’ in 1976. That’s not a typo. It’s decent, but the follow-up ‘Signal Fire’ is excellent. Third album ‘Charge’ leans a little more in the ‘rock n’ roll’ direction, but still kicks ass. All three albums featured English language song titles, and lyrics that veered between Japanese verses and English choruses. Then, after a live album (‘Super Live’) in 1978, disaster struck…

No, nobody died. It was much worse… Bow Wow’s next three albums, ‘Guarantee’ (1978), ‘Telephone’, and ‘The Glorious Road’ (both 1980), completely changed direction. Disco, Pop, New Wave, wistful ballads and even a stab at Rockabilly indicated a band desperately flailing for a new direction. The band abandoned English altogether, and began using 100% Japanese titles and lyrics. Bow wow had inexplicably left Hard Rock and Heavy Metal behind them. The pioneering continued, however, when the band became the first Japanese rock band to play ‘overseas’ when they performed in Hong Kong in 1978 and the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

When the NWOBHM finally hit Japan, another change in direction was suggested by new manager and renowned music producer Touru Yazawa. This guy saw big things in Bow Wow in their previous incarnation as hard rockers, and worked hard to get the band international exposure. Step one was a switch back to Metal with 1981’s pretty-OK ‘Hard Dog’. ‘Asian Volcano’ and ‘Warning From Stardust’ followed in 1982, and after an appearance at the Reading Festival that same year, Bow Wow decided to do some serious roadwork outside of Japan and toured the UK with Hanoi Rocks. A headlining show at London’s Marquee Club was sold out, heavily covered by the UK rock press, and recorded. The gig was released as the ‘Holy Expedition’ lp. Then things got stupid again.

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Vocalist Mitsuhiro Saito left the band in 1983, and the band changed their name to Vow Wow to avoid confusion with the UK’s Bow Wow Wow… The name and line-up change signaled another change in musical direction to a more commercial, keyboard-oriented rock sound. Bye bye, Bow Wow. Vow Wow adopted the UK as their home base and began career building there, with some success. But something else had happened on Bow Wow’s European vacation… Another metal band had formed in 1981 back home in Japan, and by the time Bow Wow had become Vow Wow, this new band were making some serious waves.

Enter: Loudness. While Bow Wow were ‘overseas’ establishing themselves outside of Japan and capitalizing on the recent surge in metal’s popularity in other countries, Loudness were honing their chops and building a fan base with their first three albums, ‘The Birthday Eve’, Devil Soldier’, and ‘Law of the Devil’s Land’. Each record was better than the one previous, ‘Devil’s Land’ being particularly strong. ‘Devil’s’ drew a strong international response, with positive reviews from outside of Japan and imports selling well in Europe, and so Loudness began their westward expansion campaign.

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The timing couldn’t have been better. Bow Wow had just lost their lead vocalist, changed their name and commercialized their sound (again!). Following the trail that Bow Wow had pioneered, Loudness’ third single ‘ロード・レーサ’ (‘Road Racer’) was released in Europe in an English language version. Around the time that Bow became Vow, Loudness was touring America, which Bow Wow had never done. Fourth studio album ‘Disillusion’ was recorded in London in 1983 and released in Japan as “Disillusion~撃剣霊化” in January of 1984, with both English and Japanese lyrics. Loudness broke new ground themselves when an all-English language version of ‘Disillusion’ was licensed for a UK release by Music for Nations and in Europe by Roadrunner in July. The English version was also released in Japan…! Roadrunner re-released ‘Law of the Devil’s Land’ as-is in Europe.

Any metal fan alive in the ’80s know what happened next: ‘Crazy Night’. The success of the previous two years led to Loudness singing a deal with US label Atco, making them the first Japanese rock band to sign with a ‘major label’. The band’s fifth lp ‘Thunder in the East’ was recorded in California and released in January of ’85, where it peaked at #74, making Loudness the first Japanese band to break into the Top 100. ‘Crazy Night’ (listed as ‘Crazy Nights’ on the album) was the right song at the right time; Heavy Metal of the more commercial variety was enjoying a popularity spike after Quiet Riot’s ‘Metal Health’ topped the charts in 1983. The novelty of the band’s nationality was certainly a factor in the song’s success, especially on MTv, but ‘Crazy Night’ and the ‘Thunder’ album were solid, radio-friendly ’80s Metal that packed plenty of punch.

