Iron Men

Black Sabbath reunites to take rock once more into the bowels of hell

"The Cardigans do the best Sabbath covers," says Iommi, referring to the Swedish group's versions of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" and "Iron Man." "It's good because they treat the songs totally different to how you'd imagine."

According to Butler, the indifference of the press actually contributed to the longevity of Sabbath's music. "We've never been played to death on radio, or on MTV every five minutes. So, we've always kept this kind of underground following and feeling among people. Since a lot of bands pick up on us, I guess we've sort of kept the street-cred thing, if that's still a term."

But with all this obvious reverence, why has it taken so long for a reunion? "We just got fed up with always saying no," Butler says matter-of-factly. "Obviously, there's a demand there, otherwise we wouldn't even be dreaming of doing this. We wouldn't flog a dead horse. But the demand has become overwhelming now."

"Neither of us thought it was going to happen," adds Iommi. "It would come up, but it always went away again. So it's great to be actually out there doing what we do best."

Musically, Sabbath were never ones to follow the beaten path. They were the first to tune their instruments down to bowel-shuddering pitches, and also pioneered the use of obscene amplification levels. "We've always experimented and gone against the grain," says Iommi. "People have said, 'This is how you have to tune,' or 'This is the proper way to play a chord,' but our sound developed out of not following trends. Even the writing wasn't trendy--it wasn't verse/chorus/verse. We always had different timings coming in. I remember when Dio first came into the lineup, and that's when we noticed just how different we were. He'd say, 'You can't do that--where's the chorus?' We'd look around and ask, 'What's a chorus?'"

Religious picketers still occasionally show up at Black Sabbath concerts. Butler insists, however, that the band members were never the Satan worshipers people loved to tag them as being.

"The whole Satanic thing was misinterpreted," he says. "To us it was a bit of a joke, right from the beginning. But a lot of people heard the name of the band, plus lyrics like 'Satan's coming 'round the bend,' and figured we were all personally into Satan. If they'd really listened, they'd have found we were against all that stuff."

Still, easy listening this was not. Exactly what was the message to be found in a song like "Children of the Grave"?

"We were trying to say that the real Satan was here on Earth, alive and well, in the shape of most politicians," Butler explains. "When we started, it seemed England was about to be dragged into the Vietnam War. Of course, we were all front-runners for conscription--working class, out of a job, into the army and dead next week. We were just saying Satan was something right here. Not in some place you go after you die."

Black Sabbath is scheduled to perform on Thursday, December 31, at Bank One Ballpark, with Pantera, Megadeth, Slayer, and Soulfly. Call 462-6000 for showtime.

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