Black Sabbath is the band that invented heavy metal, no question about it. Bands had riffs before them, but guitarist Tony Iommi made the riff as an object of worship, blasting it through down-tuned guitars and amps loud enough to carry the gloomy worldview penned by bassist and lyricist Geezer Butler.
Black Sabbath were not interested in hippie politics; they wanted to show the darkness of the world for what it really was, and provide a light in the process. Through them later came the innovations of groups like Metallica, Judas Priest and countless others who traffic in heavy riffs combined with heavier subject matter. And for better or worse, they gave the world Ozzy Osbourne, the Satanic panic turned festival namesake turned reality TV star. They created metal 46 years ago, and now they’re going to retire in peace.
They’re on their farewell tour, succinctly and appropriately named “The End,” and the final show of their US leg will be in San Antonio on Saturday. For central Texas, this will be the last time to pay tribute to the creators of metal, and with San Antonio’s historically strong support for metal, it’s a fitting last stand. Butler took a little time to reflect on the band’s legacy and how they’ve stay relevant for so long.
Austin360: Is there anything new or different that you’ve realized about your career and your impact on music now that you’ve embarked on this last tour?
Geezer Butler: When we started out we didn’t expect to last more than a few years, never mind almost 50 years. I never thought it would turn into a lifelong career. It has been especially pleasing to know that we have influenced so many bands, and that we are still relevant after all this time.
How do you make sure fans remember Sabbath the way you want?
I feel that we are still musically at the top of our game, and we are aware that these last shows are the way people will remember us, so each show is very important to us. We put everything into our performances, and that is very important to us, to be the best we can be for our fans.
San Antonio has historically had a strong metal community. What does it mean that your final U.S. show is there?
San Antonio has always been a great place for us to play. The fans are very passionate, and I think it is the perfect place to end our American shows.
Do you find that Sabbath’s darkness has not only carried over to the modern age well, but is perhaps more relevant than ever? Do people lose sight that there’s an emphasis on peace and coming together within all that darkness?
Since we started, we have been largely misunderstood by the media. Our fans knew what we were about; they weren’t looking for things that weren’t there in our music. We were reflecting the darkness in life, but offering ways to overcome it, largely through love and peace.
Sabbath were met with derision early in their career, and Ozzy Osbourne in particular has been seen as an antichrist of sorts as part of a moral panic. Now, Sabbath is very much a part of the mainstream. Is it interesting to go from so hated to so loved?
I think it comes from longevity; the shock of the new wears off pretty quickly, and hate turns to acceptance. After all, Elvis was seen by some as a kind of demon when he started, playing the “devil’s music,” and you can’t get much more mainstream than him now.
Charles Bradley released a soul version of ‘Changes’ that is just amazing. He put a lot of heart into it and really just shows what a wonderful song it was to begin with, even though he comes from a different place. What is it about the music you’ve created that transcends genre?
I love the Charles Bradley version of “Changes”; I think it is one of the best covers I’ve heard. Good songs are good songs, no matter how they are interpreted.
What will it mean once this tour is all said and done (aside from maybe a nice vacation)? What do you think about your legacy?
It will be bittersweet. It has been a great achievement lasting so long and still being relevant — it’s something to be proud of, but my life will be very empty without the band. I hope our music will be around for a very long time after we’ve gone.
Sabbath is always described as ‘heavy.’ What is the heaviest Sabbath song
Probably the song “Black Sabbath.” The riff is very dark and brooding, but the lyrics are a warning against the darkness.