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Loudness had done what Bow Wow set out to do: Take Japanese Metal worldwide. But, as history shows, along with major success, comes major label meddling… ‘Thunder’ was followed-up with by ‘Shadows of War’, released in Japan in March of 1986, and the first single, ‘Let it Go’, featured lyrics in Japanese. Stateside, Atco balked at the album’s title, nervous about invoking bad memories of WWII. Really?? The album was re-titled ‘Lightning Strikes’; also changed was the album’s former title track, now re-titled ‘Ashes in the Sky’. LS was released in the States in July, and charted even higher than ‘Thunder in the East’. So far, so good. What could go wrong?

Here’s what: Because of their massive success in America, a backlash was brewing back home in Japan. To address this, Loudness released a Japanese language version of their next album ‘Hurricane Eyes’ for the Asian market. ‘Eyes’ failed miserably on both sides of the Pacific, peaking in the US at a dismal #190, and Atco promptly dropped the band. Loudness retreated to their homeland and released the Japan-only ‘Jealousy’ EP, hoping to appease unhappy fans crying still sell-out. Next, producer Max Norman arranged for the band to be re-signed to Atco… but only if vocalist Minoru Niihara was replaced with a vocalist more familiar with English. If the band’s Japanese fans were upset about all the attention their homegrown heroes were giving to America, how would they feel about Niihara’s Connecticut-born replacement? Nonetheless, Niihara was out, and American singer Mike Viscera was in.

Can you say ‘Kamikaze’? 1989’s ‘Soldier of Fortune’, the first Loudness album without Minoru Niihara on board, was released on Atco in the US… and failed to intrude upon the Billboard charts. How about ‘Hari Kari’? Eight of the ten songs on the second Viscera-era album ‘On the Prowl’ were ‘cover versions’ of songs from the first four Loudness albums, with new lyrics written by Viscera. Another commercial (and dare I say artistic?) failure. Dropped by Atco once again, Loudness would spend the next decade fading from international view, and focusing solely on the Japanese market.

My listening recommendations come with some qualifications: On their ‘metal records’, Bow Wow titled their songs in English (resulting in some amusing titles like “James in My Casket” and ‘My Dear Alarm Clock’), but their execution of English highlighted a major hurdle: Any singer who is not fluent in the language of his lyrics can be an awkward listen, but he differences between the English and Japanese languages are particularly significant. This is more of an issue on Bow Wow’s second set of metal albums, by which point Mitsuhiro Saito had actually begun to learn to speak and sing in English, than on their first three, where he was reciting English lyrics phonetically and successfully emulating the standard western rock vox delivery. Bow Wow’s struggle with the English language was probably the primary issue that ultimately held them back from true international renown.

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That said, second album ‘Signal Fire’ is their finest moment. Coming just 3 months after their debut, and immediately after opening for Aerosmith on their first tour of Japan (hey, there were no other hard rock bands for the American heavyweights to chose from!), SF displays a mastery of mid-’70s metal tropes, a high-energy vibe, and chops to burn. On ‘Signal Fire’, Mitsuhiro Saito’s vocals are at their most convincing and natural, and as a guitarist, I’d rate Kyoji Yamamoto’s guitar playing in the same league as any of the big name axemen of the era— seriously. In fact, I’d rate ‘Signal Fire’ as one of the best HR/HM albums of 1977.

