The Meaning of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”
“War Pigs” opens Black Sabbath’s 1970 album Paranoid, which many consider to be the first-ever heavy metal album. The record has shaped an entire genre of music, and contains many of the band’s most popular and influential songs.
With civil defense sirens ringing out over thick guitars in the instrumental intro and lyrics that compare bloodthirsty, warmongering politicians with pure evil and Satanic worship, “War Pigs” is a completely badass song that has stood the test of time for more than half a century now.
Originally, “War Pigs” was titled “Walpurgis” after the Christian feast of Walpurgis Night that celebrates Saint Walpurgis and his fight against pests, disease, and witchcraft. According to bassist and principle lyricist Geezer Butler in a 2010 interview with Noisecreep, Walpurgis is essentially “Christmas for Satanists”.
The band recorded a demo version of the song with the same instrumental arrangement, however the lyrics were much darker and focused on evil itself rather than the anti-war sentiment that ended up in the officially-released “War Pigs”.
Apparently, when they brought the original “Walpurgis” demo to Warner Bros, the label felt that the song was much too dark and Satanic, so the band changed the name to “War Pigs” and made it more of an anti-war protest anthem, but kept many of the Satanic images in the lyrics.
This was appropriate, as the song was released during the Vietnam War, and this was something that Black Sabbath were fully against.
Now, let’s dig into these lyrics and check out the meaning of “War Pigs”, starting with the first verse:
Generals gathered in their massesFirst verse to “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath.
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers 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
Sung in Ozzy Osbourne’s unique voice with the spirit of a solider marching off to battle, this verse brings in the comparison between generals and witches right away. A black mass is essentially the opposite of a Christian mass. Rather than celebrating life and rebirth, black masses celebrate death and destruction.
In this way, Black Sabbath promote what is almost a pacifist sentiment, making them closer to bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Grateful Dead than most metal bands. Though they express it in the darkest way possible, because that’s the way they roll.
However, Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne certainly brought their own edge to rock ‘n’ roll, and CCR and the Dead didn’t go around biting the heads off of animals.
The lyrics provide cryptic images of burning bodies ignored by the unstoppable war machine bringing death and hatred to all the land, and corrupting the minds of all who aren’t strong enough to resist the sorcery.
In the bridge, Black Sabbath take aim at the politicians who start these wars, but never have to actually fight in them, leaving that burden on the poorest of citizens:
Politicians hide themselves awayBridge to “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath.
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that all 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 judgment day comes, yeah
The lyrics here suggest that these politicians start wars just for fun, treating the people of their nations like pawns in a game of chess — relatively worthless and inconsequential when sacrificed.
However, Ozzy suggests that while these politicians may have the power to start wars seemingly without consequence during this lifetime, judgement day will come and the “War Pigs”, both living and dead, will face punishment for the evil that they have sown upon the world.
Following the bridge is a heavy-duty guitar solo that leads into the second and final verse, with lyrics that again touch upon the pending apocalypse and Day of Judgement:
Now, in darkness, world stops turningSecond verse to “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath.
Ashes where their bodies burning
No more war pigs have the power
Hand of God has struck the hour
Day of Judgment, God is calling
On their knees, the war pigs crawling
Begging mercies for their sins
Satan, laughing, spreads his wings
Oh, Lord, yeah
This verse serves as a warning to all the politicians, generals, and supporters of war that when it comes time to face their day of reckoning, such as when they die or when the world ends, by either their own doing or by the “Hand of God”, they will no longer be in control and they will beg for mercy.
By then, however, it’s too late. Satan is shown laughing in their faces, spreading his wings as he now rules over them for all of eternity.
The overarching message here is one of peace, meaning that Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” aligns more with the hippie movement of the 1960s and 70s than their dark-toned music would seem to suggest. This confused some, as their music often contains satanic themes concealing more peaceful messages that requires a deeper analysis to unveil, as we have done here.
Perhaps Ozzy Osbourne said it best when asked if the band were into black magic back in 2002:
“We couldn’t conjure up a fart. We’d get invitations to play witches’ conventions and Black Masses in Highgate Cemetery. I honestly thought it was a joke. We were the last hippie band – we were into peace.”
“War Pigs” concludes with an extended instrumental outro known as “Luke’s Wall” which brings to mind this rain of destruction caused by war and perhaps the fear felt by those who face judgement for their actions during their lifetimes, but can do nothing about it because it’s too late, as the lyrics suggest.
Listen to “War Pigs” below, and check out the rejected original demo called “Walpurgis” below that.
One comment on “The Meaning of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs””
Damn that was dark. I have to go with Warner Brothers on this one. It was a good call. Now we have the timeless classic. I didn’t know about the Walpurgis version. I’ve heard the original version of Planet Caravan. It was a good call to change the lyrics to that one too