We recently spoke with author Joel McIver, about his new illustrated history of the legendary Black Sabbath, The Complete History of Black Sabbath. McIver has also writtten books about Metallica, Randy Rhoads, Slipknot and Glenn Hughes. We asked Joel "Five Questions" about his book about one of the originators of heavy metal music and here's what he had to say!
It’s taken for granted that Black Sabbath virtually “created” heavy metal, but what was the most surprising musical revelation about the band that you uncovered in your book?
That they’re uncertain about their status as a metal band. When they were recording their most recent album, 13, with producer Rick Rubin, he told them that he regarded their first album as a ‘satanic blues’ record, which is certainly arguable. I remember Rob Halford of Judas Priest telling me that he regarded Priest as the first British metal band, because Sabbath had elements of blues-rock in their sound. I later put Halford’s opinion to Geezer Butler, and he agreed. So there’s some uncertainty there, which I like, because life is not always about certainty.
It’s been a long and sometimes foggy road for the band. Did you find conflicting accounts of specific situations from band members, and, if so, how do you find “the truth?”
Yes, there are definitely conflicting reports of what really went down in a given situation. With a band this volatile, whose career has lasted so long, that is inevitable. There is no ‘truth’, though: only more or less reasonable interpretations of events based on available data. Any historian would say the same.
Bands like Black Sabbath court the dark underbelly of rock star life. How do you draw the line between sensationalism and essential details, or is all fair in rock’n’roll?
It depends on your goals. With this book, I wanted the text to be useful both for newbies to Sabbath and long-time fans, so I tried to paint a factual, informative picture without going too deep into the drugs and devils. Had the brief been to write a book that explored the mayhem in detail, I would have gone in that direction. It’s all about balance.
What is, in your opinion, the most underrated of the first 8 Black Sabbath records, and what is the strongest non-Ozzy/non-Dio Sabbath record?
Technical Ecstasy is the one. It doesn’t match up to the earlier albums but it has a certain energy that is appealing in parts. As for albums without Ozzy and Dio, I’d pick Seventh Star. Admittedly I’m biased because I wrote Glenn Hughes’s autobiography a while back and he’s a friend, but the guy’s vocals are unearthly on that album and some of the songs are decent 80s rock. Sure, the videos are hilarious but the music is all there.
Have we seen the last of the original lineup with Bill Ward? What’s the real story behind that situation?
The real story, as far as I know, is the one that’s been revealed: he chose not to sign the contract. I imagine that’s because he was offered what he regarded as an insufficient sum of money to take part. Without seeing the contracts and being a part of the private conversations between him and Sabbath, I’ve no idea what other issues there might be. But I do think that line-up is finished. There’s too much bad blood, and he has other priorities.
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