Aha Moment: John Darnielle and Black Sabbath

Studio 360

Twenty years ago, just as indie rock started to be called indie rock, John Darnielle formed one of its great bands:The Mountain Goats.The New Yorkercalled Darnielle "America's best non-hip hop lyricist"; his songs are moody, literary, maybe a bit navel-gazey. But Darnielle's biggest influence isn't Leonard Cohen or Nick Drake. He was, and is, a metalhead.

He got hooked as a kid, listening to his babysitter's record collection. In Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" he discovered "the power of these monolithic, iceberg-sized riffs that lodge in your brain. Black Sabbath tries not to hit you in your libido. They hit you in your fists, in your skull."

Darnielle admits that his own music "stylistically couldn't really be further from heavy metal," with its emphasis on lyrics. But he says Black Sabbath inspired him to make his performances similarly visceral. "Even though I work with words," he says, "I'm always wanting to get to that level of poetry where when you say something it's actually a physical event ... a single physical, bright, burning moment."

The Mountain Goats' latest album,Beat the Champ, is out now. Darnielle's first novel, Wolf in White Van, comes out in paperback in September.

(Originally aired: May 13, 2011)

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Video: Black Sabbath, "Iron Man"