Being a child raised on heavy metal, the opportunity to see Black Sabbath in their full original form was extraordinary. They resurrected their magic and musico-chemical components specially for Ozzfest in 2004. Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, and of course, Ozzy Osbourne, all took the stage to play some of the greatest songs ever made in the history of rock.
The band was infamous in the 70’s for dealing with occult themes and black magick. The (solo) Ozzy Osbourne song, “Mr. Crowley,” was an ode to one of the most notorious dark mystics in history, Aleister Crowley. Crowley was thought to be a Satanist by some, and he outwardly expressed allegiance to the devil multiple times. The Black Sabbath song “N.I.B.” includes the infamous line, “my name is Lucifer/please take my hand.” The album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath includes images of 666, demonic figures, and death. (We must mention that this album cover was created by Drew Struzan, famous for movie posters that include E.T., Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, Blade Runner, the Goonies, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and dozens more.)
It’s no secret that Black Sabbath indulged in the folklore of witchcraft and dark magic. What happened on July 14, however, went way beyond rock and roll contrivances.
Ozzfest took place at Jones Beach Auditorium in Wantagh, NY. This is an open venue with no walls, ceiling or dome. It’s a beautiful auditorium that sits on the Long Island Sound coast. The forecast for the day was clear skies and 0% chance precipitation.
The crowd was a heterogeneous mixture of old classic rock hippies, young metal-heads, 80’s-era headbangers then losing their hair, and Gothic misfits. Some fans were seriously devoted to the art of witchcraft, wearing amulets and exhibiting mudras (cosmic hand signals) while on the line for the bathroom. Inside the bathroom, stoned eccentrics were tattooed with pentagrams. Many dismissed this as signs of crazy burnouts who took enthusiasm for metal a little too far.
As Black Sabbath took to the stage, the scent of cannabis filled the air. They played fan favorites including “Sweet Leaf,” and “Fairies Wear Boots.” Then came the time for one of the darkest compositions in their catalog, the self-titled song “Black Sabbath.”
The song “Black Sabbath” functions on a repeating diminished chord. The diminished chord is built by stacking two tritones (diminished perfect fifths). The tritone is also known as the “devil’s chord,” and thought to summon the image of Baphomet (Satan) himself. The lyrics of the song deal with a individual performing a black magick ritual, summoning the devil, and damning his own soul. The composition is saturated with tension and dissonance.
As the band broke into this number, something odd happened. Drops of rain began to fall all around us. The sky was already dark by the coming of nightfall. The crack of thunder broke out above the bay. A light storm formed directly over Jones Beach Auditorium.
Ozzy seemed unfazed by this, as if it were an expected part of the performance routine. He did acknowledge it, however, as a way to get the crowd going wild. The rainfall never progressed to anything other than a mild shower. The song ended, concluding its lyrical screams and hard-hitting guitar solos. The crowd jeered in amazement.
It’s at this point that some of you may say, “Okay it rained. So what?” If you don’t believe in dark magic or witchcraft, here’s why it’s significant: no other band would have made this a memory. It can rain at any concert, and the typical reaction would be “oh shit, it’s raining.” But Black Sabbath is strikingly unique and evocative. The allure of horror and magical occurrences are both elements that affect nearly all human beings. Black Sabbath harnessed this in a way that is unspeakable and ineffable. When it storms at the exact same time the song “Black Sabbath” begins to sound, you are taken in to a rock and roll experience that may never be re-created.
Some may actually believe that this was the pleasing of a dark master who controls all weather and elements. Maybe the ink pentagrams and sun adorations caused a cosmic force to alter the events of July 14, 2004. Some attendees did seem to defy the laws of typical consciousness.
Whatever you believe in, the point stands that this was a remarkable experience. Black Sabbath is broken up now, and I am not putting odds on Ozzy Osbourne living much longer of a life (though he’s defied all expectations so far). If there ever is the chance to see them perform again, be sure to recite an incantation directed at the ancient Egyptian deities to summon you some money for a ticket.