Six-Star Songs: Black Sabbath, “Into the Void” (1971)

Just as I was late to the party with the Beastie Boys, I was (very) late to the party with Black Sabbath. I didn’t catch the “classic rock wave” that all my friends jumped on in the summer between eighth and ninth grades. While looting my father’s record collection during college, I got into groups like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin, but I probably continued neglecting Black Sabbath simply because my Dad didn’t have any of their albums. Not too long after this though, I managed to land an original pressing of their debut self-titled for six bucks from Last Vestige, my local record store back in Albany (it was a green-label Warner Bros. U.S. pressing, for all your record nerds out there). While I sampled the title track for my own music around that time, it would be over a decade before I would explore their entire catalog.

Black Sabbath, “Into the Void”

In the spring of 2016, Supreme, the classic streetwear brand, did a collaboration with Black Sabbath. Why it took a hip hop-friendly skating company endorsing the forefathers of heavy metal to pique my interest in Black Sabbath, I don’t know; it’s pretty embarrassing but it is what it is. So I began listening to their catalog, quickly compiling a playlist of favorites while collecting some of their albums on vinyl.

Some of the items that appeared in the Supreme x Black Sabbath line

For Audiophiles and Audio Engineering Nerds

Soon after this I realized that the original U.S. LPs were inferior sound quality-wise. They were cut very “quiet”, which makes it easy for surface noise to overpower the music. Many hardcore fans believe the original U.K. Vertigo pressings are the ultimate way to enjoy Sabbath, but those are very expensive and especially rare here in the states (Vertigo was their label back home in the U.K.). Other European Vertigo LP imports are supposed to also sound good, and though those are cheaper they’re just as rare.

An original UK Vertigo pressing of Master of Reality complete with picture sleeve and poster

So after giving up on trying to find a cheap UK or Euro Vertigo pressing, I started looking at CDs. The original Warner Bros. CDs from the ‘80s sounded too dynamic and kind of “weak”. Dynamics are often a good thing but Black Sabbath’s music should punch you in the face when it hits, and louder mastering (heavier use of compression and limiting) is more likely to achieve that. To this end, I ended up with the 2009 E.U. digipak, which is being presented here.

As far as the recording and mix of the music on Master of Reality, rock engineers were getting closer to a good working theory of stereo in 1971 but weren’t there quite yet (Sabbath would get much closer the following year under the new production leadership of guitarist Tony Iommi with Volume 4). Here the guitars are doubled, our kick, snare, bass, and vocals are solidly center, and the rest of the drum kit is presented in stereo — all decisions which have become industry standard practices to this day. But overall the slight imbalance between instruments takes a little away from the overall impact of everything.

The biggest shortcoming is the balance between the vocals and guitars. If you have “Into the Void” cranked for the first 90 seconds (and who wouldn’t want to crank this shit), when Ozzy finally comes in he’s a little too loud and it always makes me want to turn it down a bit. The drums on the album are generally a little too bright to my taste, but that varies depending on what version you’re listening to, and it can also be tempered with EQ. The drums also sound a little thin and a bit too disjoint overall. And I know that Geezer Butler’s honky bass tone has become the blueprint for many metal acts, but here it could use a little less “honk”.

Long story short, I’m not the biggest fan of the recording and mix of this album, which perhaps is a testament to how much I love “Into the Void”.

For Music Lovers

When I finally did discover Black Sabbath three years ago, I threw their first four albums in a playlist and let it simmer on shuffle for about a week, rating things I liked as they surfaced. One spring night while I was on the train heading out to meet friends, “Into the Void” came on. I sat there nodding my head as the song’s half-time intro sent me into a trance. But then when everything dropped out and Tony Iommi’s verse riff hit, I simply could not remain seated. In a half-full subway car I grabbed the pole, threw my hood over my head, closed my eyes, and proceeded to rock the fuck out. Being in a good mood on a Friday night certainly played a role in how carefree I felt in this moment, but rarely have I been so moved by music.

“Into the Void” is a social commentary following in the footsteps of the band’s last smash hit, “War Pigs”. Where the latter told a tale of armageddon at the hands of rich, powerful warmongers, “Into the Void” is the bittersweet foretelling of a mankind turning Earth into a polluted warzone only to escape by rocket into the black abyss of the heavens. With minimal lyricism, Ozzy Osbourne explains that our “freedom fighters” eventually find a new rock to colonize, establishing a peaceful, loving society while the greedy and corrupt destroy each other back on Earth.

For Pessimists and Baby Makers

For someone like myself who has what I would call “existential anxiety” (the feeling that existence is a strange predicament we are thrown into without any choice and without any inherent sense of purpose), thoughts about the ultimate fate of the human race are an everyday occurrence. Even in the best-case scenario where we manage to avoid breaking the reproductive chain for five billion more years, the Sun will then be entering its red giant phase and will eventually swallow the Earth whole along with any life it may then contain.

Although humans generally seem to have an innate desire to reproduce, the demise of the Sun paradoxically poses an unavoidable obstacle to that goal. Simply put, if we’re going to live forever, it ain’t gonna be here. Extinction at the hands of a bloating Sun isn’t exactly the same catastrophe Ozzy is describing here, but it would be a disaster demanding our evacuation of the planet in much the same way as the war and pollution depicted in “Into the Void”, which is of course a much more immediate threat to our existence (this song would have made a great theme song for the 2014 film Interstellar). Either way, sooner or later we as a species will have our work cut out for us if we want to keep this party going.

Cooper Station, a post-Earth colony depicted in the film Interstellar

I can’t say I relate with my fellow human beings who want to have children and on some deeper level play a role in prolonging our existence as a species indefinitely. Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone would want to subject future humans to the universe’s injustice. At the same time, I don’t want to see everyone fry from global warming or the Sun smashing into the Earth, and people are probably going to continue having kids regardless of how bad things get. In light of this, a story about the successful migration of humanity in the face of extinction does make me feel hopeful. So thanks, Black Sabbath.