The story of Black Sabbath, as told by the man who wrote the lyrics to their biggest songs, is one of perseverance, innovation—and body fluids. At 74 years old, Terence “Geezer” Butler revels in sharing God’s honest truth, no matter how off-putting, volatile, or outright disgusting it may be. In his new memoir, Into the Void: From Birth to Black Sabbath, the band’s founding bassist outlines the accidental creation and evolution of heavy metal, decades of formative musicianship, and intimately brave details of his lifelong journey with depression and suicide ideation.
But in a book that effectively walks the line between retellings of rock-star lore and self-actualized perspective, it’s impossible to overlook the sheer volume of chaos Butler’s memory serves up. If doomsday finally arrives and the apocalypse leaves our Earth as a burning hellscape of rubble that’s only to be rediscovered later—with Butler’s writings somehow intact as the last remaining historical artifacts of metal—then future civilizations will understand that Black Sabbath and the genre were built on pure savagery. In 275 pages, Butler details a career of blood, sweat, and tears—and piss; we’re talking about so much piss. And shit. And vomit. And fire. And cocaine. And gratuitous violence.
“Well, I was trying to pick the more tasteful stories,” Butler says, chuckling.
Take, for example, when Sabbath played a gig in Helsinki and Butler was arrested after he threw a Molotov cocktail at a parked car from his hotel room window. His behavior seemed reasonable at the time. Haven’t you ever been upset when the bar closed down early?
“That’s why I don’t drink anymore,” says Butler. “All the stupid things I’ve done! But at least I’ve survived.”
Into the Void features not only the bassist’s barbaric behavior but a slew of stunts from some of the most well-known names in rock: Frank Zappa delivering “champagne enemas,” guitarist Zakk Wylde pissing into his own mouth, and a cavalcade of stories involving Ozzy Osbourne producing his urine and feces on command.
“Ozzy was an expert at that kind of stuff,” Butler attests. “It was a good way to get revenge on people.”
According to Butler’s recollection, Osbourne made considerable impact with his bodily functions: vomiting on a woman in Germany (he was naked at the time), taking a piss on Huey Lewis & the News’ tapes at a recording studio, peeing under the table at a restaurant moments before taking a dump in its elevator, shitting in hotel ice machines—the list is relentless. In particular, Butler fondly remembers the time Osbourne took a leak in their manager’s cognac and, on another occasion, in his briefcase.
“He came in with this Gucci briefcase as if it was made out of solid gold. We were from the backstreets of Aston. We didn’t get things like Gucci. As soon as he was out of the room, Ozzy pissed in it!” Butler remembers, overflowing with joy.
Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward also contributed to the mess. According to Butler, Iommi once dipped his penis into the gas tank of the band’s van after drinking an impossible amount of whiskey. On another occasion, he vomited down the back of the band’s limo driver. Ward is said to have vomited on his own drums and continued playing, propelling his puke in the air as he bashed on his kit. The band would pool its resources, too, like when their private plane didn’t have a restroom so they drunkenly filled barf bags with urine. Or when they started a fire inside a Belgium festival—and collectively attempted to extinguish it with their streams.
Somehow fire is just as prevalent as excrement in Black Sabbath’s journey. Over the decades, Iommi literally set Ward on fire on multiple occasions—once sending him to the hospital. After the incident, their mothers stepped in to put an end to the “man on fire” bit. Osbourne was keen on setting off fireworks indoors and sometimes took to shooting Roman candles into Ward’s window. During Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan’s brief stint in Sabbath, the band’s tour manager allegedly exploded the singer’s boat in a tit-for-tat of arson and intentional car wrecks.
Surprisingly, Butler still believes he had to largely censor himself to appease publishers before release.
“I thought I’d censored it; then I sent the final manuscript and they nearly died of heart failure,” Butler says. “‘You can’t say that. You can’t put that in the book!’ They took a lot out. The English publishers were even worse. It’s ridiculous. I was arguing with them all the time. Look, I was in Black Sabbath, not the Osmonds!”
Despite the anxiety of publishers, Butler’s book still includes lots of good old-fashioned fight stories, too. Sabbath had a knack for getting into brawls. Butler recalls Iommi as being the most raucous of the group: On one occasion, in the Netherlands, he knocked two aggressors out cold by smashing their heads together; in Asbury Park, New Jersey, he literally threw a man through a wall.
Around the Paranoid (1970) era of Sabbath—after a show in Weston-super-Mare (just off the Bristol Channel in England), the band got into a street fight with a group of skinhead agitators. As Butler recalls, he and Osbourne fought back with tools they found nearby.
