Death Metal Underground

Black Sabbath – God is Dead?

by Brett Stevens
April 19, 2013 –

black_sabbath-nihilismLost in the darkness
I fade from the light
Faith of my father, my brother, my Maker and Savior
Help me make it through the night
Blood on my conscience
And murder in mind
Out of the gloom I rise up from my tomb into impending doom
Now my body is my shrine

The blood runs free
The rain turns red
Give me the wine
You keep the bread
The voices echo in my head
Is God alive or is God dead?
Is God dead?

Rivers of evil
Run through dying land
Swimming in sorrow, they kill, steal, and borrow. There is no tomorrow
For the sinners will be damned
Ashes to ashes
You cannot exhume a soul
Who do you trust when corruption and lust, creed of all the unjust,
Leaves you empty and unwhole?

When will this nightmare be over? Tell me!
When can I empty my head?
Will somebody tell me the answer?
Is God really dead?
Is God really dead?

To safeguard my philosophy
Until my dying breath
I transfer from reality
Into a mental death
I empathize with enemy
Until the timing’s right
With God and Satan at my side
From darkness will come light

I watch the rain
And it turns red
Give me more wine
I don’t need bread
These riddles that live in my head
I don’t believe that God is dead
God is dead

Nowhere to run
Nowhere to hide
Wondering if we will meet again
On the other side
Do you believe a word
what the Good Book said?
Or is it just a holy fairytale
And God is dead?
God is Dead x4

Right!

But still the voices in my head
Are telling me that god is dead
The blood pours down
The rain turns red
I don’t believe that God is dead
God is Dead x4

Lyrically, it reminds me of “After Forever” but a bit more world-weary. Musically, it contains several allusions to past Sabbath and solo work by its members.

Thematically, it seems to me a response to black metal. Was Nietzsche’s target God, or our tendency to say nice things to each other and conceal the essential truth of the challenges before us? There are often many problems, but one root cause. If you don’t strike at that root cause, you get lost. If the problem is man, and not God, and society (collection of humans) instead of some external scapegoat, then we have a greater struggle than can be fixed by burning churches.

Black metal was purely Nietzschean in that it rejected the idea of a moral society and replaced it with the notion that the natural order of Darwinism produced better results. All of the Nietzschean tropes come out: praise of winter, of hardness, of privation, of wolves and of combat and struggle.

Black metal faltered in the mid-1990s when the bands realized that they might have missed their real target, which is something more like people socializing with each other and thus concealing unpleasant truths. While there are other intermediate and proximate causes of the problems we find it this world, the root cause often gets overlooked. That isn’t to say those other causes are good, or shouldn’t be fought in some form or another, just that they’re not the cause.

Black Sabbath is asking “Is God Dead?” and responding in the negative, pointing out that perhaps that last fifteen years of metal have been barking up the wrong tree. The first half of the song is questioning and self-centered, a personal drama. The second half, after the question is posed, is a thunderous rejoinder. The song splits on themes: the wine, the voices that fill the head (he cannot “empty his head”), the lack of any holiness outside the body that is the shrine, and the sense of a “mental death.” On the other hand, there is belief, a pervasive sense of something not fitting together with the narrative of the voices in his head.

Much is left ambiguous by this. “With God and Satan at my side” suggests a type of esotericism that mainstream Christianity will not embrace, and although there are references to the “Good Book,” a particular denominator has not been mentioned. However, the conflict between logic and intuition rises strongly in this song. On one side, there are empirical forces at work; on the other, instinct and a gut feeling. The song ultimately concludes with the idea that God is not dead.

And all of this happens under a banner formed of (a) a dour Friedrich Nietzsche and (b) a nuclear blast. This reminds me of not only black metal’s Nietzscheanism, but its apocalyptic viewpoint. In bad times, people start to get serious again about what they’re doing. Part of getting serious was, at least for black metal and probably for old Black Sabbath, rejecting what is popular and social.

Black metal is uncompromisingly against what makes people comfortable. In Until the Light Takes Us, musicians from Burzum and Darkthrone describe how they tried to get “bad” production for their music, to make it sound old and rotted. How they embraced evil imagery and acted out the most extreme things possible. This wasn’t a rejection of Christianity; it was a rejection of the social impulse behind civilization that prizes what looks/feels good to a group, to what is true — something that generally can be known by only a few, in the Nietzschean sense of the “apex predators” who have through natural selection risen above the rest and can see through a noble light how aggression is central to life.

