Black Sabbath – Doom Let Loose
by Martin Popoff
With the current doom revival/boom in full swing — need an example, let’s just say that the local punk record shoppe down the street has a Pentagram double vinyl retrospective that’s selling briskly — it was only a matter of time before the godfathers of the genre got some printed page lovin’ too. So as an Exhibit A, we have Doom Let Loose, a lavishly-illustrated glossy tome by heavy metal historian/thinker/chronicler Martin Popoff, that skimps neither on the word count nor the photographic accompaniment to justify his love for Birmingham’s bleakest.
Doom Let Loose is, hands down, a great book, easily leapfrogging past other Sabbathologies to the head of the field. This is down to a number of reasons, both aesthetic and textual. First off, it’s elegantly designed: nice cover, text layout broken up by strategically-placed photos, good paper, just… quality. Next, the illustrations and photographs chosen are top-notch, not drawn so much from repetitive stock images, but culled from the collections of hardcore Sabbath collectors. So instead of the same ol’ promo glossies, we get alternate album art, rare live shots, eight-tracks, a full page of guitar picks, gig posters, bootlegs, t-shirts and magazine covers. It’s a dizzying array that perks up every page without distracting overly from the content. Ah yes, on to that…
Doom Let Loose is a discography-as-record-review-as-metal-history; Popoff breaks up the story of Sabbath into blocks demarcated by an album’s release (which is a good benchmark when you factor in the revolving door membership of later Sabbath), faithfully following them from early rehearsals in Birmingham to the final Reunion tour document album. Each chapter is a self-contained history; every song is song is closely scrutinized, the writing and recording process is reconstructed and the ensuing tours and band happenings are delved into, with both archival and new interviews with the major players to give a more rounded, historical perspective. Engaging stuff.
Why is Popoff ideal for this book? He knows his Sabbath, inside and out. Whereas an album-by-album ordering scheme for a book can be a grinding trudge (see most of the quickie Stories Behind the Songs books), this format really suits Popoff. He has obviously spent endless hours listening to every single piece of Sabbath vinyl — and not JUST the Ozzy years, with maybe a cursory listen to Mob Rules, turned down low, while doing the dishes — and has very strong and valid takes on every song, which he makes known, in highly subjective fashion. If something’s not up to par (*cough*Technical Ecstacy*cough*), he’ll tell you. And YET he doesn’t just indiscriminately shit on any particular Sabbath era or performer (like the hapless Tony “The Cat” Martin) in a fit of pique and/or critical laziness, EVEN during some of the more dire Tony Iommi-and-a-bunch-of-dudes lineups. That takes dedication, man!
As I said, everyone involved in the musical end of Sabbath gets their moment in the sun. Popoff’s not a blind Ozzy partisan (Dio comes off just as well), but a fan of a band that’s gone through a blur of lineup changes, while still retaining and refining (the key is either heaviness or Tony Iommi, take your pick) a signature sound. Popoff invites all “sides” to the table too, conducting interviews with the Big Three (Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and as I’m very happy to see, Bill Ward!), as well as Sabbath crewman and chroniclers David Tangye and Graham Wright, Dio, Vinnie Appice, Glenn Hughes, Tony Martin and others. Everyone ends up sounding gracious and like total English gentlemen (even the Americans); indeed, from the interviews alone, I fully expect a fifteen-piece Sabbath supergroup to tour soon, with group hugs between every song. Older interviews make up for any gaps. I suspect Popoff’s lack of agenda made so many diverse and, let’s face it, scorned parties eager to set the record straight and talk about the music (the constant focus). Doom Let Loose is as much a history and a reference tool as it is an expanded buyer’s guide, helping you figure out which albums you’d like, or helping you enjoy favored albums so much more by delving into the alchemical process of creation.
I found out some things I never knew before, like why the original lineup wore crosses all the time (Ozzy’s first was actually a piece of modified kitchen piping), how Geezer Butler, at the height of Sabbath, was arguably more religious than Satanic and it influenced his lyrics immeasurably, how Sabbath 2.0 would cook for each other while recording Heaven or Hell (awwww) and all about the revolving door lineup weirdness that went on in between the excellent Dehumanizer album and the current sporadically-gigging reunited Sabbath (Dio out-Halford in/out- Ozzy back-nostalgia ensues).
The only noticeable drawback to this book is the comparative dearth of Ozzy participation, but after seeing maybe thirteen seconds of an Osbournes episode, maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
ECW Press: www.ecwpress.com