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It warms my heart to think back and remember that even as a stupid child that did not care for music, I was into Sabbath. Their most definitive work, “Paranoid” from 1970, was the first true heavy metal album that I have ever purchased, and the most amazing Black Sabbath album that I will ever hear. The sound from this album has been, and always will be, one of the most unique displays of the most dynamic and extreme offshoot of rock and roll. Beginning with the song “War Pigs”, a typographical error from the intended title, “Walpurgis”, this opening song shows so much animosity to warfare and political gerrymandering all the while continuing with the supernatural element as Ozzy Osbourne describes the politicians’ torments in Hell. Tony Iommi displays his talents throughout the entire song, especially during his solo six minutes in where the echoes created by the over-dubbed guitars are both melancholic and melodic to the point that it becomes an impressive display of raw emotion. The guitar becomes the main focus in “Paranoid”, something that these metal gods ensured would be emulated for generations to come.
Featuring three of Sabbath’s most enduring hits, “War Pigs”, “Paranoid”, and “Iron Man”, “Paranoid” is already a legendary album, but compared to those three enduring tracks, the rest of the album is completely overlooked. Everyone knows that “Iron Man” has the heaviest riff ever written, “Paranoid” is a mind-blowing fight against insanity featuring an almost Led Zeppelin sound to it, and “War Pigs” is an enduring social commentary that resonates in so many cases today, but what of “Planet Caravan”, “Electric Funeral”, “Hand of Doom”, the instrumental “Rat Salad”, or “Faeries Wear Boots”?
“Planet Caravan” is an obviously substance-inspired trip through time and space. Featuring some of the trippiest sounding vocals and an interesting percussion section using bongos, piano, some different sound bites, a slower tempo, a quieter mix, and Iommi’s constant guitar riff, the song is very calming compared to the rest on this album. The guitar playing in this song becomes a solo at 2:30 which breaks the quiet feel of the song to become a calming solo. It is obvious that a lot of work was put into this song, but because of its trippy feel rather than heavy and doom tones; it seems that it didn’t have a place between “Paranoid” and “Iron Man”, but when the low, growling “Iron Man” riff kicks in after a few drum beats from Bill Ward, it seems even more powerful after the calming “Planet Caravan”.
“Electric Funeral” creates the most forbidden atmosphere of any song on this album. Iommi’s whining riff begins the song with a creepy tone introducing Osbourne’s voice, which sounds even creepier with the backing of Iommi’s continuing riff. This song, concerning nuclear warfare is definitely the most brutal song in “Paranoid”, from the descriptive gory lyrics to the riffing and drums, this song is the epitome of heavy. There is a lot more cymbal from the drums on this song than in the other songs,, which seems more appropriate as Iommi’s riff is much lower than normal and the snare and cymbals create a nice balance of high and low notes in the song. The chorus is intense to say the least. High shrieking guitar, Ozzy yelling at the top of his voice, cymbals crashing, and the chant of “Electric Funeral” overpowers the band until they continue with the song that they began earlier. “Electric Funeral” is a haunting song, and again progresses with the motif of modern elements of society meeting the supernatural when Ozzy’s lyrics describe the afterlife in the wake of the destructive force of the nuclear bomb.
“Hand of Doom” is another haunting song. Though slow in tempo and calm to the ear at the beginning, it is actually a very doom oriented song about drug abuse. The choruses kick in with such power compared to the early, quiet guitar and bass lines that they awaken the listener to the reality of the results of substance abuse. This, like many songs on “Paranoid” resonates today, some thirty-nine years later as even harder and more addictive drugs have come to make the drugs of yesterday look like cough medicine. Again the lyrics are superb descriptions of doom and death, pain and suffering, addiction and disillusion, and really show where the influences for so many musicians came from.
“Rat Salad” is an interesting instrumental. Showcasing the abilities of both Iommi and Bill Ward, the instrumental has both a bluesy and a modern (1970s) rock feel, and it provides a good intermission between the first few songs and the final song of the album as well as gives the album a more up tempo feel as the final song, “Faeries Wear Boots” would be a major bluesy clash between the doom oriented “Electric Funeral” and “Hand of Doom”. “Faeries Wear Boots” threw me off the first time I heard it, mainly because of the above, but after a few times listening to it, and listening to Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut, I have come to enjoy its blues sound as it is a throwback to Sabbath’s first album and shows that though they have musically moved in a different direction during the recording of “Paranoid”, they still retain respect for their musical roots, as many metalheads today retain respect for Black Sabbath though they may listen to death metal or black metal.
Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” deserves all the acclaim it has ever gotten, the problem, though is that the acclaim rests with three of the first four tracks and many in the mainstream, though they can identify “Iron Man”, “Paranoid”, and “War Pigs”, have no idea what the rest of the creators and gods of heavy metal had to offer in 1970. Of the two releases by Black Sabbath in that year, four songs remain in the mainstream consciousness of classic rock radio, and the rest of the songs, songs that had capture as much emotion as “NIB”, “War Pigs”, “Paranoid”, and “Iron Man”, have been forgotten by them. I only hope that the true metal underground will continue, as we always have, to look more into Black Sabbath’s works and not scratch the surface, as should be done with every band in the Encyclopedia Metallum and understand that the singles and hits aren’t even half of what the band has to offer.