Black metal may be anti-Christian, but more, it’s about the potentially mind-warping effects of socializing with others. Black Sabbath seems to be suggesting a new direction, which is less toward atheism and Nietzsche, and more toward sacrality, to which black metal might then respond that sacredness itself is what gets destroyed by socializing with others and obscuring the truth. This mirrors where a lot of the black metal guys went after the movement — Beherit to Buddhism, Darkthrone to cosmic space music, Varg to esoteric nationalism, the Graveland guys to folk music, and many others moving on to esoteric sounds like Jaaportit or Vinterriket.

Although they’d probably kill me for saying this, black metal people are generally the most religious people in the room. They believe that life is sacred, that forests are sacred, and that if nature is “red in tooth and claw” and life is “nasty, brutish and short,” that these are manifestations of the divine as well. Far from being “god is dead” people, black metal musicians strike me as being “we are worshipping the wrong god” people.

Hegel would argue that history moves through new ideas, their opposites, and compromises (synthesis). I would argue that history moves by the ideas created through a type of play acted out by characters representing extremes. In this, black metal shows us the antisocial, and Black Sabbath comes out for the sacred; the two will find common ground, because metal is ultimately sacred music. It worships power, death, nature and violence while others prefer pretty flowers and prancing kittens, but only one of those two perspectives embraces all of reality, while the other requires a social filter to merely exist. Black Sabbath and black metal are united in their dislike of that social filter.

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27 comments

  • Sweden rules, Posers drool

    Yeah, blah blah blah, I got you, but the Dio stuff still sounds cooler than this reunion song. What about Entombed lyrics like Living Dead? They talk about the same things but then, on their POSER albums, talk about getting drunk and signing new record contracts. Fenriz with a synthesizer was cooler!

  • Anon

    “Aggression is central to life”? Do you mean life itself, or human existence? If possible, I’d like to see relevant quotes from Nietzsche!

    Either way, this is only part of the way there: what is ultimately central to life is harmony. Aggression is a part of the harmony; its counterpart is temperance, or restraint or patience (however you’d label it). Computers lack aggression and temperance, and yet they are still within this universe – they are artifacts of life. As such, there can be life without aggression or the lack thereof. In contrast, if there were no harmony, there could be nothing working alongside anything else, thus not even the simplest cell – indeed, not even the simplest molecule – could exist.

    The two principle forces in the universe are contraction and expansion. When expansion and contraction cancel each other out, there is still harmony.

    Of course, even harmony is secondary, just as life is secondary: only Death is real.

  • TheWaters

    “Although they’d probably kill me for saying this, black metal people are generally the most religious people in the room. They believe that life is sacred, that forests are sacred, and that if nature is “red in tooth and claw” and life is “nasty, brutish and short,” that these are manifestations of the divine as well. Far from being “god is dead” people, black metal musicians strike me as being “we are worshipping the wrong god” people.”

    Nicely said Brett!!!

  • Max Bloodworth

    I agree with how Brett summed up the defiance of the same filter – though this incarnation of Black Sabbath isn’t its strongest, it’s good that the mainstream has a voice against crowdist rule.

  • Uraniumachine

    Ideas are not the driving force behind history. They develop in accordance with mundane reality, which in turn is shaped by necessity and chance. Natural selection eliminates ideas that grind the gears of mundane life, as they cannot survive if they endanger the survival tactics of their carriers.

    Social and antisocial tendencies are present in human behaviour. Without the need for bloated pseudophilosophical bullshit we can say that they both have their functions, one to create society and one to preserve the individual without or despite society. Since human individuality is reduced to complete mundanity (necessities of survival) without society, the individual therefore needs society to become the individual in the idealistic sense. There is however the danger of subsumation under society, which the individualistic tendency to reject it counteracts. (In modern mass society the urge to individualize has grown stronger than ever, which is why the domineering market stills this need with the false individuality that is consumerism and institutionalized youth rebellion)

    The key is, as so often, keeping the balance. Those who immerse themself in social life without being able to keep an identity that is independent from society become tools and victims to others. But all who reject the social factors of life have grown blind to the social factors that enable them to be that insolent in the first place. They confuse darwinism with a manual for surviving inside society and would die out quickly if left to fend for themselves.

