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One need only take a look at the time span between this album and the last to understand how driven this band was. Being able to compose and record this much groundbreaking music within the span of a single year is something that few bands are known for. However, it is important to understand that although we do have some changes, for the most part the approach to non-conventional musical structure and dark imagery is still heavily present.
Lyrically this album doesn’t deal much with the occult themes that were present in the previous album. We see references the devil within the context of punishment being delivered towards evil war mongering politicians and the metaphorical application of hell to the state of drug addiction, but nothing that presents the same context that the spooky title track of the last album gave us. We see a more intelligent approach to socio-political issues, as this album is pretty much devoid of the flower power scene, and is closer to the rational criticisms that exposed the philosophical bankruptcy of the time.
As stated before, we still have the same non-conventional approach to songwriting that was present in the previous album. “War Pigs” is probably the most long-winded example of this, carrying a rather large collection of varied, though more cohesive musical sections. The main during the last section of the song (I think this is the theme to “Luke’s Wall”) is probably one of the most memorable guitar riffs ever written. “Fairies wear boots” is also fairly complex, containing the famous recurring guitar solo section, in addition to a memorable set of quasi-blues driven power chord lines. “Iron Man” has probably the most simple structure for the longer tracks on here, but still contains a good deal of changes, and some highly memorable guitar solos.
The experimentation on this album has been taken a step further with the rather heavily drum oriented “Rat Salad”. Being one who is a fan of drums, I appreciate when they are done right, and unlike Zepplin’s rather ridiculous “Moby Dick” this one makes musical sense. If any of you fans of live drum solos wish to get a good studio version of what you like, this is the place to go.
Other tracks such as “Electric Funeral” and “Paranoid” are a bit more straight-forward in structure, though still very far removed from anything else going on at the time. The former has a very evil sounding main riff, in addition to a rather abrupt tempo change in the middle. The lyrics are horrific in their description of the aftermath of a nuclear bomb exploding. The latter song is probably the fastest song to come out at the time, and although others like Deep Purple would push the envelope further, this is probably the earliest version of what we now know as thrash/speed metal.
“Hand of Doom” is another early incarnation of the doom metal genre, and although not as dark as the title track of the debut, this one has it’s fair share of darkness in both the music and subject matter. Although the guitar tone is not as heavy as what would qualify as doom today, the riff itself transfers quite well into the genre today if put through the right kind of distorted amp setting. The lyrics are a rather graphic description of what drugs do to a human being, and indirectly is a condemnation of the glorification of drug use that was rampant in the 60s counter-culture. Metal has historically had a better history of accurately criticizing what goes on in the world than it‘s punk and classic rock counterparts, and here we see an example of how effective it is at it.
We have one rather interesting outlier on this album, and that is the rather atmospheric ballad “Planet Caravan”. Ozzy’s voice is at it’s best on this one as it has been loaded with effects, all of which help to cover the flaws in his vocal performance, which are gradually becoming less obvious on this release in comparison to the previous one. But the true prowess of this song is Tony Iommi’s rather jazz influenced guitar solo, which goes on for about 2 minutes and does not get boring. Ladies and Gentlemen, I can say affirmatively and completely that Tony Iommi made this band as great as it was, not Ozzy.
On a side note, it has been mentioned by many that a large collection of the songs on here have not aged well due to overplay, to this I would make the following suggestions to my friends. Stop listening to the fucking radio, it is the musical manifestation of the tyranny of the majority, hoping that it will conform to what heavy metal is will do nothing but frustrate you. Take all the money that you break your back to procure and buy the songs on CD, and take control of your musical consumption. If you lack the motivation to do this, I would suggest learning to live with the fact that the masses that will the DJ’s hand care not for what you think or believe in. To the DJ and his masters, “Iron Man”, “Paranoid” and “War Pigs” are not heavy metal songs, they are token songs from a genre that they prefer not to think about. Copies of albums were built for one purpose, to realize the personal property aspect of music, which is a personal connection between the artist and the individual listener.
In conclusion, this is another early draft in the history of heavy metal, one that would see a bit more polish and intrigue. This album caries a lot of essential listening, tracks that have furthered the influence of it’s predecessor into a slightly more accessible formula. Like the first release, it is essential for all fans of metal to own it as it provides important historical perspective to where our music comes from. I listen to it often, and although I don’t look to it much for compositional inspiration, I know full well that most of the bands that I do look to for that influence took it from here.