The paranormal encounter that led to a Black Sabbath song

Black Sabbath and the sounds of darkness have always gone hand in hand. Although Tony Iommi may be responsible for making some of the most delightfully evil riffs in the history of man, the most significant piece of the band’s sound is when every band member is riding on those menacing riffs to create the sound of melodic doom. Although Iommi took the basis of ‘Black Sabbath’ with his central riff, the song’s twisted lyrics were much closer to home than anyone realised.

Before Sabbath had even begun work on their first handful of songs, they were initially working in the realm of blues and jazz-rock. When looking at the instrumental parts of their sound, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward employ a signature swing to the band’s songs beneath Iommi’s riffs, all while working their way through the trademark blues scales that everyone loved to hear from English rockers at the time like Led Zeppelin.

Outside of his music, Butler was also interested in reading up on the occult. When talking to Classic Albums, Butler would say that he was fascinated with the astrological sides of the religion rather than anything nasty, saying, “I was heavily into the occult. Not Satan or nothing, just astral planes and things like that”.

When working on their first album, the band were trying to play a rendition of the classical piece ‘Mars: Bringer of War’ when Iommi hit upon the now-iconic tritone riff. While the initial idea sent shivers down the back of every band member, the lyrics wouldn’t be finalised until Butler worked his way through some trauma when going to sleep a few nights later.

Having spent time before bed reading various passages from his occultist books when he got paid a visit by a spirit. In the middle of the night, Butler woke up to see a mysterious cloaked figure standing at the foot of his bed. After a few minutes, the figure vanished into thin air, leaving Butler traumatised by what he had just seen.

When talking to Guitar World magazine, Butler would say that the song ‘Black Sabbath’ came from him relaying the idea to Ozzy Osbourne, saying, “[I] told Ozzy about it. It stuck in his mind, and when we started playing ‘Black Sabbath’, he just came out with those lyrics. It had to come out, and it eventually did in that song – and then there was only one possible name for the band, really!”.

While Butler may have been off the hook for now, the band wouldn’t be safe from a few more paranormal activities during recording. Throughout the production of the album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, the band arrived at an abandoned convent to finish off the writing sessions, where multiple members recall being visited by the ghost that haunted the grounds.

Although Sabbath have had spiritual beings follow them around throughout their life, they have been able to channel that force into their music, creating songs that felt as if hellish ghouls were playing Cream. Black Sabbath and fear might go hand in hand in rock now, but when playing in a rock band, it’s sometimes comforting knowing that the evil spirits are on your side.

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