Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Paranoid

This is what we call a calling card. If you want someone to understand what Black Sabbath was all about, you have them listen to Paranoid.

Paranoid, released in 1970, is the album that defines Black Sabbath. If their eponymous debut created the heavy metal genre and later releases found them experimenting and stretching their sound to the limits, then Paranoid, their second album captured everything they were all about: the crunching riffs, the foreboding atmosphere, the dark and often apocalyptic lyrics. Black Sabbath the album may have been more groundbreaking, but Paranoid is more refined and packed with more classic songs.

The album begins in high gear with the absolutely epic War Pigs, one of Sabbath's all-time great cuts. With a subtle background of air raid sirens adding some early atmosphere, the song launches into a massive, stop-and-start rhythm that builds in intensity. The group also works in some political digs in their lyrics, as the band attacks the military who would do Satan's bidding by causing evil and destructive wars.

"Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches in black masses.
Evil minds that plot destruction, 
sorcerers of death's construction."

That angry tone continues on other songs throughout the album, suggesting a lashing out at the evils and hypocrisies of the world. Humanity will doom itself whether it's through war, drugs, or some other form of destruction. The psychedelic, almost funky "Electrical Funeral" chronicles nuclear fallout and the devastation it has on humans, and "Iron Man," with its stomping, monster riff, is not about the Marvel superhero but a time traveler who ends up transformed into the very instrument of destruction he tried to warn the world about.

The moody, sinister "Hand of Doom" depicts the horrors of heroin. It's a slow, almost subdued piece during the main riff and stanzas, with Ozzy singly comparatively softly and Geezer Butler's methodical bass lines offering the only instrumentation. Like here's the calm, mellow part of addiction, but when the song gets to the chorus, the volume cranks up and the music intensifies in speed and intensity, as the heroin reveals its true, deadly nature.

"Take your written rules
You join the other fools
Turn to something new
Now it's killing you."

Sabbath also turns inward and finds fear and a state of mind that is, well, paranoid. The title track, originally a filler song, finds Ozzy lost in his mind, alienated from the world around him and himself and despairing. It's the fastest and shortest song on the album on the track, and it blazes through with yet another iconic Iommi riff, Geezer's pumping bass, and Bill Ward's frenzied drumming.

"And so as you hear these words telling you now of my state,
I tell you to enjoy life. I wish I could but it's too late."

Elsewhere, Ward gets an extended drum solo on "Rat Salad" that rivals John Bonham's "Moby Dick." Sabbath also gets somber on the quiet interlude "Planet Caravan," with soft vocals from Ozzy; this song follows "Paranoid" and precedes "Iron Man" and feels like a brief respite from the despair on one side and doom on the other. 

Everything comes together at the end with "Fairies Wear Boots." This is perhaps the band's weirdest song with some of their oddest lyrics ("Fairies wear boots dancing with a dwarf"), but it has a swinging, almost jazz-like rhythm that paired with Iommi's metallic riffs makes for an idiosyncratic and masterful closer.


Standout Songs
War Pigs - Epic opener is an apocalyptic roller coaster.
Paranoid - A concise primer on everything awesome about Sabbath.
Iron Man - Feel the power and fury when you listen to this.
Electric Funeral - Who knew the end of the world would be so funky?
Fairies Wear Boots - Surreal, swinging closer contains some of the band's best sounds.

Favorite Moment
So hard to choose, but I got to go with a guitar lick by Tony Iommi just over six-and-a-half minutes into "War Pigs" as it transfers over into "Luke's Wall," the outgoing solo. It's like time to ride out the nightmare to the end.

Album Cover
A blurred, pink swordsman in the woods. Certainly memorable and recognizable, but I'm not too crazy about it.

Track Order
1) War Pigs/Luke's Wall
2) Paranoid
3) Planet Caravan
4) Iron Man
5) Electric Funeral
6) Hand of Doom
7) Rat Salad
8) Jack the Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots

Lineup
Ozzy Osbourne - Vocals
Tony Iommi - Guitar
Geezer Butler - Bass
Bill Ward - Drums

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