Loudness had zero issues with languages and lyrics. Singer Minoru Niihara was a vocal dynamo, attacking lyrics in both languages with gusto and rendering the entire language point moot through the natural power and charisma in his voice. Guitarist Akira Takasaki picked up where Kyoji Yamamoto left off, and quickly developed into an 80s guitar monster, spewing out a crazy amalgam of Gary Moore, EVH and Ritchie Blackmore via a unique guitar sound. Loudness started off sounding like a NWOBHM band but without the punk, and quickly grew into a high-energy neo-classical powerhouse. They wrote and played with authority, exhibiting a complete command of early 80’s metal. Their best? 1984’s ‘Disillusion’. Hands down.

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‘Disillusion’ is a GREAT record. Loudness came into their own here; while the band’s influences are obvious on previous records, with ‘Disillusion’ they elevated their sound into something unique and compelling. It’s the last album by Loudness before American ‘commercial considerations’ entered the picture; it’s heavy as hell and it rocks hard. Amazing chops, powerful performances, a stellar batch of high-energy tunes, and an excellent recording engineered by Julian Mendelsohn (Yes, Elton John, Jimmy Page, Bob Marley!) all add up to a killer listen. So listen! I’d grab the English version, but only because it has an extra song: ‘Anthem (Loudness Overture)’.

For both of these bands, it was a matter of timing. Bad for Bow Wow; good for Loudness. The international success that Loudness attained was significant (if brief); significant enough that when most people think ‘Japanese Metal’, the first and likely first thing that comes to mind is “M.Z.A.” …er, I mean Loudness. But would there have been a Loudness if it weren’t for Bow Wow? Alas, Japan’s first Heavy Metal export will have to forever settle for historical importance, footnote status, and trivia question obscurity: The price a band pays for being so far ahead of its time.

“Actually it does not have any meaning. When we were doing pre-production for the Thunder in the East album, I did not have any lyrics for Crazy Night then, so I sung total nonsense as a guide vocal for the demo recording. I sung “M.Z.A.” by accident and the producer Max Norman liked the line, even though that did not have any meaning. We were trying to create some cool line but we could not beat “MZA.” Max ended up deciding to use ”M.Z.A.” for the real take.”
-Minoru Niihara

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The Lord Rocks in Mysterious Ways

I used to work with a guy named Scott who was a bit… eccentric. Perchance one day I saw inside one of his filing cabinets, and in it I could see probably 20-25 cassettes. I asked him what it was all about, and he responded, ‘Oh, ya, those are my train cassettes. Check ’em out of you want.’ I did. Each tape was a homemade compilation, with meticulously lettered title/artist notes. I pulled out one cassette, handily numbered #16, took a closer look at the titles inscribed on the insert, and saw that each song title contained the word ‘train’, or was somehow related to trains, railroads, engineers– you get the picture. I must have looked a little confused, and Scott helpfully added, ‘I collect songs about trains.’ As I picked up tape #8, a 90-minute TDK which looked to contain 20-or-so different versions of the song ‘Mystery Train’, I said ‘Oh ya? Cool.’ What I was really thinking though, was ‘This guy is nuts.’

Years later, I remembered that incident and how weird Scott was, but the voice inside my head that likes to play the devil’s advocate whispered ‘It’s not so weird, really. What would Scott think if he went through your music collection? What kind of songs do you collect, Bob?’ I thought about that for a while, and laughed to myself. Scott would have probably assumed I collected songs about the Devil.

I don’t worship the Devil. I don’t believe in Hell. Am I Evil? No, I’m not. But the Good/Evil ratio in my music collection is slanted significantly toward the dark side. Lyrics are important to me; in my opinion, a well-written lyric can save bad music, and a crap lyric can sink great music. I admit that most of the Devil-centric lyrics eminating from my record collection are garbage. I know, HM is not known for the quality of its lyrical content. But there are a small handful of outstanding lyricists in the hallowed Heavy Metal Pantheon, so I went looking through their stuff to see what they had to say regarding all things good and evil. I focused my search on my three favorite writers… and I found a lot of cool stuff.

