Saturday, January 2, 2010

January 2: Black Sabbath, "Electric Funeral"

Artist: Black Sabbath
Song: "Electric Funeral"
Album: Paranoid
Year: 1970

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Often times, an album either produces a single hit song or a string of smaller hits, and it makes the other songs on the album fate into relative obscurity. These songs that are "left behind" usually come to be referred to as "deep cuts" by music lovers, and it is often in these tracks that one can find the finest work of a given artist. As 1970 turned into 1971, heavy metal pioneers, Black Sabbath, found themselves with a trio of unlikely hits off of their sophomore album, Paranoid. While the title track certainly garnered a great amount of airplay, it was the pairing of their most famous songs, "War Pigs" and "Iron Man" that would cement the groups' name as true icons of the genre. With all three of these songs appearing on the first side of the LP, it is in some ways understandable that the second side of the record rarely gets mentioned. Yet it is on this second side where one of Black Sabbath's finest songs lives, and it is in every aspect as great as the songs for which they are best known. In many ways combining everything that makes the three singles so fantastic, Black Sabbath have rarely sounded better than they did on their absolutely pulverizing 1970 song, "Electric Funeral."

In their early years, there were few groups that could right as devastating and dark a guitar riff as Black Sabbath, and on "Electric Funeral," Tony Iommi presents one of the finest of his career. It is in this riff that one can hear that the song is, in fact a balance between the sound of their hits, as it contains the powerful "trudge" that dominates both "War Pigs" and "Iron Man," as well as the more fast paced "sting" that is also found on the former. "Electric Funeral" also contains one of the most unique musical moments in the entire Black Sabbath catalog, as the group undeniably steals a riff from none other than mellow, spacey rock legends, Pink Floyd. If one listens closely, at the 1:55 mark of the song, the progression that Iommi plays is without question a musical nod to Floyd's 1967 classic, "Interstellar Overdrive." The rhythm section of Geezer Butler and Bill Ward also find their way into the crushing groove that made the early Black Sabbath records so fantastic. Ward is absolutely on fire during the Floyd-esque breakdown, and Butler, as always, gives the song its dark, menacing mood. As did nearly all of Paranoid, "Electric Funeral" presents the combination that made Black Sabbath into the kings of early heavy metal.

While the music bears a striking similarity to the two singles off the record, lyrically, "Electric Funeral" can be seen as a second part of "War Pigs." Where the more popular song speaks of the manner in which "the powers that be" create wars and ship off countless youth to meet their death, "Electric Funeral" focuses more on the aftermath of war. Clearly referencing ideas like nuclear fallout, mutated humans, and other nightmarish images of a post-apocalyptic world, the dark and chilling lyrics fit in perfectly with the haunting music. The song is made even more haunting by the absolutely perfect vocal delivery from Ozzy Osborne. Staying in an almost monotone, almost lecturing voice, Osborne's voice seems to loom over the listener, and it is one of the finest vocal performances of his career. Even the altered vocals that appear later in the song are somehow fitting within the gloomy and grim mood that the band had created. Taking "Electric Funeral" as a single musical work, one can make a very strong case that this is the song that exemplifies everything that made the early years of Black Sabbath so influential.

While at the time, songs concerning war were nothing out of the ordinary, the lengths to which Black Sabbath took the idea on "Electric Funeral" were far darker and more vivid than anything that had been previously recorded. Taking the ideas set on "War Pigs" and going to the "end" of that situation, it is very easy to hear these two songs as a single thought process. The central guitar riff bears a striking similarity, yet it is not a copy, and remains today as one of the most devastating riffs ever written. It is on "Electric Funeral" that one can experience everything that makes Black Sabbath such a highly revered band, and they rarely sounded better than one will find on this song. From the phenomenal work of Iommi, Butler, and Ward to the absolutely perfect vocal work of Osborne, "Electric Funeral" is an absolute masterpiece of the early years of Black Sabbath, yet due to the unlikely popularity of the songs from the records' first side, the song itself tragically remains in relative obscurity. After experiencing the song, one cannot deny its power, and it clearly deserves as much credit and reverence as any other song anywhere in the Black Sabbath catalog, as "Electric Funeral" is by far one of the finest songs the group ever recorded.

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