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This is the album that truly put Black Sabbath in the map. Despite the fantastic debut, people just began to look at them with this piece. Anyways, the influence and different elements that Paranoid carries it incredible. Almost EVERY metal sub-genre was born thanks to this record and why? Because of its variety. This record isn't unidimensional; it is a dynamic piece, containing lots of different things, every one of them blended together with the fantastic songwriting abilities of the band. Anyways, let's move on.
Tony Iommi obviously is the leader and the most important member of Black Sabbath. The majority of the times you aren't able to choose who is the most important member of this or that band - Dream Theater illustrates this point, since at least THREE virtuosos play on that band. But with Black Sabbath it's another story... The crushing, heavy riffs and the solos play the most important role in the band's sound. Paranoid is a perfect example of this fact. Where would be this record without the killer riffs on Iron Man or the fast ones on Paranoid (title track). Taking the latter, that tune is the most famous track Sabbath ever recorded, being an early speed metal take, working for Sabbath as Communication Breakdown worked for Led Zeppelin (or Highway Star worked for Deep Purple). But there's something that makes Paranoid different from every fast song recorded at this time, by any band: the HEAVINESS.
While Deep Purple can be considered an extremely heavy band, with In Rock's Speed King being an authentic anthem of proto-metal, you can't deny that they still had too much classic rock and blues elements to be considered a true early heavy metal act. The same thing goes to Led Zeppelin, a band that explored too many musical genres to even be named as one of the acts that created heavy metal. So, why is Sabbath so different of those two bands? Because of the riffs. Take a Jimmy Page riff and take a Iommi one and you will see. While Page may have created some catchy riffs, he failed at keeping them heavy; Tony Iommi joins catchiness with heaviness, a perfect mixture that put Black Sabbath in a higher level than all the other heavy rock bands of the time.
Take Iron Man, for example. It begins with Ward hitting the bass drum and then, after a slightly comic “I am Iron Maaan”, the song reaches a bone-crushing section, where that legendary guitar riff is played. Just the dark atmosphere that the song carries is mindblowing. Then, there is a fantastic break around the 3 minutes mark, where Iommi begins to play one of his trademarks solos, it is amazing. Just name a band that, in 1970, released something as heavy as this... Yeah, I know, no one released something like this by 1970.
Iron Man also shows another distinctive characteristic of the band: the strange vocals delivered by Ozzy Osbourne. He is not a Ian Gillan, but his voice is so “metal”, you know? While not being technically great, the guy knows how to sing in a way that perfectly fits the doomy music that surrounds him. Unfortunately, he now is an authentic self-parody, with all those crappy solo albums released and with his soul now belonging to MTV. Sad but true.
Another track that benefits with Ozzy's voice is Hand of Doom. Oh boy, and is this track good... Like the name implies, this is probably the first true doom metal song ever recorded, mixing the slow elements that marked the band's debut with some really “evil” parts, where Ozzy and Geezer Butler share the highlights: the first one whispering, in a very (again) “evil” way and the latter plays some nice, mysterious bass lines. Hell, even the lyrics, which are related to drugs, recall today's doom metal.
The strange structure of this song (with a perfect mix of calm, slower parts, with faster and heavier ones) brings me to the next point: unexpectedly, Paranoid is incredibly progressive. In fact Black Sabbath would experiment more with progression later on (with albums like Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or Sabotage). Anyways, this fact just shows that this album influenced yet another genre: progressive metal. Almost every song shows some kind of progression, from the strange intro and tempo changes of Jack the Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots to the solo parts of Electric Funeral, from the breaks of Iron Man to... well, the whole War Pigs/Luke's Wall song. Yes, this one has got to be among early progressive metal classics: it begins with slow drums and a crushing guitar riff, accompanied by some interesting bass lines but you'll only find the brilliance of this track almost 6 minutes into it, when the song starts to progress to a faster part, which is called, I guess, Luke's Wall. One of the highlights of the record, undoubtedly.
Remember that I called this record varied? Yes, it is varied, and why? Simple: Planet Caravan, a strange atmospheric ballad that is very, very interesting, providing a good break after the metal attack given by the title track and the opener. Ozzy uses a strange microphone that distorts his voice during this track but, in the end, it sounds great (I guess that the band thought that he wasn't the right vocalist to sing a ballad, since, after distorting his voice on Paranoid's Planet Caravan, he wasn't allowed to sing Master of Reality's soft song, Solitude). Iommi plays an interesting acoustic solo and everything is kept together by Bill Ward's percussion.
Personally, I consider Bill Ward to be one of the most original, creative and, at the same time, underrated drummer ever. He has a strange style, mixing the irreverent, straight forward drumming of the typical rock drummers with some jazz/blues influenced lines (check out Fairies Wear Boots) and, in this end, this mixture works pretty well. Rat Salad is absolutely dominated by him, with all those drum solos and fills (Led Zeppelin would later rip-off this Sabbath idea, with Moby Dick – anyways, Bill Ward is better than Bonzo, everybody knows it). It's a shame he is so underrated. The same thing goes to Butler, a wonderful bassist that is AUDIBLE (*party*) most of the times, providing the right base for the other musicians to shine.
As for the other songs... Electric Funeral is a personal favourite, got to love that part where someone begins to say “Electric Funeral... Electric Funeral... Electric Funeral...”. Jack the Stripper (a part that, I guess, is related to the intro of the song)/Fairies Wear Boots is another good song, featuring some nice lyrics, speaking about how the band was attacked by a group of skinheads. Ozzy and Ward deliver a good performance, but, again, it's Tony Iommi who steals the show with all those fantastic and catchy riffs. What a guitar player, indeed. About the production, it is quite good if you bear in mind when this album was released.
Concluding, this is one of my personal favourite records ever, very varied and carrying a lot of different elements (progressive, doom, speed, heavy metal, blues elements), which is a thing that I personally value. Anyways, there are some low points, like the title track, which, however being very influential, is a rather forgettable song, almost a filler. Plus, this isn't a record that I can listen to everyday, I have to be with the right mood but hey, this is a groundbreaking piece and essential to every one, especially to fans of metal in general. One of my favourites albums ever, probably the most consistent Sabbath record I have ever heard, too.
Best Moments of the CD:
-the build-up of Iron Man and all its riffs.
-“Electric Funeral... Electric Funeral... Electric Funeral...”
-the faster parts of Hand of Doom.