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The Atheist
Motorhead’s Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister has never made his disdain for organized religion a secret. Politicians and the church have been frequent targets of Lemmy’s wrath throughout Motorhead’s long history. Lemmy’s father was an ex-Royal Air Force Chaplain, so perhaps the seeds of his spite can be traced to his early childhood. In ‘Poison’, from 1979’s ‘Bomber’, Lem reveals,

‘My father, he used to be a preacher
Never taught me nothing but scorn
If I ever catch him on the street, yeah
I’ll make him wish he’d never been born’

Lemmy pulls no punches when waxing poetic about his belief system, which is perhaps best summed up in ‘(Don’t Need) Religion’ from 1982’s ‘Iron Fist’ album. Here, Lem lays out, in just 10 brutally simple couplets, how he (don’t need) religion. Here, belief in God is compared to belief in Santa Claus and fairies. In ‘No Voices in the Sky’ from Motorhead’s 1996 US major label debut ‘1916’, Lemmy debunks Christianity in a deceptively upbeat, melodic tune with lines like:

‘You don’t need no golden cross to tell you wrong from right
The world’s worst murderers were those who saw the light
Ritual remembrance when no one knows your name
Don’t help a single widow learn to fight the pain’

The Granddaddy of them all, though has to be ‘Orgasmatron’, where the evils of organized religion, global politics and world history are all rolled up into one and spewed forth in a toxic barrage of venomous hatred. It’s one of Lemmy’s finest lyrics and one of Motorhead’s greatest songs. Reading this lyric without the music behind it gives me chills. The first verse is dedicated to religion; here’s a sample:

‘Obsequious and arrogant, clandestine and vain
Two thousands years of misery, of torture in my name
Hypocrisy made paramount, paranoia the law
My name is called religion, sadistic, sacred whore’

On ‘Hammered’, late-period Motorhead reveals no changes in Lemmy’s stance; ‘No Remorse’ is yet another red-hot poker in the eye of God, and one not without a touch of sarcasm:

‘Satan waits, goatee beard
Long old tail, nasty spear
If you believe these tales they tell
Then you deserve to burn in Hell’

I’d have to say my favorite of Lemmy’s anti-religious works appeared fairly recently in 2006. ‘God Was Never on Your Side’ contains a plaintive lyric delivered in a sad, melancholic tone; this time Lemmy’s wrath is softened just a bit by acoustic guitars and strings, but his underlying condemnation of blind, unquestioning belief is plainly evident in this intelligent articulate plea for common sense. Check this song out is you skipped the ‘Kiss of Death’ album.

‘If the sky, turned into stone,
It would matter not at all,
For there is no heaven, in the sky,
Hell does not wait, for our downfall!
Let the voice of reason shine,
Let the pious vanish for all time,
God’s face hidden, all unseen,
You cannot ask him what it all means,
He was never on your side,
God was never on your side’

There are, of course, many other examples. The Jesus references in both ‘Brave New World’ (‘Hammered’) and Get Back in Line’ (‘The World is Yours’) are both scathing and hilarious. And while we’re on the subject of God, I would love to know how Lem feels about the infamous ‘Lemmy is God’ slogan… Nonetheless, his religion-themed work is where Lemmy the intelligent and articulate thinker is revealed, belaying his popular image as the ultimate in badassery.

Motorhead’s next (and last?) album, ‘Bad Magic’, comes out in August of this year, and will close with a cover of the Rolling Stones classic ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. If this does indeed turn out to be Motorhead’s last record, how ironic is it that this vehement atheist’s recording career began in a band called The Rockin Vickers (as in ‘vicar’) and ended with a classic song about the Devil himself?

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The Agnostic
In September of 1968, a struggling pop band called Episode Six released their eighth single, ‘Lucky Sunday’. The single’s B-side, ‘Mister Universe’, was written by Roger Glover and Ian Gillan. The song’s lyric, one of Ian Gillan’s first, questioned the existence of God, and his plans for humankind. The single, like the 7 before it, failed to chart in the UK. E6 released one more single (which also failed) before Gillan and Glover joined Deep Purple in June of ’69. G&G’s first recording with Deep Purple was a cover of a Greenway/Cooke song called ‘Hallelujah’. The song is sung from the perspective of a prophet trying to enlighten his people. The following year, Tim Rice offered Gillan the part of Jesus Christ for the original recording of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. Are we seeing a pattern here? Gillan accepted Rice’s offer, and recorded all of his parts in just 3 hours… A feat some have called miraculous.

