Black Sabbath War Pigs album cover

Socialist Song of the Month – War Pigs, Black Sabbath

“War Pigs” – Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” from their Paranoid album, was released in the early 70s, toward the end of the Vietnam war, a costly and bloody quagmire not unlike the Afghanistan War. The song portrays generals and arms manufacturers as “war pigs” who kill in the name of their own greed. Ultimately, it also evokes an apocalyptic final judgment in which the war pigs are taken by Satan to Hell to answer for their crimes.

The anti-war message of “War Pigs” is obvious. Black Sabbath identifies arms manufacturers and the generals (who fed false information about the war to U.S. Presidents) as villains in the Vietnam War. Sabbath clearly fits within the anti-war movement of the late 60s and early 70s, which emphasized a similar message. Sabbath’s analysis is good, so far as it goes, but it does not touch upon an analysis of war’s or imperialism’s function for capitalism as a whole. Still, it makes for a great agitational leftist song; trying to do more would only muddy “War Pigs” anti-war message and moral clarity.

For us, one important takeaway looking back at “War Pigs” and at Black Sabbath’s legendary early discography has to do with the political stance of heavy metal music. In contemporary pop culture, traditional heavy metal music is often associated with right-wing politics and has become almost synonymous with middle-aged, aggrieved white cis-men. But Black Sabbath⁠—which is generally considered to be the first major band in the genre⁠—had radical politics born out of the ‘hippie’ culture (and the New Left) of the 60s. Black Sabbath’s politics remains on the left today, as well: during the height of the George Floyd uprising, the band started selling a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt on their official webstore with proceeds that have benefited various nonprofits.

We shouldn’t exaggerate Black Sabbath’s alignment with left politics, however; the band has become a multi-million dollar business which has affected the band’s touring and recording, particularly after a legal battle in 2009 between founding guitarist Tony Iommi and famous lead singer Ozzy Osbourne. But heavy metal arguably would not exist if it were not for the leftist politics and associated pop culture of the 60s. The language of moral outrage and dystopia which Black Sabbath gave metal in “War Pigs” is a powerful tool for expressing the evils of capitalism in a musical form. Comrades should reclaim metal for the left and remember Black Sabbath’s early work as a language of leftist outrage at injustice.

Lyrics

Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerer of death’s construction

In the fields, the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds
Oh lord, yeah!

Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor, yeah

Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait till their judgement day comes, yeah!

Now in darkness, world stops turning
Ashes where their bodies burning
No more war pigs have the power
Hand of God has struck the hour

Day of judgement, God is calling
On their knees, the war pigs crawling
Begging mercy for their sins
Satan laughing, spreads his wings
Oh lord, yeah!