Author: Mick Wall
Title: Black Sabbath-Symptom Of The Universe
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Year Reviewed: 2019
A couple of months ago when I reviewed Martin Popoff’s book about Black Sabbath, SABOTAGE, in that review, I grumbled a bit about how I’m tired of reading about Black Sabbath, specifically 70’s Sabbath. There are so many books about the band! In March, I reviewed his follow up book about later-era Sabbath because I had sort of committed to it and I wanted to finish Book Two of the two-part series. Relieved, I thought that would be the end (pun intended) of reading about Black Sabbath for a while! But then as chance would have it, I ended up with a copy of Mick Wall’s SYMPTOM OF THE UNIVERSE, his biography of Black Sabbath.
Published in 2013, I’ve actually known about this book for a while. I actually contacted Mick and asked for a review copy when it came out and never heard back. With a cover price of $32.50 I passed on buying my own copy, because, as I said, I was getting tired of reading about Sabbath and I’m not a big fan of Mick Wall to begin with. He is the chief of a whole pack of acerbic, sarcastic, jaded, and even downright mean-spirited members of the British Metal/Rock press whose poisoned pens have damaged many a career. They take criticizing very seriously; they eat their young and destroy their old.
However, it was always in the back of my mind that in my eternal quest to review every Hard Rock and Metal book in existence, that one day I would have to read the damn thing. I couldn’t find it at the public library and years slipped away. By sheer coincidence, now in 2019, just after I finished reading the Popoff Sabbath set, I found a hard copy of SYMPTOM OF THE UNIVERSE in a retail bargain bin for $6.00 Cdn. I figured for the price of a Big Mac and a Coke it was worth the risk. Even if it sucked I could trade it or give it away. Despite being tired of reading about Sabbath and not being a big Wall fan, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover! Who knows, it could be his masterwork! So I bought it and here is my review.
Acknowledging my own negative attitude and my own bias ahead of time, a combination of low expectations and boredom with the topic, I was actually not really surprised with the outcome but it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.
This is a nice looking hard cover with plenty of colour photos in three sections of glossy plates. The book is approached chronologically, as one might expect and is heavily weighted to the Ozzy years. It is painful obvious he only likes the first few Sabbath albums and the original line-up. He tolerates Dio but dislikes everyone else who ever sang or played in the band. Accordingly, he basically skips the Tony Martin years, for example, HEADLESS CROSS, TYR, CROSS PURPOSES get dismissed in a few pages or less and FORBIDDEN, gets less than two measly pages of mention. Where his strength is the overall picture covering in detail about the various, numerous aborted reunion attempts that occurred over the years. Wall also was a PR guy for a while and interviewed the various members of the band on several occasions and had some good access and good stories. He tends to wander off topic very often, focusing on Ozzy and Dio, in fact Chapter 18 could have been omitted completely as he goes off on a long tangent talking about Ozzy solo albums and the death of Randy Rhoads.
I’m not sure if Wall even wanted to write this book or got a big, fat pay-cheque to write it, but he really does the band a disservice with his overall cynicism and negativity. Even his compliments come across as insincere or backhanded. I’m not expecting him to write a gushing fan-boy account where the band can do no wrong, but he plays to far to the other side where at times he seems downright hostile to the subject matter, which brings me full circle, did he even want to write a book about Black Sabbath or did he do it for money? We will never know.
In the end, we get a very average book. SYMPTOM OF THE UNIVERSE has very little new information except a few little personal anecdotes from when he had some face-time with the band, that amount to little. It is a common trait where the writer tries to become the story. He might as well just called the book, ‘Here is why I don’t like post-Ozzy Black Sabbath’. Wall does turn an amazing phrase and was actually there for much of the time, so his credibility and technique are great and that salvages this book from being a low-grade smear campaign into yet another average biography about Black Sabbath.