“We were outnumbered,” Butler says. “We just had to do what we could. Ozzy had a hammer and stuck the claw in somebody’s shoulder. I stabbed the screwdriver into this guy that was kicking the hell outta me. That’s all we could find! Ward just used his fists cuz he didn’t have to play guitar. Eventually they ran off to get more mates—we got outta there as fast as we could.”
Of all the tumbles, he estimates the band’s wildest melee went down at a bar in Barcelona during the Born Again (1983) era. The story goes that Ian Gillan enjoyed tormenting the waiters by pouring peanuts down their ass cracks. As the band attempted to exit, a fight broke out.
“I nearly cut my hand off,” Butler recalls. “The people that worked at the club were beating the hell out of us with these iron bars. There was a woman selling flowers outside, and I picked up this glass vase. I thought I was in the movies, when they smash it and then jab it in somebody’s face. So I smashed it on the wall. You just don’t do that.”
While Into the Void is a treasure trove of graphic anecdotes, Butler’s writing also thematically injects an intersection of faith and Catholicism, satanism and the occult, and his belief in the supernatural. Routinely, the reader is reminded that despite Butler’s own interest in the macabre, it wasn’t Black Sabbath’s intention to promote devil worship.
Butler actually was disheartened by the public and critical perception of the band—and explained that the entire foundation of metal and doom was predicated on a “misunderstanding.”
“The people that thought we were satanists obviously didn’t listen to the lyrics,” Butler says. “The song ‘Black Sabbath’ was about not getting involved with that kind of thing.”
The irony is striking, as prior to the debut of Sabbath, Butler did find himself researching the topic.
“I did get interested in satanism and black magic cause I was brought up strict Catholic and you believe that the devil and Satan and all that crap is real,” Butler explains. “The next step is to find out what all that’s about. It was just an interest—didn’t last very long.”
Look, I was in Black Sabbath, not the Osmonds!
He continues: “At that time, the Rolling Stones had an album, Their Satanic Majesties Request , and Arthur Brown sang, “I am the god of hellfire.” It was this big black-magic thing going on. Christianity sorta died out in England. The occult thing just came along at that particular time. Then everybody grew out of it.”
It didn’t help that even within the Catholic Church, Butler and his friends were exposed to pontificating preachers spewing gloom. In particular, he remembers a guest missionary who visited his church.
“He had this big black cloak on and was ranting and raving,” Butler recalls. “He literally was screaming and shouting that everybody’s going to hell. His cloak was flapping behind him like an evil Batman.”
Despite his own interest—Butler had upside-down crosses all over the walls of his apartment— he found himself concerned about backlash when Sabbath’s debut LP artwork featured an upside-down cross, fearing the public would call it blasphemous.
“I thought, ‘Oh no, I can’t show this to me parents or they’ll go mental,’” Butler says.
After a lifetime of curiosity in the world of religion and faith—both in his private life and in Black Sabbath’s mystique—Butler seems to have his own sense of spirituality, even if he concedes that no one knows the real answer to mankind’s biggest question: Does God exist?
“I don’t think anybody knows,” Butler says. “You either believe in what other people tell you to believe in or you have your own kind of faith. That’s what I’ve got. I went through Catholicism. I just think I believe in a higher power and that’s it. You know, I don’t believe you have to get to church every week.... But when I get on an airplane, if there’s turbulence, the first thing I do is say me prayers.”
While Black Sabbath’s symbolism and reputation are of utmost importance in Butler’s autobiography, nothing takes as much precedence as his relationship to the albums they recorded.
Butler looks back on working with vocalist Ronnie James Dio as a major career highlight, despite serious personality clashes. He asserts that the 2009 album The Devil You Know—released under the Heaven & Hell moniker (named after Dio’s first album with Sabbath)—was just as much of an achievement as the band’s debut with Osbourne.
But it was during the creation of Dehumanizer (1992) that Butler and Dio truly coalesced as writers. While Butler is well-known as the lyricist of many of Sabbath’s top songs, over the decades and with lineup changes, he often felt unheard.
Not this time. Butler approached the sessions equipped with ideas that he’d recorded in his Warwickshire countryside home studio. The band joined forces with Reinhold Mack, a German producer who’d worked with Electric Light Orchestra. Butler says when they mixed the album in Munich, he and Dio would head next door to pound particularly potent Weissbier.
At one point, though, they did have a disagreement about the lyrical direction—Butler says that he begged Dio to ditch the dungeons, dragons, and rainbows, and instead write about the state of the world. He says that Dio eventually conceded. Then it all came together.
“It was more democratic,” Butler says. “I was finally able to get some of my songs over. They were good, fulfilling writing sessions. We were all listening to each other instead of expecting Tony to do everything.”