While much of the focus in Rice & Webber’s rock opera falls on the Judas Iscariot character, Jesus Christ has several epic moments throughout the musical. Without a doubt, the most powerful song in the work is ‘Gethesmane’, which represents a crucial moment for the Jesus character. It’s also a vocal tour de force for the 24 year old Ian Gillan, and remains one of his most emotionally powerful performances. In ‘Gethesmane’, Jesus, exhausted and disillusioned, he admits his doubts and fears to God and pleads for answers. He gets none, and begs for God to take him. Just then, Judas and the Romans arrive…

Although written by Tim Rice, ‘Gethesmane’ echoes Gillan’s earlier ‘Mister Universe’ in it’s inquiry into the nature of God. It questions God’s existence, his motivations, his plans, which indicates an Agnostic worldview; one that harbors doubt, and neither embraces nor rejects the existence of God, but one that could be convinced should sufficient evidence is supplied. What Jesus/Gillan is asking for in ‘Gethesmane’/’Mister Universe’ is a reason to believe.

Ian Gillan would later re-work the song ‘Mister Universe’ with his namesake band, Gillan. In the 8 years in between the two versions, Gillan had little to say about religion; ‘The Mule’ from Deep Purple’s ‘Fireball’ album has been mistaken for a song about Satan, although it’s actually about Ian Paice! In the song ‘Painted Horse’, the line ‘Why did the carpenter die?’ is a clear nod to Jesus in an otherwise obtuse lyric, and the title of the album it was recorded for, ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’ is also a clever play on a line in the song ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. His lyrics for the Ian Gillan Band featured forays into witchcraft and sorcery (‘Scarabus’) and Alistair Crowley (‘Abbey of Thelema’, which mentions Shaitan, the Islamic Satan), but the only overt religious lyric is Gillan’s cynical look at ‘religion twentieth century style’ in ‘Over the Hill’ from the ‘Clear Air Turbulence’ album.

In 1979, a revised version of ‘Mister Universe’ emerged with some key differences, lyrically; Gillan again questions God about the nature of His relationship with Man, but this time he is not pleading, he’s demanding answers:

‘Are you God, are you man, do you live in fear?
Are we trash in your can, a bubble in your beer?
I just need some information
Tell me what’s my destination
Is your smile just a smile or is it just a trick
To make me walk another mile? I must be so thick
Universe is cruel deception
Freedom is a contradiction’

Then Gillan rails against God’s stony silence with an angry declaration of strength and individualism:

‘Maybe we’re going somewhere
If so we can find the end
Everyone’s getting nowhere
But not me, you’d better understand!’

After a puzzling second mention of Shaitan in the single B-side ‘Higher and Higher’, Gillan (the band) revisited the subject of Heaven & Hell in a big way with the single ‘No Laughing in Heaven’ from their 1981 album ‘Future Shock’. Here, Gillan (the lyricist) seems to have survived his crisis of faith and feels comfortable enough to have a little fun with the man upstairs. Gillan adopts the role of a bad guy who cleans up his act in order to be ‘saved’ but finds out that Heaven ain’t all it’s cracked up to be…

‘I knocked on the pearly gates
Neatly side stepping the long queue
Waved hi to St. Peter
Who checked my card and let me through
I smiled, threw my hands in the air
Laughed and got arrested
They said, “hey man, you’re in the wrong place
Your behavior is a disgrace”

Our hero promptly discovers the error of his ways and begs to be sent to Hell, which is presumably a lot more fun:

‘Let me out of heaven
I’ve got it wrong, no, I can’t stay here
No laughing in heaven
Oh God, it’s awful here
Going crazy in heaven
Take me out and let me go to hell
No laughing in heaven
Don’t laugh, this place is hell’

The song was a minor hit in the UK (#31; the album reached #2) and scored the band a Top of the Pops appearance. ‘No Laughing…’ represents Ian Gillan’s last serious (??) exploration of religious themes in his lyrics.

