This was a Vault piece from Metal Hammer about the pioneering heavy prog band Black Widow. When I was 10 I heard Come To The Sabbat on my uncle Ian’s copy of Fill Your Head With Rock and it made a huge impression upon me. It was to be about another 30 years before I heard it again. I’d love to travel to the parallel universe where the Broadway show actually happened.
ALTHOUGH Black Sabbath are usually credited as being the first band to forge the link between heavy music and ‘satanism’, there are several other more obscure claimants to the title. In fact, in their early days, Sabbath were often confused with a Leicester band called Black Widow. Shock-horror reports in the Sunday papers about ‘LSD-crazed devil worshipping rockers’ used sometimes accused Sabbath of having performed mock human-sacrifices onstage, something that they never did. Black Widow, on the other hand, built their whose stage show around plunging a knife into a naked virgin.
By 1969, the hippy dippy nursery rhyme psychedelic whimsy of Donovan, ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and early Pink Floyd was dead. The dying days of hippiedom coincided with a massive revival of interest in the occult. The new face of the hippie dream was the thousand yard stare of Charlie Manson, who declared himself to be Jesuis and the devil, on the cover of Life magazine.From Hammer films and the novels of Dennis Wheatley to the scary black-robed Process Church cult who used to walk around West London, there seemed to be satanists everywhere. Like Sabbath, Black Widow emerged from a moderately successful local pop act called Pesky Gee who wanted to jump onto the ‘underground’ gravy train and were astute enough to latch onto the imagery of the ‘dark side’.
The stage show (choreographed by members of Leicester’s Phoenix Theatre Company) featured the mock sacrifice of a nude woman, which predictably had the tabloid hacks queueing around the block in search of a story. The band were also reputedly taking advice from self styled “king of the witches” Alex Sanders.
The band were snapped up by CBS and their debut album ‘Sacrifice’ was rushed out in 1970.
“We had a lot of bad luck,” says flautist/sax player Clive Jones who now runs a management company. “CBS released it on the same day as Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ [one of the biggest and fastest selling albums of the 70s].”
The pressing plants were working overtime on the soft rock classic and consequently very few copies of ‘Sacrifice’ actually made the shops.
Despite all the tabloid notoriety, it barely scraped the lower reaches of the album chart – though the inclusion of ‘Come To The Sabbat’ on the budget double compilation ‘Fill Your Head With Rock’ helped to spread its unholy word.
The Sabbath/Widow confusion was exacerbated by the fact that both bands shared the same management. But anyone who was looking for a Sabbath knock-off would either be disappointed or pleasantly surprised.
Although the name Black Widow is such a quintessentially perfect heavy metal name, the actual sound was more in keeping with the emergent progressive rock. Heavy organ-led songs full of jazz structures, folky melodies and unconventional instrumentation – violins, flutes, ‘primitive’ drums – gave it a flavour that was closer to bands like Jethro Tull than to Sabbath.
One track, however, stood out: ‘Come To The Sabbat’ started with ritualistic drumming and chants, launched into a song about a quest for knowledge, before hitting us with one of the most chilling ‘choruses’ of all time. “Come, come, come to the sabbat/come to the sabbat/satan’s there” is intoned over a stark drum, building up into a frenzy. Tame stuff these days, but back in 1969 it must have been enough to have the priests round to exorcise the place.
The band made two more albums but dropped the occult theme in an attempt to reach a wider audience.
According to Clive Jones, this was a central split in the band with two of the members wanting to go ‘mainstream’ and the others wanting to stick to the occult themed show.
Various projects – such as an attempt to take their stage act to Broadway – failed to materialise and the band split up after recording a fourth album – never released at the time – without anyone really noticing.
That might have been the end of the story were it not for the fact that there has been a constant interest in the band bubbling under thanks to the efforts of bands like Witchfinder General and Cathedral who were inspired by Black Widow throughout the 80s, 90s and beyond.
And now a film of the band’s entire ‘Sacrifice’ stage show has been unearthed and will be released next year on DVD.
Furthermore, Clive Jones is working on new Black Widow material 30 years after the original band split. The devil will have his revenge.