It wasn’t just in the music. The band’s name came from the 1963 Boris Karloff film of the same name (“If we’d have called ourselves The Nice Blokes or something, nobody would have taken any notice of us!” hoots bassist Geezer Butler), while their preference for black clothes gave them a darker aura than other bands.
It was an image that gathered speed quickly, even influencing ideas the band didn’t have a say in. The album’s intro was the idea of studio staff, added unbeknownst to the band, while the first the band knew of the inverted cross and gothic poetry inside the album sleeve was when they received their copies, having been thought up by a record label employee to drive home the band’s vibe.
For the band themselves, the darkness was something to look at as a balance to life, rather than something to jump into. Lyricist Geezer calls Black Sabbath, with its lyrics of an encounter with Satan, “A cautionary tale against Satanism,” while Ozzy explains that N.I.B. comes from thinking drummer Bill Ward’s beard looked like a pen nib. “It was never Nativity In Black like some people say,” he chuckles, “I would never have known what fucking Nativity In Black meant!”
Whether serious about their image or not, something took hold in Sabbath’s music on that album that struck a chord for generations to come. It was a new kind of heaviness. One that’s endured to this very day. Happy birthday, Black Sabbath.