Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Listen Up, Ya'll, It's Sabotage

Throughout my course of covering metal music, I have to admit I became a little disgruntled with the topic of Black Sabbath. Not with the band itself, nor do I refute Sabbath represents a cornerstone and birthmark of a hyper-gloomy breed of dark music soon to be coined "heavy metal."

It's the easy way out most fans and writers take when they cite Black Sabbath as the first and greatest heavy metal act of all-time. Sorry, but Iron Maiden is the greatest and you can go back as far as Link Wray for his innovative distortion chords that officially indoctrinated the sound that later evolved into metal. Some pick Led Zeppelin or Iron Butterfly as the first heavy metal acts, yet I posit a strong argument for Cream, Blue Cheer, Amon Duul II, Jimi Hendrix, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Deep Purple, Canned Heat and The Beatles' "Revolution" as some of the groundbreaking focal points of heaviness. I mean, hell, Deep Purple's In Rock alone is one of the heaviest and loudest albums this side of a Marshall stack, yet it gets little mention today.

In other words, I've taken exception to the overt laziness by people in declaring Black Sabbath the world's first heavy group.

Granted, the first Black Sabbath album is a fierce, hapless and orgasmic collision upon the ears, while Paranoid proved there was room for rock-out musicality as well as heated political stances within Sabbath's tenebrous demogogues. Herein is where average listeners stay when it comes to Black Sabbath's recordings.

However, those heavy metal bands past and present who all claim Sabbath had an encompassing influence over their work would likely tell you it's the subsequent quartet of albums, Master of Reality, Vol. 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and the ingenious Sabotage from which they drew inspiration. As damn well they should. Without question, both Kiss and Alice Cooper were affected by "The Writ," "The Thrill of it All" and "Supertzar."

Yes, the Ozzy Osbourne years (minus Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die)--along with the Ronnie James Dio-led classics Heaven and Hell plus Mob Rules--combine for a collective benchmark of supreme heavy metal music. All eight albums should be considered mandatory if you're a genre head, but for whatever reason, 1975's Sabotage tends to get overlooked by the metal majority.

I was just as guilty when compiling 100 indispensible metal albums and chose Vol. 4, Black Sabbath, Mob Rules and Heaven and Hell at The Metal Minute. Should Master of Reality made the cut? Yup. Paranoid? Double yup. Sabotage? Shame shame shame on me.

I've been spending quite a bit time with this album after an inexplicably long layoff and my first thought within the first stanza of "Hole in the Sky" is to wonder why Sabotage doesn't leap off the tongues of most when discussing the greatest albums of heavy metal. "Symptom of the Universe?" Jesus, man, the whole ethos of metal is wrapped in a 6:29 symposium of brackish brutality and an out-of-nowhere acoustic half-jig which carries as much of a swing as a summons to headbang. "Megalomania," another example of unrelenting fury, ten minutes of skull-crushing riffage and Ozzy Osbourne inviting you to "suuuuck meeeee..." "The Thrill of it All?" Oh yeah...OHHHHH YEAH!!!

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath introduced a lot of progression and symphonic supplements to Black Sabbath's brooding verve, but the stirring choral presentation on "Supertzar" from Sabotage is twisted, haunted and ultimately euphoric. Set in front of the grand finale couplet "Am I Going Insane (Radio)" and "The Writ," the triumvirate combined might as well be considered the building blocks of the more astutely-written black metal from Celtic Frost to Agalloch. Evil, but intelligent evil.

Occasionally you can hear some choppiness and abrupt transitional mixes which betrays Sabotage in a couple spots. Otherwise, you have to count this album as a watermark for the genre, not just for Black Sabbath. The band was clicking on its final cylinders with Sabotage and you can hear both the tension and the mania raging out of Ozzy's voice. He sounds tormented and in danger of losing control (especially on "The Writ," criminey), precisely the kind of performance you want on a metal record that stands the test of time. "Hole in the Sky" is one of Ozzy's finest, most unhinged vocal performances while Tony Iommi banged out one of his mightiest sets of chops here. When you hear everyone from Saint Vitus to Fu Manchu to Weedeater to even The Black Keys claim Sabbath as an influence, "Hole in the Sky" is where they're coming from. It is heavy metal unto itself.

As is "Symptom of the Universe," a mean mutha that clocks you upside the head after Iommi has settled you with the sedate acoustic interlude "Don't Start (Too Late)." I've heard many young bands rip out the main riffs of "Symptom" as much as I hear it played by roadies during live set changeovers. It's been covered by Sepultura, the Melvins, Helmet, Orange Goblin, Stone, Freak Seed and many others. It's passe to do "War Pigs" or "Iron Man," dude. Nail "Symptom of the Universe" and you've won favor from the metal gods. Brownie points if you tackle "Megalomania" as Venom did on the Prime Evil redux in 1989 with Demolition Man in brief replacement of Cronos.

All of this being said, I suppose I can come to terms with the "laziness" I accuse others of having when it comes to staking out metal's roots. It's important we acknowledge Link Wray and even Leadbelly before him. We're criminal if we're skipping by Cream's Disraeli Gears. Zeppelin's entire catalog is a veritable blueprint for all that followed them. The Beatles were their mentors along with Buddy Holly and Howlin' Wolf.

If we're going to use Sabotage only as a gauge, then it's more than forgivable to go directly to Sabbath for heavy metal sovereignty. Caveat, though, be sure to stop by Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast, Killers, Piece of Mind and Powerslave along the way before you raise the crown.

Godspeed on your fight against lymphoma, Tony...


  1. I've been watching "Metal Evolution" done by the Headdbanger's Journey guy which is exploring (as the namesake suggests) the evolution of metal. The first few episodes delve pretty deeply (beyond Zepplin and Deep Purple even)into metals roots.

    Pretty interesting stuff. I have 3 or 4 more episodes to go. If you haven't already, you might want to check it out.

  2. Thanks for the tip, man. I think I heard about this before I put TMM on hiatus. I'll keep an eye out for it. So long as people take the time to dig deeper than Sab or Zep, that's all I ask for, lol...