Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sunday Sabbath: "War Pigs," from Paranoid (1970)

So now we’ve reached what is probably Sabbath’s most popular album, though in my opinion, not their best. That one’s coming a little later in the program. But Paranoid does contain more than its share of the band’s iconic songs – the title track, “Iron Man,” “Hand of Doom,” “Electric Funeral,” “Fairies Wear Boots,” and of course, album opener “War Pigs.”

Originally titled “Walpurgis” by writer Geezer Butler, that name was nixed by the record company as being too satanic for the time, resulting in the change to “War Pigs.” It’s a song that announces fairly quickly that Paranoid is going to perhaps be a little more aggressive than its predecessor.

After the swaggering, siren-ringing lead-in, we get those two big chords from Tony Iommi that speak volumes. Bill Ward’s high-hat rings in between, and Iommi hits them again, that’s when Ozzy comes in, a wicked lilt in his voice, singing about generals gathered in their masses, just like witches at black masses.

After the first verse concludes, Iommi adds a few more notes to those original two, completing what still stands as one of his heaviest riffs ever. Like much of his work, it’s stunning in its simplicity, yet no guitarist to come after him has managed to match it.

The song then picks up the pace with a chugging open E string from Iommi, punctuated by a singing chord up the neck in an approach reminiscent of the tempo change in the title track of their debut, yet completely different.

Shortly, we move back into that riff that started it all as the band brings the song and the message home.

“War Pigs” was the first Sabbath tune that I ever heard, and the one that would send me searching the archives to learn more about this band. It wasn’t immediate, though.

You have to understand that I grew up in the Bible belt, and that final line of the song, “Satan laughing spreads his wings,” both captivated and scared the hell out of me. It was, at the same time, one of the coolest things I’d ever heard and one of the most unnerving. Not quite understanding the point of the song at that young age, I wondered if I should even be listening to this music about the devil.

In the end, of course, I couldn’t resist the tempting pull of a fantastic song, and the rest is history.

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