Doom has many tricks up its sleeve, some clever, some not so clever (‘Hey, play riff A for 10 minutes, then riff B for 20 minutes, then I guess we’ll just jam it out from there’) (which, it should be said, does work sometimes) (Bong, I’m looking at you), but there aren’t many tricks that top that simple, atavistic sound with which metal was announced to the world: a tolling bell.
Comparing Black Sabbath’s titular song to the opening track of The Illusion of Motion, Ball of Molten Lead, the contrast between the two is more immediately obvious. In Black Sabbath the influence of the blues is more readily apparent, Ozzy sings, Iommi and Butler didn’t detune as far as Scheidt, it isn’t informed by three decades of metal – you can hear how much drummer Bill Ward was influenced by big band jazz – and the structure is a simpler and more compact AB pattern. Ball of Molten Lead is very much informed by doom, there’s a lotta slack in those strings (read: is detuned by seven notes), Scheidt roars, and the structure involves quite a more few letters of the alphabet. With a couple of listens, however, a subtler similarity arises; both Black Sabbath and Ball of Molten Lead tell horror stories, which in their form, are particular to the genre of doom. To generalise, where death metal and grindcore tend to be gratuitous with gore or suffering, as is thrash when it’s not talking about partying and nukes, and black metal is railing against Judeo–Christian ideology over there in the corner (sludge passed out in the bath tub a while ago), doom works more along the lines of you’ve got an unpleasant death coming up real soon, but we’re not going to give you the details, so you’re just gonna have to find those out for yourself. Hang tight while we soundtrack these closing moments of your life.
It’s straightforward enough to hear Black Sabbath and know that, after the intro of rain and a tolling bell and that tritone, an unreckonable and sinister figure designates the narrator ‘the chosen one’. As mentioned, at first Ball of Molten Lead compares as more sophisticated, but set up by the wailing wind and the tolling bell, when the rolling riff of the reverberating guitar and marching snare of Ball of Molten Lead enters there’s a comparable sense of the eleventh hour being at hand. To my ears/overactive imagination, it conjures a scene of surrounding and endless waves, being pushed along with their crashes and all alone. The opening lyrics are ‘Death on the horizon’, and the lead guitar line that enters at 5.20 reminds me of maybe that most canonical metal song about dying, For Whom The Bell Tolls. There is a new harshness to the vocals, Scheidt utilising screaming alongside his roar for the first time, exacerbated by the low EQ cut. As it mutates into what becomes the verse riff, it becomes more dissonant, with three harsh descending chords at the end of every four bars. The lyrics, told from the perspective of a dying person, deliberately jar just before the song ends; from first to last verse (let’s call it them ‘verses’ for the sake of argument) they describe moving from
The soul is unprepared
Fear runs deep
On what can’t be known
Void the gaze without the eyes
Shedding tears but no one cries
Inhale the space of the vessel
Bid the host a last goodbye
But before we all get to join hands, hum Kumbaya and float off to the great gig in the sky, they close on
I try but I can’t dislodge this
Ball of doubt.
When it comes to dying, doubt has a powerful hold; what really happens after death? The truth is that no one knows – and that’s as heavy, unsolvable and universal is it gets.