Trashing The Classics: Black Sabbath’s Iron Man

by Dr. Zoltan Øbelisk

Context From Carl: This is a script for another Dr. Zoltan video which never got produced. It was written in July 2007. I had this concept for a series of Music Theory videos called Trashing The Classics. The idea was that Dr. Zoltan has no cultural reference for older works of art, so he judges them according to modern standards and technology.

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Dr. Zoltan will now direct your attention to a recording by the famous heavy metal band known as Black Sabbath. The song in question? Iron Man, from the album called Paranoid.

I will begin by pointing out the most obvious flaw of all — the tonality (or lackthereof).

The vocalist’s melody line in relation with the guitar and bass part causes the composition to be monophonic. That means the vocals are simply following exactly what the guitar and bass are doing. Listen closely and you will discover that they are all playing the exact same notes. Given 3 instruments, a composer can choose to assign a different note to each instrument, but the band Black Sabbath is not adventurous enough for that.

Black Sabbath’s music is far too simplistic and one-dimensional to be taken seriously. It may be hard for some listeners to believe, but it would have been possible to use contrary motion: one note might go up the scale while the others might go down at the same time. Iron Man lacks polyphony or counterpoint, which are musical inventions at least 1000 years old.

In much the same manner as the pitched instruments, the percussionist is rhythmically uninventive and does very little to invoke a sense of counterpoint. He simply “plays along,” by banging on the drums in the same rhythm as the other 3 players.

For at least 300 years, music had reached considerable levels of complexity in harmony, rhythm, and timbre. Black Sabbath were NOT innovative in any of these categories. In fact, they failed to employ many of the cutting edge techniques already invented earlier that same century by composers such as the riot-inspiring Igor Stravinsky. Even rock composer Frank Zappa had already released 7 full albums by that time. That’s nearly as many albums as Black Sabbath made with vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, but even having 4 members it took them approximately twice as long.

Moving on, let’s look at the other component of this creation: the lyrics.

Those contained in Iron Man are NOT cleverly crafted… and they lack sophistication. The amateur lyricist given the job that day, perhaps Geezer Butler or Ozzy Osbourne, had committed the most trite flaw in lyric writing — that of collecting a pair of short phrases that are unrelated and making them rhyme. It requires very little skill to cause the last word of the second to rhyme with the last word of the first. The actual arrangement of the rhyming pairs in question do not even accidentally invoke a sense of suspense or cadence.

[Obnoxious Cutaway: DID YOU KNOW: Black Sabbath were originally called, “Polka Tulk Blues Company?” Certainly not an effective meme! (insert laughter from studio crew…)]

Out of the 22 musicians that have joined and left the band over the years, none of them were able to improve on this flawed arrangement. And out of all of the long-haired morons around the world that have performed it over the years, I have yet to see this weak, hideous 3-chord piece of junk repaired or even improved upon.

It is obvious that Iron Man was written by amateur creators both in the realms of words and music. They lacked the experience or education that one should expect from those calling themselves professionals. Dr. Zoltan finds it distasteful and ignorant for Black Sabbath to be taken seriously as artists. If Iron Man was a new song written today, everyone would laugh. Iron Man is not timeless and is only relevant within the temporal context of pop culture.

Despite all of these facts, dozens of teenagers per year continue to commit a mass error, whereby causing Black Sabbath to achieve unwarranted popularity and many millions of dollars of personal income.

I demand that the people of planet earth admit to their mistake and stop listening to Iron Man. Immediately.

-Dr. Zoltan