Two years later, Gillan joined Black Sabbath for the controversial ‘Born Again’ album. Unfortunately, Mr. Gillan was just killing a year, waiting for the Deep Purple MkII reunion, and passed on the opportunity to again explore religious themes with the band that wrote the book on the subject, instead handing in a bunch of rubbish about wrecking cars, evil women, and phone calls to Hell. Gillan either didn’t ‘get’ Black Sabbath, or just didn’t care enough about the band to take his contributions seriously. There is one half-assed attempt at working within Sabbath’s lyrical oeuvre. ‘Disturbing the Priest’ explicitly addresses the eternal battle between God and the Devil and their yin/yang dynamic, but, masterfull delivery notwithstanding, the lyrics are Sub-Dio level at best, and the vocal melody is lifted from Gillan’s own ‘Scarabus’, from 6 years previous:

‘The devil and the priest can’t exist if one goes away
It’s just like the battle of the sun and the moon and night and day
The force of the devil, that we’re all told to fear
Watch out for religion when he gets too near too near’

Yeesh. Gillan’s lyrical contributions to ‘Born Again’ represent a huge missed opportunity for someone who has such a rich history of dealing with religious themes in his music. Which brings us to:

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The Believer
I’m not the first person to view Black Sabbath as the first Christian Metal band, and I won’t be the last, because it’s a fact. One of the biggest misconceptions in all of rock music is that Black Sabbath worship/celebrate/glorify Satan in their lyrics. They don’t. In fact, a detailed read through bassist Geezer Butler’s lyrics proves the opposite is true: Black Sabbath worship/celebrate/glorify God, by explaining/condemning/warning of Satan. For true Black Sabbath fans, who have heard, studied and most importantly understood Butler’s lyrics, this is not news. But for the several million knee jerk morons who have misrepresented Sabbath (to the band’s benefit, I get it) for decades, it’s time to get a clue.

When looking for an example of the massive misunderstanding of classic Black Sabbath’s message, one need go no further than the very first song on their very first album. ‘Black Sabbath’ is a first person narrative in which our subject is met by a ‘big black shape with eyes of fire’ who has arrived to escort him to Hell. Ozzy’s screams of torment that end each verse are so effective, I’m tempted to say that this is his finest vocal performance, because of how convincingly he communicates a sense of soul-destroying terror and doom. The message is crystal clear: somebody fucked up, and now they’re gonna pay the price. Anyone who hears this song as anything other than a warning is trying really hard to be a total dick.

‘N.I.B.’ is a tale of the Devil as The Great Deceiver, and an illustration of the seductive power of evil. This time, our narrator is O’l Scratch, plying his victim with romantic promises of undying love and immortality. Only after it’s too late does Satan reveal his true self:

‘Now I have you with me, under my power
Our love grows stronger now with every hour
Look into my eyes, you will see who I am
My name is Lucifer, please take my hand’

The last line in ‘War Pigs’, the opening song on Sabbath’s next album ‘Paranoid’, is ‘Satan laughing spreads his wings’, which is cool because now we know that Geezer Butler’s vision of Satan has wings (awesome!), but also because we learn that all of the war, bloodshed, death and destruction described in the song is the handiwork of the Devil… and he is pleased. In ‘Electric Funeral’, also from ‘Paranoid’, Satan appears to claim a world ruined by ‘atomic fire’:

‘And so in the sky shines the electric eye
Supernatural king takes earth under his wing
Heaven’s golden chorus sings, Hell’s angels flap their wings
Evil souls fall to Hell, ever trapped in burning cells!’

