The latest from Black Sabbath Sabbath:
"Bassically / NIB"
Oh, what’s up, tall, dark, and handsome? People got you all wrong? You’re really just a Nice Guy in need of companionship? What’s that? You’re going to rock my world? Wait, what? Forever? Until the end of time? Your name is LUCIFER?
Bait and switch, ya’ll! This might be one of my favorite Sabbath “love” songs because it maintains the dark and twisted narrative seen previously in “Behind the Wall of Sleep”. Ozzy’s steady, amelodic lyrics create a creepy chant-like drone not unlike religious services, and the listener is drawn into Lucifer’s enchanting, trance-inducing charm. So often I listen to this song and sing along without actually realizing what the lyrics actually convey. This is a parasitic relationship steeped in lies—”You are the first to have this love of mine…Now I have you with me under my power/Our love grows stronger now with every hour.”
Whenever I listen to “N.I.B”, I can’t help but think of Rosemary’s Baby. Part of that parallel stems from my own hesitation and suspicion while listening to the lyrics. Rosemary’s Baby is a horrific story of unimaginable evil and loss of control. Rosemary is taken advantage of and manipulated by an insane satanic cult, drugged, suffering rape, an unimaginably painful pregnancy, and birthing the spawn of satan. All the while, her life partner accepts bribes from the cult to use Rosemary as a vessel for Satan’s child, and her story is seen as a symptom of psychosis by the one person she can trust, her doctor. She’s lead back into the arms of the cult, and, in the end finally does give in—she shows nuanced affection for this malevolent force by mothering the screaming child. Satan wins.
“N.I.B” taps into the beginning of that shift from hesitation to weakness, showing the tantalizing temptation to give into evil. The guitar lines lash and whip around like hot flames, Ozzy’s voice steadily pulls you deeper into the trance, and the song ends with an open invitation: “Look into my eyes you’ll see who I am/My name is Lucifer please take my hand.”
Do you dare?
This song is about Satan. That rules. I mean, not like I’m in league with Satan or anything. I’m a strict no gods / no masters / only Zuul kind of guy.
But as far as historical importance goes, this is big. At least if you haven’t read Lords of Chaos and delved into the whole Black Widow / Coven / LaVeyian Satanic Mass record that preceded Sabbath. Sidenote: I spent SO MUCH time trying to find those Black Widow and Coven records back in my Catholic school days. At the very least, when I finally heard Coven, at least their song “Black Sabbath” (no relation) wasn’t disappointing.
Anyway, so Black Sabbath, at least in the Ozzy era, seemed to flirt with a sort of Evangelical fear of evil with a downright teenage fascination. Any number of genres were the devil’s music, but Black Sabbath seemed to be bringing forth the actual devil’s music. Here, there’s a song about Satan professing his undying love for an Earth woman, a portrayal of him as a powerful fallen angel prone to human folly.
Harken back to the first track on the album, “Black Sabbath.” Reportedly about a nightmare Geezer Butler had after reading a book about black magic, the song swells with the dread of evil, becoming an almost toxic cloud around the narrator. While “The Wizard” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep” have a sort of weird druggy grey magic about them, “N.I.B.” puts us firmly back in the camp of black magic by its sort of all-father. I mean, at least in the Judeo-Christian belief-o-sphere.
After the sort of extended bass interlude of “Bassically” (again with the name for the instrumental part of the song, a facet of Sabbath I love / will always love / way clever dad joke there Sabbath) we have a thick wall of distortion cut through, blazing power chords matching up to the bassline to bring us into the den of the devil himself.
This is metal mythology in the making. This is what marked Sabbath as definably evil. It’s not flirting with the devil, it’s courtship with the devil. It’s still heavily influenced by blues rock of the era (read: basically “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room” by Cream mashed together) but lays the groundwork for what’s to come.
Also, let’s take “Bassically / N.I.B.” as a full suite with “Wasp / Behind the Wall of Sleep.” After all, that’s often how they’re tracked, into one long song. So, is it one long story? Is it an alien, Lovecraftian plant species lulling people into some weird twilight zone where Satan just happens to reside? Does some victim of the “tiny petals with strange flowers” draw the eye of Lucifer, who falls so deeply and madly in love that he contemplates rejoining the side of the angels. Taking it further, is the entire first side of the LP one long story? Let’s think about that.
Firstly, we’re taken to the opening of a horror movie more or less. A man senses an evil presence at the foot of his bed, drawing him into a world of demonic powers. He has a palpable dread as he’s drawn into this weird Crowleyian black magic realm. In fact, Satan himself is sitting there and smiling. They consume him whole, in time for … a wizard to appear, in a brighter, jauntier song. The wizard might be Gandalf the grey, he might be the forces of good. Or he could be a deceptive warlock, actually seeding along the flowers and plants that, like Rapacini’s daughter (a tremendous Nathanial Hawthorne short story, read it) have sinister intent. Once the people are lulled into the weird dreamscape, Satan sets his sights on a woman that he wants to make his own. He’s back. But is he ready to cross over to the side of good? Is the wizard a possible darker force than the dark lord? Is this some real Darth Vader crossing back to Anakin Skywalker shit? I mean, aside from this album preceding the first “Star Wars” movie by a good eight years.
If we take this all as one long narrative, Side A sets up a potentially very interesting story. We’re midway through the movie. They never finish the movie. We never know what ultimately becomes of Satan. Instead, depending on whether you’re listening to the UK or the US version, you’re either treated to a moderately misogynist cover song (“Evil Woman”) or a middling original with heavy handed moralism (“Wicked World”) either of which betray a strikingly conservative world view for the band, a stark reminder that for the Hammer horror movie posturing, ultimately they are four working class lads from a city left in tatters from the war 24 years prior.
Lastly, there’s the lasting story behind the initials in the song. Is N.I.B. nativity in black? Name in blood? Less excitingly, the band claims it’s a joke about Bill Ward’s attempt at a goatee, saying it looked like a pen nib.