    Of course all this is irrelevant if mundane reality isn’t taken care of first. Our current society is built so that only a small minority can practice their individuality in the true sense while everyone else gets fucked in the ass without lube. Everyone who isn’t that small minority should have an interest to dispose of the current form of organisation of society (and those who are subsequently to avoid being the ones who are disposed of – if they think ahead, which they don’t).

  • bitterman

    Hmmm, interesting parallel to black metal drawn there. This is what I like to read. Obviously, 1993 isn’t going to return, but all the wisdom in this music can aid our need for an idealogy. Unfortunately, in their attempt to rid the world or themselves of Christianity and other mind poisoning, the lower common denominator used the basest of their members controversial statements to become cool and hip. Call Varg a nazi for what he says, but then have another supposed “Odinist” like Gaahl or King ov Hell say the same thing sanitized through the political correctness filter and people listen but miss out on the original point, because it’s just a marketing gimmick to seem “deep”. Throw a little bit of Kerrang article and Absurd into the world at large, and now anyone can make a crappy NSBM band and wear a Burzum shirt but not have 1/10th of Varg’s intent of purpose. Then again, look at the faulty systems everywhere. ADA covers living expenses and whatnot for crippled people, but a majority use these, our tax dollars, to buy weed and booze. Why can’t our money go to NASA or something with purpose that will bring hope for the future? We are worshiping the wrong gods in a sense, indeed, because a majority of mankind isn’t willing to look at the world deeper beyond the surface. Of course, I don’t have to tell anyone in here this, but the rise of useless blackened crust and deathcore just goes to show how even the honest truths and the worthwhile hopes of this world can be perverted beyond recognition. Our foolish games, what have we learned? No time for sorrow as the world burns…remorseful grrr….

    1. kvlt attakker

      You know what “grrrrr…” auto-corrects to on my phone?

      Here’re <–

      Here are. Here are.

      This is Bitterman. Here are the obvious rehashes of the past. Let us remember how much metal nowadays sucks.

      Instead, why not harness those that are deserving in our now present state? Perhaps something worthwhile will stem from it.

      1. bitterman

        Any ideas? I’m all for liking bands if they are worthwhile. Even 1994 brought Transilvanian Hunger and For Victory. Later years brought Formulas Fatal to the Flesh, Blizzard Beasts, and Immolation’s mid to late 90s material. Then what? I’m supposed to like Disma because they do the swedeath revival better than Entrails? Birth A.D. because they’re marginally better than some other current crossover acts? Even if they aren’t exactly like their earlier efforts, Beherit and Profanatica released cool albums in the past decade that are worth owning, the same way Hell Awaits and South of Heaven are worth owning in that they are both different experiences of equal quality. If I have a Zyklon-B album and a classic Gorgoroth album, I’m not going to listen to mediocre bands like Antaeus and Averse Sefira because they, respectively, are the better copies than other bands nowadays. Sorry.

        1. kvlt attakker

          The Incant-clones could stem to something better. Cruciamentum was very promising. Grave Miasma in that same light might go further.

          They’re still in their baby phases.

          It’s all subjective, like Sorcier des Glaces recording a Blizzard Beasts.

          Proclaiming that all that is new is rubbish would keep oneself narrow minded. We’ll re-see the unfolding again, as times worsen and when art becomes more of an urgency. Right now, most are formula, but it’ll break from that threshold.

          1. Brett Stevens Post author

            The Incant-clones are promising, but one of the things that made Onward to Golgotha so legendary was its intense musicality. Many have forgotten that.

        2. Anon

          It’s not as extreme, but there’s a startling amount of good Heavy/Speed Metal coming out nowadays. If extreme metal pushed the boundaries of sonic violence and anti-modern ideology, perhaps it’s now time for the bare bones of the music – metal as a whole, rather than simply its extreme variants – to be expanded, in a purely musical sense (as happened with the NWOBHM bands of the late ’70s, with the inclusion of punk, progressive, and neoclassical tendencies within the metal mould).

  • Brett Stevens Post author

    Our goal is now to take that truth to others, which requires we be a bit more flexible, but vigilant against losing our souls. It is a knife’s edge, and I’m thankful for all the surly but reasonably respectful comments that help us all stay focused.

