How a Haunted Castle Humbled Black Sabbath During the Making of ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’

While they might have been heavy metal royalty known for their dalliance with the dark and sinister, not even Black Sabbath was immune to being humbled by a haunted castle in Gloucestershire, England. Fresh off a world tour and struggling to write new material, the band rented Clearwell Castle to help them get out of their creative funk.

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The temporary stay definitely sparked something, eventually leading to the groundwork for ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.’ But for the most part, Black Sabbath’s 18th-century retreat sparked more fear than artistry.

The Band Encountered Their Fair Share Of Ghosts

Clearwell Castle was built in 1727 and is the earliest Georgian Gothic Revival castle in England, which means it’s a prime breeding ground for ghostly sightings—or, at the very least, stories about them. Such was the case for Black Sabbath, who reportedly saw apparitions walking down the dark, damp hallways of the castle just to disappear into thin air.

“We were rehearsing in the dungeons,” guitarist Tony Iommi later recalled to Louder Sound. “Coming up the stairs we saw this figure go into the armory. Ozzy [Osbourne] and I asked, ‘Who’s that?’ We went into the armory, and nobody was there. But the room had just one door and no windows. We looked everywhere, including under the table, in case someone was winding us up, but there was nobody. It was all very peculiar.”

As unsettling as their time in the castle dungeons might have been, the adrenaline clearly did wonders for their creative process. Iommi’s main riff for “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” reignited the band’s ambition, which the exhaustion from being on the road and prolonged substance abuse had previously watered down.

It Didn’t Take Long For The Spooky Castle To Humble Black Sabbath

Heavy metal legends or not, holing up in a shadowy 18th-century castle that creaks and groans in the night would make anyone a little on edge. Eventually, the creepy surroundings (and the band’s constant pranking of one another) became too much for Black Sabbath, and the humbled doom rockers acquiesced to their heebie-jeebies.

“We frightened the life out of each other,” Iommi said in the documentary Black Sabbath, Volume 1: 1970-1978. “We had to leave in the end, everybody terrified of each other because we were playing jokes on each other. Nobody knew who was doing it. We used to leave and drive all the way home and drive back the next day. It was really silly.”

Frontman Ozzy Osbourne wrote in his autobiography I Am Ozzy, “We weren’t so much the Lords of Darkness as the Lords of Chickens**t when it came to that kind of thing. We wound each other up so much none of us got any sleep.” Instead, Osbourne said they would lie awake at night, fearing the moment when an empty suit of armor stomped into their room.

The band’s drummer, Bill Ward, went so far as to go to bed with a dagger each night to protect himself against any unexpected intruders—paranormal or otherwise. In the end, the band’s time at the castle helped create one of their finest works of rock and roll to date. And who knows, the castle apparitions might have been thankful for the change of pace, too.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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