Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Purity of the Sabbath

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Lost in the wheels of confusion
Running through furnace of tears
Eyes full of angered illusion
Hiding in everyday fears

- Black Sabbath, Wheels of Confusion, 1972

People, whether performers or spectators often get lost in music. Christians may indeed claim to be found in it. Musical loss, I feel, is equally to do with memory as it is with non-linguistic expression and cognition. Like the scent of wisteria among the early heat and buzz of bees at the start of northern summer - melodic, rhythmic and harmonic expressions transport us through time, mood and cognition – sometimes in ways we cannot expect.

Last night I played Black Sabbath’s Vol 4 for the first time in months. I felt my body move, my head nod and a certain almost religious departure from my day as I was transported to the alternate realities of Snowblind, Wheels of Confusion and Supernaut. Undoubtedly there is something holy about the Sabbath. I do not mean in a super-fan, hagiographic way but rather there is sentiment, ritual and tradition embedded in Sabbath that is evoked even in the present by today’s doom bands like Electric Wizard, Church of Misery, Ramesses, Ufomammut and Yob.

But what is doom? To ask is akin to beg the same of jazz or the blues. You are likely to get answers such as: “if you have to ask…” or with apologies to Fats Weller: “If you don’t know by now, don’t mess with it”. This is not to be neither needlessly opaque nor a descent into the vagueness of “meaning differently for each person”. The point is that even while doom has recognizable musicological elements and frequently utilizes a range of identifiable lyrical themes there also remain less readily definable aspects which can be generally grouped as being “felt”. 

Doom stands alone among its post blues rock peers. More introspective than rock and less flamboyant. More individual, more disillusioned and dismissive than punk of peer approval (the irony). From the outwardly visible long haired hesher to the black t-shirt in the garage on a Sunday afternoon and the unemployed Buddhist teacher: doom is practiced, performed yet never preached. A religion without sermons but instead with stories.

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