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Building upon their groundbreaking debut Sabbath returned with their heralded classic “Paranoid”. Even more awe-inspiring than the sheer brilliance of the music, is how quickly they did it, taking less than a year after their debut.
“Paranoid” is easily Sabbath’s most popular and instantly recognizable album, which leads to the question of why? Well, while no individual reason can be pointed out, a combination of many may have contributed.
The improved songwriting skills of the band are the most apparent feature of this album. Not only is there more focus, the aimless jams of their debut are shortened and feel as though they have much more direction than simply being there, but there is more skill. Another notable is the riffs on this album; this contains what might be metals most distinguishable riff in “Iron Man”.
Another improvement of the band is their respective instrumental proficiency; each man has bettered himself on this album. From Ozzy’s voice, which has more power and capabilities than before, to Tony Iommi’s signature guitar sound which is firmly establishes itself on this album, as if the first one wasn’t enough. At this point Geezer Butler still seems to be the most proficient player of the band, while Bill Ward’s drumming is much more rock focused than the jazzy feel it sometimes took on the first album.
And as for the sound, it has evolved, but hasn’t been refined. While still in the general area of the same blues based music of their debut, “Paranoid” has a distinctly heavier and doomier sound than their debut. This is still technically simple material, but in many ways it adds to the overall mood of the album.
The lyrical themes of “Paranoid” are utterly unrelentingly, depressingly dark and sullen, with the first hand experience of a war torn country helping build this up, and the ever present influence of drugs. Maybe because this was actually hardships that these men went through, they could deliver these lyrics in a convincing fashion.
The single most signifying part of “Paranoid” is the three headed monster of “War Pigs”, “Paranoid”, and “Iron Man”. When someone brings up Black Sabbath those three songs are what more than likely come to mind, and to think that they came from one half of one album, let alone a career. That doesn’t mean any of the rest is filler by any means, “Electric Funeral”, “Hand of Doom”, and “Fairies Wear Boots” are all quality material.
Everything on “Paranoid” adds up to become more than just an album, it is a landmark, each song builds upon each other to create something larger and more menacing. Something about the urgency and simplicity that the message is delivered adds to the effect and makes for an honestly brutal listen, in a good way of course. “Paranoid” is by far Black Sabbath’s signature defining effort, and for that reason it is worthy of your time and a spot on your collections shelf.