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Barring the fact that the album was released a damned decade before metal was in full swing, Sabbath's 'Paranoid' was, and is as solid an album as they come. Although the self-titled debut may have had more of an immediate impact, Iommi and company would focus in on their doom innovation, a decision setting them further apart from the hordes of UK blues rockers. It's not often that an album is still relevant forty years after its release.
Considering how iconic 'Paranoid' is, it seems redundant to dwell on general information regarding the album. Suffice to say, taking into consideration that 1970 was the same year Deep Purple recorded 'In Rock' and the year after Led Zeppelin recorded 'II', Black Sabbath took a more downtuned, heavier approach to rock music. British rock was opening itself up to a more distorted sound in general, but Sabbath weren't afraid to sound ugly. A familiar blues style can be heard in Iommi's crunchy lead work, but the use of tritones, or 'evil' sounding riffs was what gave the band their then-unique take on rock music. The lyrical content somewhat fittingly either contends with the concept of war, or nightmarishly drug-fuelled adventures. As a respite from the doomy riffs, 'Paranoid' is fleshed out with some sounds of 60's era psychedelia, as best exemplified by the spacey, jam-oriented 'Planet Caravan'.
The first side of the album is a hit parade of some of the band's best-known tracks. 'War Pigs' sets up the rest of the album perfectly; a gloomy overture introducing Iommi's gritty guitar tone and some of the best riffs on the album. 'Paranoid' and 'Iron Man' are both instantly memorable tunes that have earned their due as rock radio staples. My favourite cut from the record would have to be 'Electric Funeral' however, opening the second side on an even darker note. From its signature psych-doom riff to lyrics about the apocalyptic existence of mutants in a post-nuclear city, it perfects the heavy darkness explored on the first side. The rest of 'Paranoid's later half doesn't feel quite as memorable as the first, however. The musical tightness never lets down, but 'Hand of Doom' and instrumental afterthought 'Rat Salad' feel a little less vital than the rest. Luckily, 'Fairies Wear Boots' wraps things up on a rocking note, closing with an epic lead melody that seems to foreshadow the future sound of Iron Maiden.
'Paranoid' is not quite perfect, but it's fairly close, especially considering that the sound of heavy metal was still so young. At the very least, it deserves its status as a classic. With memorable songwriting, evocative lyrics and some of the best riffs ever written, who could ask for more?