Growing up in Birmingham, England, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Geezer Butler initially sensed something otherworldly about his family's rambling old Victorian. His suspicions were confirmed.
"First, me and my sister saw this old woman, but it was a ghost, just floating down our stairs," says the bassist-lyricist for the recently reformed Black Sabbath, which blasts into the Bay Area this week backing "13," its sludgy, new Rick Rubin-produced comeback.
"Then one day, there was a guy just standing there, looking up the stairs, dressed in 1920s clothes, and he simply disappeared. But that was when I was a kid — I never really had any of those experiences after that."
Now, at 64, the former Aleister Crowley fan no longer intuits, or relishes, the supernatural.
He and his wife, Gloria, reside in upscale Beverly Hills, where — when he's not playing with his seven cats or walking his five shelter-rescue dogs — he can be found by the pool, reading the latest crime novel from Ian Rankin or Jo Nesbo.
He even began writing his own whodunit.
"But when I read it back, it just didn't work," he admits. "And mysteries are so complicated and well-researched these days, they're getting harder and harder to do."
But he did pen most of the lyrics on "13" for singer Ozzy Osbourne to intone.
Underscored by the signature molasses-thick riffs of guitarist Tony Iommi (who just beat lymphoma) and with Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk (replacing original percussionist Bill Ward, who waived the Sabbath reunion), they tap into a whole new set of modern fears and anxieties.
The opening brontosaurus dirge "End of the Beginning" worries about genetic experiments.
"Eventually, they'll start cloning people like the Beatles, and sending them out on endless tours," he says, only half-jokingly.
Then there's the anti-corporate "Age of Reason" ("The world is owned by just a few people, so it doesn't matter what president or prime minister you elect," Butler says), the string theory-based "Zeitgeist" and a thundering "God is Dead?" which asks the rhetorical question, "Who do you trust when corruption and lust, creed of all the unjust / Leaves you empty and unwhole?"
"It's about the guy who's sick of hearing from atheists that God is dead, so he sets out to prove that He isn't," he says.
Where is humanity headed? Butler sighs. "The population of the Earth just keeps expanding, and pretty soon there won't be anywhere left to go," he says. "There won't be enough water, oil, gas or anything. So you just have to find happiness within yourself. I find it in rescuing animals. They're so loving and appreciative when you give them a good home."
IF YOU GOBlack Sabbath
Where: Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Tickets: $53.35 to $149.50
Contact: (650) 967-3000; www.livenation.com