    1. Cargast

      Glad to see that it is now acceptable to point out that this is what’s happened to the DLA – it has become “more flexible” (you know what “liberal” means, right?). It would require that you be vigilant against losing the soul, but that would imply that you still had one to lose. I don’t think I need to back that statement up myself – the evidence is on every news page going back for weeks.

      1. Brett Stevens Post author

        You’re implying that we’ve ever concealed this direction. The point is to be out there in the world and a voice for traditional death metal, which leverages /bands by using /news. This has been said now for almost a decade as the plan. What part of that didn’t you understand?

        1. Cargast

          That which mandates giving bollocklessly neutral reviews to awful music, as far as many of the commentors are concerned. It is the methods that are being questioned, not the suggested end goal (which, as you know, is shared by myself).

          It is impossible to bring a contrarian view into mainstream society: it is called “mainstream” precisely because it denies the contrarian. You can make the contrarian safe for society by watering it down: once this has happened, the contrarian is still not accepted; the watered-down version is simply watered down more and more. This is called “assimilation”. The only way in which a contrarian view can gain predominance is if the mainstream suffers a setback such that the contrarian view in its totality becomes preferable to the status quo. This, as you well know, is how liberalism gained popularity in the first place; liberalism’s faults will cause it to fail, and in that failure a measure of sanity will return to the world, as we remember why things were like they were (through Metal, among other avenues). This is how it has happened before.

          As far as the DLA goes, your “direction” is made up of a great number of facets – including your methods – and, with all the grace of the master wordsmith, you’ve attempted to conceal this most recent change from monoculture to multiculture by suggesting that nothing has changed, that this was the plan all along (i.e. revisionism). Granted, as it is, only the “news” section has been made a foreign quarter, but that was how China got fucked by the Europeans: one bit at a time.

          “… you get known for doing something that meant a lot to you at the time, but time goes on. You want new horizons. It’s hard to express them, and you see others succeed for doing a lot less.”

          I loved this review. The self-reference was fantastic. Or is this simply irony?

          1. Jim Nelson

            You are basically being superstitious. It’s like the person that renounces power fearing that power will inevitably corrupt. Meanwhile, some other nitwit takes the reigns and you are left in the dust. Not everyone is so easily corruptible. Get creative and put on your camouflage.

            1. Cargast

              Hi there, I’m assuming we haven’t met. You might be interested in arcadian-dreams.tumblr.com, where I post some of the random stuff I write in my more creative moments, or the band Hundred, for whom I write much of the music (you can find us on youtube/facebook). Rather than advertise questionable quality, I prefer to generate exceptional quality; I’m not concerned about what kind of audience I get, or about whether or not I reach some arbitrarily sufficient number of people: that these things can be written is joyous for me in itself, and I am even more pleased that others choose to engage with what comes to me. Is this not being creative while being camouflaged? If not, please recommend some better actions, since working covertly in the interest of Truth and harmony is my job.

              As far as corrupting power goes, it seems to me that the price for the power the DLA seeks to wield is the corruption itself, in this instance. Never thought I’d be an extremist on an extreme metal website! Ah well, time to call a jihad on this site, I guess.

          2. Brett Stevens Post author

            It is impossible to bring a contrarian view into mainstream society: it is called “mainstream” precisely because it denies the contrarian.

            I think you’ve got a B->A error here.

            1. All A are B.
            2. This is an A.

            .: it’s also a B.

            However, not:

            .: all B are A

            In this case, mainstream is a term that refers to what which has no particular direction other than aiming for the slipstream of popularity, right?

            And there are multiple contrarian movements, not just a singular one?

            The mainstream isn’t reacting to the contrarian. It’s the other way around. And the mainstream’s vengeance (?) is to simply ignore the contrarian.

            It makes more sense to join the flow of information and start tuning it more toward our melody.

            The point is that there is no single “mainstream.” It’s not like people sign up and join the mainstream army or something like that. They’re there because they haven’t had the experience, incentive, etc. to try something else. Give them a break; give them a chance.

            I’m pretty sure none of us were born with a copy of Blasphemy Fallen Angel of Doom on our playlists…

            1. Cargast

              I don’t have a “B->A error”. That’s not even in the realm of what we’re talking about. Stop trying to be clever, for cleverness is the opposite of intelligence, and does absolutely nothing to support your position (it simply made me cringe). I’d expect better from SRP.

