SCIENCE FICTION MUSIC REVIEW: "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath (1970)

Wil Avitt
Wil Avitt's picture

Here at Republibot, we strive to do everything humanly (and sometimes inhumanly) possible to bring you the best science fiction content on the internet. As part of that mission, we are bringing you this series of reviews of some of the popular songs from across the decades that have told stories set in the science fiction genre. Last time we looked at Zager and Evans' "In the Year 2525", this time we're going to examine the song "Iron Man" from the heavy metal band Black Sabbath, which introduced the world to the great voice of Ozzy Osbourne.

Iron Man is a song by Black Sabbath which first appeared on that band's second album, Paranoid. The song tells the story of a time-traveling hero who goes to the future and witnesses the destruction of the world by a fearsome creature. He returns back in time to warn the people of their impending doom, but is turned to steel by a magnetic field. Upon returning to his own time, our hero is now feared and shunned by people as a monster, and no one heeds his warnings of doom as they believe him to be mad. This enrages our hero, who sacrificed his humanity for these people, and he truly does lose his mind and goes on a vengeance-fueld rampage, destroying the world and thus becoming the threat he returned through time to warn everyone about.

This song is notable, musically, on many levels. It pretty much single-handedly kicked off the Heavy Metal sub-genre of rock 'n roll, which still continues today. It was also one of the earliest uses of power chords, as opposed to more traditional guitar chords heard in rock 'n roll songs of the then-recent past. It is also, quite probably, the only song to ever win a Grammy Award 30 years after its release.

Although the Iron Man comic book had been in existence years before this song was written, Ozzy Osbourne, who named the song, didn't name it after the comic book. The song's original title was "Iron Bloke" which came from Ozzy's remarking that the opening guitar riff sounded like an iron bloke walking around. The lyrics were written around the title, which was subsequently changed to "Iron Man".

The story of the song contains many science fiction tropes, such as time travel, transmutation, an apocalyptic war (or in this case an apocalyptic slaughtering of the human race by Iron Man) and the predestination paradox. Iron Man is a classic rock 'n roll song that works on every level: musically, lyrically and metaphorically. Metaphorically, the song is a product of its time and is very analogous to the treatment of soldiers returning home from Vietnam, where many of them did sacrifice their very humanity.

Iron Man is a great song on every level, and I hope if you've liked this song as much as I do, and aren't already familiar with Black Sabbath, you look up some more of their music. Share your thoughts in the comments section, located immediately south of this article.