Black Sabbath are widely considered to be one of the pioneering heavy metal bands. Their second album, Paranoid, is sometimes referred to as the band’s best album. Also, Paranoid is perhaps one of the most impressive heavy metal albums ever made.
Black Sabbath had released their self-titled debut album in February 1970. The album did okay chart wise and got the band on the road. However, critics were harsh on the album and dismissed it of being relevant. The band was also constantly writing material while on the road. Black Sabbath consisted of singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward. Of the members, it was Butler cranking out the lyrics and Iommi writing the guitar riffs. The band was aware of what was happening in the world. The war was one thing that influenced many of the band’s songs. The band entered the studio again in June and finished recording the album in only a few days. The album’s title was originally War Pigs. However, Warner Brothers didn’t like the title and thought that people would find that offensive as the Vietnam War was still going on. After listening to the song “Paranoid”, the label chose it as the single and the album’s title. This would explain the story behind the album’s cover, which depicts a trippy picture of a soldier. As a result, the album’s cover is sometimes considered to be one of the worst album covers ever made, as it has nothing to do with paranoia.
Paranoid starts off with “War Pigs”, which begins with a “doom-like” opener. The song picks up pace about 50 seconds in. Ozzy sings about war and destruction, complete with eerie images of the war (“In the fields a body’s burning/As the war machine keeps turning”). After Ozzy yells “Oh, lodger!” the song is rocking. The lyrics in “War Pigs” are very powerful. A favorite of mine: “Time will tell their powered minds/Making war just for fun/Treating people just like pawns in chess/Wait till the judgment day comes”. Black Sabbath were telling the truth and reality of the war in their lyrics, as seen in those lyrics. The self-titled track has, without a doubt, one of the most memorable opening guitar riffs in heavy metal music. Members of the band say the song took only a few minutes to write and record. Although “Paranoid” is a bit radio friendly, there’s no denying of the song’s heaviness and rawness. A lyric like “Can you help me occupy my brain?” is so dark and maybe even poetic in some way. “Planet Caravan” is very different from any of the songs on the album. The song has a hippy-like feel to it. Ozzy’s vocals sound spacey while Bill is playing percussion. Still, the song feels dark. “Iron Man”, like “Paranoid”, has one of the most memorable opening guitar riffs. The song tells the story of a man who travels in time and comes back and kills the people he once saved. “Iron Man” is also somewhat of an anthem in a way. “Electric Funeral” tells the grim possibilities of a nuclear war. The song is slow in the beginning but then, out of nowhere, picks up speed with Iommi showing off some impressive guitar work. “Hand of Doom” is probably my personal favorite off the album. The song is about using heroin, specifically soldiers in the war. The song is heavy and dark with chilling lyrics such as “You push the needle in”. About two minutes in, the song gets faster which could make the song into a mini-epic. “Rat Salad” is a bizarre instrumental that still, somehow, fits on the album. The drumming from Bill is very impressive, almost jazz-like. The album’s closer, “Fairies Wear Boots”, is another classic. However, not too many people are sure what the song is about. In his autobiography, Ozzy states that doesn’t know what the song is about. However in the Classic Albums episode on the album, the band and others believe the song is about skin-heads or gangs in England. Still, Paranoid ends on rocking note.
Paranoid became Black Sabbath’s real first hit album. The success of the album and its single, “Paranoid”, put the band on the map. While the band’s debut album started their career, Paranoid catapulted the band to superstardom and made them one of the first popular heavy metal bands. It also allowed the band to make more music, including 1971’s Master of Reality. Today, Black Sabbath remains inactive. Iommi and Butler, along with singer Ronnie James Dio and drummer Vinny Apiece, were performing as Heaven and Hell up until last year when Dio was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Sadly on May 16, Dio lost his battle at the age of 67. In July, Heaven and Hell played their last gig as a tribute to Dio. Ward hasn’t been doing much while Osbourne released a new album in June entitled Scream. The lawsuit filed by Osbourne last year against his band mates was dropped sometime this year. When asked about a reunion of the original Sabbath, Osbourne answered “I never say never”. Hopefully, Black Sabbath will get back together and start touring soon. For now, let’s celebrate the 40 years of Paranoid. In my list of top 200 albums, Paranoid sits at #11 on my list. For me, Paranoid is my favorite heavy metal album released by anybody. In its fortieth year, metal fans salute this classic album for its timelessness.
Note: If you’d like to learn more about Black Sabbath and the Paranoid album, go out and find the new Classic Albums episode on the album on DVD and Blu-Ray. Sadly, I’m afraid you can’t find the DVD on Netflix. If you love Sabbath, just get it. It’s a really good documentary. If you don’t feel like buying it, wait for it to air on VH1 Classic or something like that. The DVD can be found on Amazon or FYE stores.