This song is about man's desire to kill and destroy. Sabbath got the idea from war stories they heard when they did a show at an American Air Force base during a tour of Europe. They wrote the song when they were in a grim deserted place in Zurich where they were playing for a small sum of money to an even smaller audience.
The band wanted to use this as the title of the album, but the record company thought it was too controversial and made them use "Paranoid," another song on the album, instead.
This is one of many Black Sabbath songs that is often misinterpreted as evil. The song speaks out against the horrors of war.
The song starts with the lyric, "Generals gathered in their masses. Just like witches at black masses." Bassist and lyricist Geezer Butler was asked during a 2013 interview with Spin magazine why he used "masses" twice rather than coming up with a different word. "I just couldn't think of anything else to rhyme with it," he admitted. "And a lot of the old Victorian poets used to do stuff like that - rhyming the same word together. It didn't really bother me. It wasn't a lesson in poetry or anything."
The song was inspired by the Vietnam War. Geezer Butler recalled to Mojo in 2017: "Britain was on the verge of being brought into it, there was protests in the street, all kinds of anti -Vietnam things going on. War is the real Satanism. Politicians are the real Satanists. That's what I was trying to say."
Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death's construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds
Oh lord yeah!
Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor
Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait 'til their judgement day comes
Now in darkness world stops turning
Ashes where the bodies burning
No more war pigs at the power
Hand of God has struck the hour
Day of judgement, God is calling
On their knees the war pig's crawling
Begging mercy for their sins
Satan laughing spreads his wings
oh lord yeah!