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I was twelve. I had a little-VERY little-experience with metal (four Metallica albums) but I had never gone any further. I came across a copy of Paranoid at a local used-CD store and got it even before having heard any material, just because its reputation preceded it. I was NOT disappointed.
Production is pretty awful by today's standards, but when you think about the year it was released, the short time it was recorded over and the ridiculously low budget, that's certainly excusable. It's not as well-done as some of Led Zeppelin's work, or Sabbath's next few albums, but the lackluster production doesn't hinder the music terribly. (Well, except the bass. Practically inaudible.)
The music itself is absolutely awe-inspiring. Back Sabbath's self-titled debut was inconsistent, but there's no fucking around here-with the exception of Planet Caravan, every track here is pure metal, and every song (except the strange, polarizing Electric Funeral and the shamefully underrated Hand of Doom) is a legend. The atmosphere is consistently dark, it just varies in different levels of darkness. Even the least eerie song (Paranoid) is pretty damn heavy. Songwriting is guaranteed to satisfy, dealing with subject matter such as greed (War Pigs) mental instability (Paranoid) and at times, seemingly nothing in particular (Electric Funeral).
Ozzy Osbourne's voice is, as even the most die-hard fan will tell you, fucking terrible. Raspy and annoying, this man can truly grate on your nerves-which is why he was PERFECT for this album. The lyrics could not fit his high, nasally voice any better. Tony Iommi's sludgy guitar work amazingly compliments the dark lyrics and slow tempos that most of the songs adhere to. Tony is the best kind of guitarist-simple, yet brilliant. The riff on Iron Man is unforgettable, rivaled only by Smoke On the Water (which I think is a horribly overrated song, but that's another story) in terms of influence. Geezer is a great bassist-too bad that slightly shitty production drowns him out on several of the songs. However, his work on the tracks where it is actually noticeable (Hand of Doom, Paranoid, War Pigs) is stellar.
Song structure does, at times, seem formulaic-for better or for worse. Slow, heavy opening riff, two verses and two choruses, then the tempo speeds up and Tony plays his solo. This is certainly a winning equation, but only works so much. About half the songs use this format, just barely the right amount that it isn't overused. Paranoid is the only consistently up-tempo song on the album, and is reminiscent of some of Led Zeppelin's songs-especially Communication Breakdown. Planet Caravan is very "stoner", with light guitar, a catchy little "riff", unusual lyrics, and a whispered delivery by Ozzy. Rat Salad and Jack the Stripper are out of place but not awful, though they are hardly memorable compared to some of the album's other tracks.
I feel the need to identify two tracks on the album, for very different reasons. One is Electric Funeral, a song that garners some praise-not quite "legendary" praise, mind you, but some-and for the life of me I CAN'T FUCKING UNDERSTAND WHY. I even have a friend who claims this is Sabbath's best song. (This same friend fiercely defended St Anger in an argument, though, so......anyway, that too is another story.) This song, to me, sounds like a CARBON COPY of the excellent War Pigs, but with retarded lyrics; it doesn't follow a similar format to the one I mentioned above, it abuses that formula. This is the only truly weak song on Paranoid, and ultimately drags the score down a bit. The other track that warrants an Honorable Mention is Hand of Doom. This song is brushed off by many as-and there is no possible explanation for this-the WORST SONG on Paranoid. This track starts out with a great, memorable bassline, and MUCH better lyrics than Electric Fuckery. One part of why people seem to dislike Hand of Doom is the tempo change, and admittedly it is VERY jarring. The first time I listened to the album, I thought it was a completely different track. But that's not enough to ruin the song. It doesn't "become crappy", it just "changes abruptly". I find it to be incredibly fun to listen to and jam to, and it is my personal favorite on the album.
Ultimately, as far as albums go, this one is about as close to flawless as they come. Only one bad track, and plenty of classics to make you forget that one. This is REQUIRED LISTENING for all metal fans, along with such other classics as Number of the Beast, Master of Puppets, Ace of Spades, and Painkiller. In fact, this album is BETTER than any of those in my humble opinion. It will be remembered through the ages as an indispensable gem of the metal genre.