Geezer Butler’s vision of Hell doesn’t sound like much fun. And that’s the point. There’s an enormous difference between an invitation and a cautionary tale; in fact they’re polar opposites. Sabbath’s songs about evil, Satan, and Hell sit squarely in the realm of the latter. In Butler’s lyrics, the consequences of choosing the dark side are always clear. Here’s another example from ‘Master of Reality’, in a song called ‘Lord of This World’:

‘Your world was made for you by someone above
But you choose evil ways instead of love
You made me master of the world where you exist
The soul I took from you was not even missed
You think you’re innocent you’ve nothing to fear
You don’t know me, you say, but isn’t it clear?
You turn to me in all your worldly greed and pride
But will you turn to me when it’s your turn to die?’

Here, the Devil reveals that he looks down on his followers, pitying them for having made the wrong choice. What an asshole!

By Sabbath’s ‘Vol. 4’ album, it appears that Butler has reached his own crisis of faith. In ‘Supernaut’, he claims he’s ‘Got no religion’, and in ‘Under the Sun’ he denies both sides of the equation in a Lemmy-esque declaration:

‘Well I don’t want no Jesus freak to tell me what it’s all about
No black magician telling me to cast my soul out
Don’t believe in violence, I don’t even believe in peace
I’ve opened the door now my mind has been released
Well I don’t want no preacher telling me about the god in the sky
No I don’t want no one to tell me where I’m gonna go when I die
I wanna live my life with no people telling me what to do
I just believe in myself, ’cause no one else is true’

But what about God? As Butler continued to grow as a lyricist, he began to write eloquently on all things Heavenly. In ‘A National Acrobat’, on the Sabs’ fifth album, ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’, Butler expounds on the ‘universal secret’ of reincarnation, and has this to say about life itself:

‘Just remember love is life
And hate is living death
Treat your life for what it’s worth
And live for every breath’

The album closes with the magnificent ‘Spiral Architect’, a brilliant (if psychedelically-informed) attempt to see the world, in all its triumphs and failures, through the eyes of God:

‘Of all the things I value most of all
I look upon my earth and feel the warmth
And know that it is good
You know that I should’

In ‘Thrill of it All’, on 1975’s ‘Sabotage’ album, a disillusioned Butler asks ‘Won’t you help me Mr. Jesus, won’t you tell me if you can? When you see this world we live in, do you still believe in Man?’ At the time this song was written, Sabbath were embroiled in an epic legal/financial battle with manager Patrick Meehan, and Geezer Butler knew exactly where to go to ask for spiritual guidance. But for the ultimate example of a misunderstood/misrepresented Black Sabbath lyric, we need to go back to the band’s third album, ‘Master of Reality’, and the song ‘After Forever’:

‘Have you ever thought about your soul – can it be saved
Or perhaps you think that when you’re dead
You just stay in your grave
Is God just a thought within your head
Or is he a part of you
Is Christ just a name that you read in a book
When you were at school?
When you think about death do you lose your breath
Or do you keep your cool?
Would you like to see the Pope, on the end of a rope
Do you think he’s a fool?’

Apparently, all of that offended a whole lot of people. These lyrics, especially the last two lines, have been used countless times to condemn Sabbath as anti-Christian agents of the Devil, Satan worshippers, blasphemers, blah blah blah. But these intellectually dishonest fools invariably stop quoting from the song right there, just before these important lines:

‘Well I have seen the truth. Yes I have seen the light
And I’ve changed my ways
And I’ll be prepared when you’re lonely
And scared at the end of Our days’

And a little deeper in:

‘Perhaps you’ll think before you say
That God is dead and gone
Open your eyes, just, realize that he is the One
The only One Who can save you now from all this sin & hate
Or will you still jeer at all you hear?
Yes! – I think it’s too late.’

Get it right, Sabbath bashers! These are quite possibly the most Christian lyrics EVER. Certainly they’re the most Christ-affirming lyrics in my music collection. These lyrics alone make up for the rest of the Satanic nonsense in Heavy Metal, and saved my record collection’s soul… So thank God for Black Sabbath.

Amen.