Tag Archives: heavy metal

185. Black Sabbath – Paranoid

“It’s tough, resilient music, and you know you can dip it underwater and like an AK-47 it still works”Henry Rollins

black-sabbath-paranoidThings were starting to get exciting in 1970, and a trinity of British hard-rocking bands was emerging with the rise of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and of course, Black Sabbath.

Ozzy and the boys had already had some success with the seminal (if far from perfect) first album, “Black Sabbath”, but it was with this one, just seven months later, that things really started to heat up.

As the first track opens, the fearsome “War Pigs”, you can almost feel a dark shadow growing over you, with Iommi’s now familiar growling riffs slowly growing, and that feeling builds up before the vocals kick in. Throughout, you’re sat there thinking “Fuck yeah…” as it unfolds. It’s been described as “A Hieronymus Bosch painting brought to life” and that’s a good analogy. The lyrics start awkwardly (I still flinch at “Generals gathered in their masses, Just like witches at black masses…”), but there’s some powerful commentary in here.

Lyrics were never Sabbath’s strong point, and they were never meant to be. Ozzy freely admits that “(we) used to write songs in the van, get to the gig and I would sing any old shit, as long as it had got a melody with it.”. On “Paranoid”, arguably Sabbath’s most famous track, the lyrics are a minor part of the track, and it’s the claustrophobic, foaming-at-the-mouth ferocity that gets you.

“Planet Caravan” has always been a controversial addition to the album; it’s a slow-burning slice of psychedelia that feels like it’s stowed away on the hyperspace jump from their first album to here. But  things soon get back on track with the menacing “Iron Man”. Conceived around its riff, like so many tracks on the album, it’s thunderous, dark and yet exciting. Originally the song was going to be called “Iron Bloke” but the Marvellous moniker works better.

I’ve used the word ‘sinister’ a few times in this review, but it’s an adjective that fits best with the apocalyptic vibe that fills “Electric Funeral”, mixing ominous guitar, some rather nifty drumming and Ozzy right in his element, to create what’s probably the highlight of the album.

“Hand of Doom”, an epic nightmare about the dangers of heroin, is where the lyrics actually get smart, creating a suffocating nightmare that sounds like it created grunge twenty years early. “Rat Salad”, a short instrumental, is often slated as jamming nonsense, but there’s some impressive moments to be found, including some satisfyingly Spinal Tap drum solos.

The album closer, “Faeries Wear Boots” grew to be a live favourite, and it’s got its fair share of epic. Actually a song about a shady encounter with some skinheads, it might as well be a tale of a trek across Mordor for all the mystery it packs in. It’s a great closing track, not necessarily all that good but big, bold and bastardy.

If “Black Sabbath” was the ‘first heavy metal’ album, as has been mooted, then this might be its first masterpiece. It’s an album that defines the Sabbath sound, making the most of Ozzy’s vocals, Iommi’s guitar and Geezer Butler’s impressive drumming, and creating something that was new but would be imitated for decades to come.

Shame about the cover really.

179. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath - Black SabbathI think it was about March last year, when I reviewed “Tommy”, that I pointed out one key fact about this list – the book is entitled “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die”, and that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the best, just the ones you MUST hear.

This one fits the latter camp. It’s not quantifiably a GREAT album. It was recorded in a single 12-hour session on a meagre budget. It’s short, rough and for much of the 40 minutes, disappointingly mundane, and it was a critical failure on its release. But, and this is a but Sir Mix-a-Lot would be proud of, this album deserves a blue plaque, because, on this album, heavy metal was born.

In the gloriously meta opening track (“Black Sabbath” from the album “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath), those first bars from Tony Iommi’s guitar come down hard, followed by our old buddy Ozzy’s ominous vocals. The lyrics, designed to scare, seem tame these days, but combined with that sonic canopy, they still sound nice and evil. And oh my word, does the riffing at the 4:30 mark sound fresh.

“Wizard” scales down the ominous, incorporating some blues harmonica, but the guitar keeps growling, and there’s some fine drum work going on too.

“Behind the Wall of Sleep” is a low point on the album, with an arguably archaic sixties vibe. On the other hand, the main riff sounds quite similar to their later “Iron Man”, so that’s nice.

“N.I.B.” is probably the best-known track from the album, and one that they went on to soar with in their live shows. Rumoured to be an abbreviation for “Nativity in Black”, it was later revealed to be named after Bill Ward’s goatee. It’s a guitar-heavy first person narrative from Lucifer, with a riff that’s been described as “the raucous defiling of Cream”.

“Evil Woman” was a cover of a track from Minneapolis band Crow, and it’s more a blues rock track than genuine metal. It was released as Sabbath’s first single, which is slightly disappointing as it doesn’t really represent the sound of the album. There’s even a crude fade-out at the end of the track that just doesn’t belong.

Despite opening bars that sound just like Metallica’s “Unforgiven” and a nice drum solo, “Sleeping Village” is mostly nothing to write home about, but the album closer, the epic “The Warning”, most certainly is.

It’s a track with more conventional “woman-done-me-wrong” lyrics than the more pagan mischief from the rest of the album, but for the whole of it’s 10 and a half minutes, it’s a sonic resume of what guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward could do, and it’s quite a magnificent closer to the album. There’s more than a nod to the blues-rock from the likes of Cream and John Mayall in here, but the sound is truly Sabbath’s own, with the promise of many great things to come.

Tony Iommi famously lost the tips of his middle fingers in an industrial accident, leading him to detune his guitar to make chords easier, and it’s widely suggested that the distinctive dark sound that that created was the nucleus of heavy metal. Certainly, at the 8-minute mark in “The Warning” the guitar sounds like nothing that went before and opened up some great ideas.

There’s no doubt that Black Sabbath were pioneers of the genre, and there’s enough great music to redeem Ozzy from his missus’s later X-Factored crimes against music. There are better metal albums out there, sure, but this is a growling, abrasive little belter that has a lot of history about it. Certainly worth 40 minutes of your time.