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The Old Warhorse Deserves It's Place - 90%

brocashelm, April 21st, 2006

This old warhorse of an album suffers from an all too common condition affecting most bands’ best, or perceived to best, or more popular work: over playing. See, most music journalists and radio programmers are notoriously lethargic, and rather than do the work (if it can really be called work) of truly understanding and assessing an artist’s music, all too often a band’s biggest seller becomes their “best” album simply by virtue of sales. And so we’ve all had certain albums hammered into our brains until we’re sick to death of them, no matter how good they happen to be. The net result is that classics like Dark Side of the Moon, Nevermind, Abbey Road, Kind of Blue, Are You Experienced, and many others (including the ENTIRE Led Zeppelin catalog… I mean get over it already) are rendered impotent due to over saturation.

In Sabbath’s case the damage was particularly acute. In my youth when classic radio stations played the band at all, it was invariably material from this album, and then only two of its well-worn cuts. (And I was listening in a major market: NYC!) Now Black Sabbath, to date and in their various incarnations, has issued 18 studio albums, 4 live albums, and I’m sure countless radio broadcasts of concert recordings languish in radio station vaults. And all we get is two measly cuts? This, my friends, is why mainstream music broadcasting (audio and visual) SUCKS SO BAD in our world.

But enough media bashing. Truth be told, while Paranoid is not my favorite Sabbath outing, it is a classic, and should have its place among metal’s legendary texts. The slightly tentative tone of their debut behind them, our heroes began to truly forge a sound all their own here. The RIFF is still king, as it was before, but these riffs are better by a good margin. Also better is the chemistry between the players, a fact that opener “War Pigs” bears out. The rhythms (part swing, part crush) and the interaction between Bill Ward’s drums and Geezer’s bass is truly impressive, as is the instrumental work during the song’s lengthy CODA, in which Tony Iommi really shows his inventive side as a guitarist. Ozzy for his part gives one of his best performances on record, and the song’s anti-war sentiment (as filtered through Sabbath’s old testament moralist stand and imagery) is potent and even timely some 35+ years hence.

The title cut follows and remains the band’s most famous tune and rightly so. It’s a quick, terse and catchy cut that boasts one of the most infectious riffs in history, as well as suitably depressive lyrics delivered in Ozzy’s now embedded style of following the chord changes with his ever unique voice. The acidic wash of “Planet Caravan” is pleasant enough to be Sabbath’s first visit to psychedelia, and perhaps reveals the band as still having their foot (or at least a toe) dipped into the Sixties rock styles they were in the process of escaping from.

And then there’s “Iron Man”, surely this band’s “Smoke on the Water” and one of the most recognized guitar riffs ever penned. The rub for me is that I really don’t dig the tune, partly due to over-exposure and part because there are at least 25-30 better songs in the band’s canon. For example, at least three of those cuts follow, so let’s move right into the droning, nearly psych dirge “Electric Funeral”. Iommi really gives his cry baby wah pedal a workout here, and Ozzy’s accompanying nasal whine compliments him perfectly. “Fairies Wear Boots” is one of the more dynamic early Sabbath tunes, boasting nice soft/loud contrasts, and bizarre lyrics retelling a tale of Ozzy’s less than pleasant encounter with a crew of skinheads. Finally “Hand of Doom” is odd lyrically, as it addresses and clearly questions the wisdom of Sabbath's own drug use, matched with some sweet, slow, syrupy riffs.

All told Paranoid is a metal landmark and certainly deserves the props it’s received over the decades since its release. But to arbiters of taste that tyrannically control the airwaves, please listen to at least one of this band’s other 20 or so recordings… we’ll settle for even light rotation if that’s all your lazy asses can handle.