Understanding substance use and addiction through the lyrics of Black Sabbath
Conway, K. P., & McGrain, P. (2016). Understanding substance use and addiction through the lyrics of Black Sabbath: A content analysis. Substance Use and Misuse, 51(12), 1655-1663. DOI: 10.1080/10826084.2016.1191515
Background: Heavy metal music is distinguished for its deep sound and lyrical fixation with dark themes including war, destruction, doom, and misery. Such subjects permeate the music of Black Sabbath, the band generally considered the pioneers of heavy metal. One theme-substance use-is recurrent in Black Sabbath's songs and personal lives of its members. Objective/Methods: This study explored the band's relationship with substance use though a content analysis of all songs containing lyrics written and recorded in studio by Black Sabbath. The analysis included 156 songs across 19 albums recorded from 1970 to 2013. Results: Three key findings emerged. First, a minority of songs (13%) contained substance references. Second, the songs with substance references were overwhelmingly (60%) negative, a pattern that increased over time. Third, despite many line-up changes over the band's 43-year period, every song referencing substance use except one featured vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and lyricist Geezer Butler. Conclusion: Contrary to the notion that heavy metal music glorifies or encourages substance use (Record Labeling, United States Senate, 1985), Black Sabbath's lyrics as a whole weave a cautionary tale of how persistent substance use can hijack free will, become the dominant focus of the affected individual, and produce myriad forms of human misery. The insidiousness of chronic substance use depicted by the lyrics mirrors findings from natural-history studies of individuals with substance use disorders and aligns with neurobiological heuristics of addiction.