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Black Sabbath's second album of 1970 still heavily features the doom metal sound that they had already perfected on their debut - unleashed with devastating effect in War Pigs and Hand of Doom - but the selection of songs this time around are more varied, proving that the group weren't just a one-trick pony. Never has a quickie throwaway single been as influential as the title track, which set a precedent for speed metal in proving that crunching heavy metal riffs could be played fast to good effect. The trippy space blues track Planet Caravan proves that the band were paying attention to the experiments then underway in the progressive rock genre, and also acts as an interesting interlude between the speed metal of Paranoid and the doom metal of Iron Man.
The band even prove they have a sense of humour on the closing track, Fairies Wear Boots, which as well as taking a pop at skinheads who'd hassle the band for having long hair also prefigures the more light-hearted odes to weed and other illegal substances that would make appearances on Master of Reality and Volume 4. The inclusion of this song at the end of the album is actually an inspired choice - after treating the listener to doomy visions of war, nuclear holocaust, and heroin addiction, perhaps something to lighten the mood is essential. And I don't think the band were ever more adept lyrically speaking than on this album; Hand of Doom, in particular, is an insightful and eloquent look at the end of the hippy era and the effect this disillusion had on many at the time.
On balance, it's hard to say which of the Sabbath albums from 1970 is the superior one. If I absolutely had to choose one, some days I'd probably go for the debut, simply because it chooses a particular mood and then nails it perfectly. Then again, other days I'd go for Paranoid, simply because it is more varied. Both, I'd say, are equally essential to any metal collection, unless you are absolutely averse to slow playing in your metal.