Late 1960s Birmingham, England, was a rather bleak place to live. Amid rubble that lingered from the Blitz bombings of World War II, giant smokestacks emitted black clouds over the city. The working class toiled away in factories with heavy machinery. The loud, metallic noises vibrated throughout nearby neighborhoods. From this environment arose a quartet of musicians whose artistic vision would influence bands for decades.
Named after a horror film starring Boris Karloff, Black Sabbath united Birmingham locals Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward. While many of the era’s rock acts clung to the hippy aesthetic and sang about peace and love, Black Sabbath delved into darker material. “War Pigs,” a song protesting the Vietnam War, compared militarists to devil worshippers. The song “Black Sabbath” had occult-influenced lyrics and opened with a sinister-sounding musical interval known as the devil’s tritone.
While the dark aesthetic of Black Sabbath frightened many parents, clergy, and moral crusaders, the band spearheaded a new musical movement that quickly gained momentum. The genre now dubbed “heavy metal” inspired like-minded bands throughout the U.K. to join the movement. Soon, heavy metal spread across the Atlantic to America, and eventually throughout the world.
Decades later, despite what critics predicted, heavy metal still rules. Birmingham credits musical pioneers such as Black Sabbath with helping raise the cultural profile of the city and surrounding borough. In 2019, through a joint effort between the Westside Business Improvement District, the Canal and River Trust, and Birmingham City Council, the city honored Black Sabbath by naming a bridge after the group and installing a bench in their honor. Dubai-based architect and Black Sabbath super fan Mohammed Osama led the campaign for the commemorative bench, which is literally made of heavy metal. The work of Egyptian artist Tarek Abelkawi, it’s adorned with etchings of the individual band members’ faces and their signatures.
Know Before You Go
The bridge is above the Broad Street Tunnel on the BCN Main Line canal.