It was on the track “Computer God”—a six-minute ripper 30 years ahead of its time—that Butler says they finally clicked. The song’s concept is simple: God is the ultimate computer and humans are all its programs. This aligns with Butler’s belief that life is predetermined and that “there’s not a lot we can do to alter the course of our lives.”
“I’d already done [‘Computer God’] on one of my solo albums that never came out,” Butler explains. “The idea of it seems to be coming through now with all this artificial intelligence stuff. Ronnie liked the concept that I had. It was one of the few songs that we co-wrote together lyrically.”
Overall, he sees Dehumanizer as a “happy accident” that captured the same rawness of the early Sabbath albums—it was a stroke of luck, considering the budget for the record was modest. “Master of Insanity,” another track that Dio and Butler joined forces to pen, along with heavy tracks like “I” and the televangelist-inspired “TV Crimes,” all appealed to a younger generation infatuated with grunge.
Despite all of Butler and Dio’s beef over the years—and there was plenty—the two concluded on good terms. In 2010, just months after they released the Heaven & Hell album, Dio was thrown into a whirlwind battle with stomach cancer. And Butler, along with friends and family, was by his side at his deathbed.
“Ronnie, for all his faults, was one of the best friends I’ve ever had,” Butler says. “Cuz we could have horrendous arguments together, and the next day, we’d forget about it, make up. He was that kind of a great friend. And definitely the best metal singer ever.”
He points out that Dehumanizer stands as a far better album than 1978’s Never Say Die, a record he felt signaled the beginning of the end of the original Sabbath lineup. Other albums, like Sabotage (1975), trigger bad memories—including the management issues, deceit, and legal troubles that inspired the record’s title—although he’s proud of the music itself. He says “Symptom of the Universe” is as heavy as the band ever got.
“I actually like the songs on Sabotage,” Butler says. “I just don’t like—the stuff on Never Say Die was inferior. The band was virtually broken up by then without anybody admitting it. When I hear it now it actually just brings back those memories. It was quite miserable making it. I just don’t like that album.”
Into the Void’s most cinematic depiction comes from the recording sessions that produced Vol. 4 (1972), where the band made a cocaine circus out of a Bel Air mansion.
“The records were selling millions,” Butler says. “The tours were great, we finally got some money in our pocket. We’d been doing loads of cocaine. It was quite wild.”
Somehow fire is just as prevalent as excrement in Black Sabbath’s journey
While Warner Bros. shut down the title Snowblind, Sabbath did still manage to thank blow in the record’s liner notes. And rightfully so. As Butler described it, the house looked like a scene from Scarface. Who doesn’t like picturing Ozzy as Tony Montana?
Famously, Butler has said that the band’s cocaine budget exceeded the actual recording budget—they even imported it on private jets.
“One guy came up with a washing-powder box full of cocaine!” Butler gleefully recalls.
He confirms that it was the band’s most intense bout with booger sugar: “Definitely. We were all living together. You’d start off going, ‘No, I’m not gonna do any drugs today.’ And of course somebody would come out and they’d have drugs. You’d go, ‘Okay, I’ll have a bit now and I won’t have any tomorrow.’ Then tomorrow comes and you go, ‘Okay, I’ll have some more!’”
Somehow, in the midst of a nose-candy craze, the band sat down and wrote its gentlest and most beautiful track, “Changes.”
“I think that was one of our sober days,” Butler says with a laugh. “We were all recovering from cocaine hangovers. Tony just sat down at the piano and started playing. It was like, ‘What the hell? How’s he coming up with that?’ It just came straight out of his soul. Ozzy heard him, came in, started singing the vocal melody, and then I wrote the lyrics. That was it, ‘Changes’ was done.”
More than four decades since the release of Vol. 4and several years removed from Black Sabbath’s The End farewell tour, which concluded in 2017, Butler now lives in Henderson, Nevada, with his wife, Gloria, and their pets.
After overcoming the repeated sting of the band’s biggest critics, he’s finally come to terms with the legacy of Black Sabbath as the pioneers of heavy metal and legends in rock ’n’ roll. Still, he tries his best to remain humble.
“We always remembered where we came from. None of us really got too bigheaded about things. We just remained quite down-to-earth. And if we did get outta hand, one of us would knock the other one down,” Butler jokes.
Now, in 2023, Butler emphatically states that Black Sabbath’s story is over—as far as he’s concerned. And aside from releasing this memoir and noodling on his bass for fun, his own future is unwritten.
“I’m sure something will happen,” Butler says. “But otherwise I’ll have a nice rest for the rest of me life.”