              The vast majority of people will never be able to appreciate Blasphemy. To those that do appreciate it, this music resonates in the heart and soul. Come on, man, you know this! First it was about “reaching out to the 2%”, now it’s about “tuning [the flow] more toward our melody”. Which one is it? Do you want to reach intelligent, discerning people or unintelligent, undiscerning people? If the former, write about music that reflects those qualities; as it is, much of what you write about now is created by members of the latter group.

              “Mainstream” is “that which is deemed comfortably safe by/for the general populace” (you also know this). It is what people are taught to like; why would they look for anything else? In an age of convenience, it is the goal to be comfortable in one’s acquisitions; why deviate from the pattern handed down to you, as a mundane?

              It is not that mainstream creations are generated externally so as to be “one size fits all” (few actually try to game the system, except in the most outrageous pop music), but that such things come about from within the mainstream, just as metal arises through the interaction of Hessians in a musical context.

              The mainstream has quite a definite direction, nowadays: deculturalising liberalism. Four hundred years ago, it had a very different focus (God and Country). Four hundred years in the future, it will have a very different focus (Nature and Reality? We can hope).

              All different countercultures can be brought into the umbrella group of “counterculture”: they are all against modern society as it is, whereas the mainstream is in support of modern society as it is, coming from that (even if it claims not to be, being so “liberal”).

              “The mainstream isn’t reacting to the contrarian”, after decades of articles on the dangers of psychedelic use/heavy metal/jenkem, or the constant and consistent denial of new scientific discoveries so as to prolong the current paradigm (best observed in archeology or the plate tectonics thing)? The mainstream most certainly reacts to the contrarian by, as I said earlier, denying it – it is an attempt to nullify the perceptibly negative effects of the non-mainstream on the mainstream. Of course the contrarian initiated that reaction, but each and every reaction has its opposite and equal rereaction, eh?

              I know, from having studied history – especially the history of modern musical movements – that to try to dance with the commoners will make one common oneself (punk -> pop-punk, metal -> nu-metal, electronica -> dance music). This was a given here, even a year ago; how has it been so easily forgotten? You should know as well as I that idiocies like LaVeyan Satanism or Wicca are distortions of the occult, propagated simply for the amusement of their mainstream audience: while they have the vestiges of the esoteric, they have none of the substance. This was the DLA’s complaint against the kind of material whose presence are currently entertaining.

              Your worry is that the wonder of metal, and of Hessian studies in general, will slip from people’s memories as the decades roll by. This is simply not how it happens: the esoteric has always managed to survive within the exotericisms it inhabits, through all peoples and ages, through wars and famines and inquisitions. It has done this by staying underground, by keeping its secrets for those few who can and want to understand them. You would not deny that the Rosicrucians, the Freemasons, the Hermeticists, even the Advaitins and Sufis and Tibetans, have all managed to maintain and advance their traditions from the comfort and safety of obscurity, would you? Truth has to operate covertly in Kali Yuga: the Bull of Dharma stands only on one leg. What can defend Truth from the ravening claws of the sinful (forgetful)? Obscurity. Let the ark sail until it must land.

              Feel free to be the source for mainstream extreme metal (if such a thing exists). I and my compatriots across the world – the Hessians – will take care of the real stuff. Good luck with your endeavours, as misguided as we might consider them to be!

    1. Brett Stevens Post author

      Interesting. Will you tell us more? I always pair “Twilight of the Gods” with “South of Heaven.” Both essentially religious songs, although both are crypto-pagan/esotericist, much like Sabbath’s latest seems to be.

  • Jim Nelson

    Cargest: just take this theoretically. Let’s say Man A has 10 units of time he can devote to work. Let’s say Man B has 5 units of time he can devote to work. Let’s say Man A gives 5 units to gambling on an endeavor of questionable quality and 5 to a known endeavor of exceptional quality. Whereas man B gives all 5 to a known exceptional quality. They both give 5 units to an endeavor of known exceptional quality!

    How does the one endeavor take away from the other? The two endeavors are “separate.” “Reputations” are overrated, those who can discern will be able to discern. As you, yourself say “the esoteric has always managed to survive within the exotericisms it inhabits”!!!

    As I see it deathmetal.org is simply documenting the state of metal in the here and now. There’s way too much over-thinking on this.