Last year I bought Ozzy Osbourne’s newest album Ordinary Man, listened to the title track sung by him and Elton John–then promptly left the CD in my truck and forgot about it. Last week I found it, played the whole album–and decided it would make a good topic for a Halloween week blogpost.
I never listened to Black Sabbath or any of that ilk in high school (I graduated in 1978). My tastes ran more to Wings, Boston, George Harrison, Elton and–to the mystification of my friends–Gordon Lightfoot. (I did later like 90s Ozzy, but never bought any of his albums.) Like many of my peers, I simply assumed that metal bands were mediocre musicians who substituted volume for musical ability. And that they were pushing Satan.
A few years ago I did a very long and deeply-researched post on eschatological music, “Six Rock Songs about the End of the World.” Therein I examined songs by the usual suspects–Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Metallica–but also Wishbone Ash and U2. Reading up on those metal songs (and the albums whence they came), as well as of course actually hearing them for a change, was enlightening. (Ditto for Wishbone Ash, which–as I point out rather humorously in that aforementioned post–I had long since dismissed as a mere hippie band. As for U2: I am a huge fan, and have listened to their music repeatedly, for decades.) It turns out that Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Metallica lyrics reference cosmic matters, particularly God v. Satan, death, the Last Judgement and of course the end of the world, quite often. Far more than any other genre of music, it’s clear. (I know something of country music, too, as my wife listens to it constantly. Further affiant sayeth not.) And, if you actually listen to their lyrics, they usually come down on the side of Heaven, not Hell.
In fact, Black Sabbath in particular has been called “the world’s first Christian metal band.” And if you think that’s a claim too far, at least consider the overtly Christian content of some of their biggest songs.
The band’s former lead singer does much the same on Ordinary Man. The opening track, “Straight to Hell,” seems to be an anti-drug anthem, and not a travel recommendation. “All My Life” is about regrets for having wasted years, marked by a particularly poignant retrospective look at himself as a child. “Goodbye” finds the former “Prince of Darkness” also lamenting past sins and thinking about death. On this third track Ozzy claims that he’s “not afraid to burn in Hell,” but shortly thereafter sings “Mother Mary, Jesus Christ/I wish you heard me crying out for help.” The title track with Elton is the best on the album, musically, but also lacks any references to God; rather, it’s a lament that he not be judged as merely ordinary. “Under the Graveyard” is the most appropriate for Halloween, and in fact rather bleak in lines like “today I woke up and hate myself” and “under the graveyard/we’re all rotting bones/everything you are/can’t take it when you go.” “Eat Me” is Ozzy’s sardonic, and actually hilarious, take on the decidedly un-humorous early-21st century German cannibal. He waxes overtly eschatological, and Biblical, in “Today is the End:” “the road to hell isn’t paved/not every soul can be saved/you reap what you sow.” “Scary Little Green Men” seems very relevant in light of the recent admissions by the US government that UFOs/UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) are very real. But it also evokes the Simpsons and The Twilight Zone takes on topic: “they want us/they need us/they might just try and eat us.” And Ozzy warns that we should be careful what we wish for: “everybody wants them/until they meet them.” “Holy for Tonight” sounds like it’s about a guy (or gal) on death row, but it could just as well be about anyone struggling with sin and facing death: “pray for me Father/for I know now that I do/I am the monster/yea you must have read the news,” as well as “when I speak my final words/what will it feel like/and I wonder if it hurts.” All of us, not just criminals sentenced to execution, face that fate. As the Orthodox Morning Prayers say, “suddenly the Judge will come, and the deeds of each will be laid bare.” Ozzy’s finishes his latest album with two collaborations: “It’s a Raid,” and “Take What You Want.” Both feature eclectic rapper Post Malone, but the final cut also includes rapper/singer Travis Scott. The former seems to be about a drug dealer waiting for the police to come for him, while the last song on the album–also released as a single–is about either a woman or drugs (perhaps both). The ultimate and penultimate tracks are more about marketing Ozzy to the younger generation than about the traditional Black Sabbath-esqe obsession with death, judgement and the afterlife, however.
According to an early 1990s interview, Ozzy, far from being a devotee of the devil, is a practicing Anglican. Whether that remains so decades later is unknown. But based on his latest album, the former “Prince of Darkness” is more of a poor, penitent, Christian sinner than a recruiter for Satan. And he probably always has been.
Although a certain bat might disagree.