The Real Meaning Behind Black Sabbath's War Pigs

Black Sabbath's 1970 classic "War Pigs" is a breakthrough in early metal music and an example of protest music that transcends genres. But what does it mean?

With lyrics like "Generals gathered in their masses, just like witches at black masses," it might seem like a paean to the occult, but lead singer Ozzy Osborne insists they weren't really interested in Satanism or dark magic. "We couldn't conjure up a fart," he said in a 2002 interview (via Brave Words). "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."

Instead, "War Pigs," the lead track from the band's sophomore album "Paranoid," says that military leaders and politicians are the real Satanic forces. "The Vietnam war was scaring the hell out of everyone," said band bassist Geezer Butler (via Rock And Roll Garage). "There was a real sense of it turning into World War III."

From "Walpurgis" to "War Pigs"

The song was originally called "Walpurgis," after the witch's sabbath, until the band's record company supposedly made them change it to something less satanic (via Unmask Us). The lyrics, though, kept their apocalyptic bent. The first verse portrays generals as "sorcerers of death's construction"; in the bridge, the focus turns to politicians, "Making war just for fun/Treating people just like pawns in chess." In the second and final verse, the war pigs get their due from God on judgment day ("On their knees, the war pigs crawling/Begging mercies for their sins") as Satan laughs.

Despite what Butler said, Osborne has said the song was just a general anti-war anthem and not against Vietnam in particular (via Genius), the track was received in the context of the ongoing war — even the folk music magazine "Broadside" praised the track as an anti-Vietnam War anthem, according to the Irish Times. In fact, the band wanted to name their second album "War Pigs" after the song, but their label changed it to "Paranoid" because they were worried that it would put off American listeners who supported the war (you can still see a literal "war pig" on the album's sleeve, according to the Financial Times).