When it comes to drugs, Black Sabbath are most celebrated for their mark on marijuana culture, having set the template and the bar for stoner rock, stoner metal and, arguably, stoner music period, with their head-nodding, down-tuned riffage and Ozzy Osbourne's otherworldly howl. "Sweet Leaf" says it all, from its opening cough — a genuine moment caught on tape after a genuine toke — to its epic fade-out.
But weed was far from Sabbath's exclusive drug of choice, nor was "Sweet Leaf" their only ode to recreational drug use. During the period around 1972's Vol. 4, Ozzy, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward were such enthusiastic cokeheads that they not only wrote and recorded the song "Snowblind" in honor of cocaine, but they also wanted to give that same name to the album. Their label, wanting to avoid undue controversy, wouldn't allow it — hence Vol. 4 — but they couldn't stop the band from thanking "the great COKE-cola" in the liner notes.
Regardless of its pharmaceutical inspiration, "Snowblind" stands as one of Sabbath's greatest songs, and as such, it's been covered by a slew of famous fans, from System of a Down to indie rocker Jason Molina. Check out five of the best below.
Taking on Black Sabbath's tribute to "the great COKE-cola," System of a Down turned the riffage fittingly jittery, while singer Serj Tankian sounds even crazier than the Ozman. According to SOAD guitarist Daron Malakian, Sabbath not only dug the rendition, but they also requested that the band play it onstage when the Armenian-American nu-metal spazzes were opening for the Birmingham metal originators. "'[The cover] sounds nothing like the original," Malakian told Revolver. "Even the Sabbath guys were so into it that Bill Ward came up to me — we were opening up for Sabbath [in 1999] and they asked us to play the song live. We can't play a Sabbath song before Sabbath is about to play! I felt weird about that, but Bill Ward convinced me to play the song. Those guys are everything when it comes to metal, so for them to be into it — words can't express how I felt about that."
There's something perverse and great about hearing a straight-edge hardcore singer, Jake Bannon, bellow out the lyrics to Sabbath's cocaine classic, as he did on Converge's 1997 cover of the song, for Hydra Head's excellent In These Black Days: A Tribute to Black Sabbath 7-inch series. Raw, shambolic and ill-tempered, the Boston crew's rendition sounds like it could have come after a massive bender, even if its players are actually only high on life.
Not surprisingly, doom-metal true believers Sleep delivered a mostly orthodox cover of Sabbath's "Snowblind" for 1992 comp Masters Of Misery – Black Sabbath: The Earache Tribute. A little dronier, a little more chugging, but ultimately a reverential nod from the San Jose weedians to the four dragonauts on high: Ozzy, Iommi, Geezer and Ward.
Jersey slo-mo demons Evoken gave "Snowblind" the funeral-doom makeover for 2000's Hell Rules 2: A Tribute to Black Sabbath compilation, drenching Iommi's riffage in swamp sludge and Ozzy's vocals in cavernous reverb and a deathy gurgle. As for the song's "my eyes are blind ..." bridge, they twist that into a keyboard-laden Type O dirge. Yet even these guys are devout and deferential enough to find the energy to pick up the speed for the song's near-end gallop.
Best known for his project Songs: Ohia, indie rocker Jason Molina — who passed away in 2013 at age 39 — grew up playing metal in his high-school band Spinerider and took his love for heavy riffs and horns-throwing bombast to the grave. His posthumously released The Black Sabbath Covers EP, issued late last year, captures that passion with two Sabbath renditions, both recorded in the Nineties. His "Snowblind" take is brief, sparse and bittersweet, stripping the song down to its beautiful bare essentials through just Molina's voice and acoustic guitar.