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Black Sabbath - Paranoid CD (album) cover


Black Sabbath


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4.30 | 957 ratings

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4 stars I remember being weirded out by the cover of Black Sabbath's debut LP when I first saw it. The macabre image of a pale specter in a graveyard along with the band's dark name was more than enough to keep this still green-behind-the-ears, dyed-in-the-wool Baptist boy from wanting to know what their music sounded like. Then, sometime in early '72 while living in Denton, Texas I moved into a house on the outskirts of town with my band's sound tech, Gordo Gondolf, and our roadie, Malcom Patterson (R.I.P.). Malcom LOVED Black Sabbath, especially their "Paranoid" album. My bedroom was right next to his and he would play it loud and often. I, on the other hand, was into Deep Purple at the time and, in order to drown out the roar coming through the separating wall, I would play my copy of "Machine Head" at full volume. This probably drove poor Gordo out of his gourd but his room was at the other end of the house and maybe the metal battles between Malcom and I didn't bother him all that much. Anyhow, whenever I hear the name Black Sabbath that's what comes to mind and it's not a bad memory to revisit because despite our differences in musical tastes Malcom was a good egg and fun to be around. The point is that, other than the cuts played on FM stations, I never really heard his favorite group's songs past the first few measures and certainly never considered them progressive. But the older I get the more interested I am in rock & roll history and I finally decided it was time to listen to "Paranoid" with an open mind.

The disc begins ominously with "War Pigs/Luke's Wall" wherein the band sets up some dreary aural scenery beneath a wailing siren before vocalist Ozzy Osborne bursts in like a lightning bolt. I'm always taken aback by the excellent quality of Ozzy's singing as evidenced here where he has to fill up a lot of open space. Say what you want about these guys but they had a unique style all their own and since that's one of the core definitions of prog rock I now concur that they belong in our hallowed genre's halls (more so than many others, I might add). Wearing headphones, I was intrigued by how they took advantage of the basic two-channel stereo pan technique in their mix to broaden their sound, something that's a bit of a lost art these days. "Paranoid" is next and my opinion is that these fellas took what I term "riff rock" to a whole new level. While they aren't exactly my cup 'o Lipton and never will be I do respect their authenticity. They played what they heard in their heads and they were in complete agreement about the mood they were trying to create. "Planet Caravan" is next and I was shocked when I heard it. It owns a quasi-Moody Blues atmosphere with Ozzy singing through a Leslie speaker cabinet to conjure up an other-worldly feel. The song is performed with remarkable restraint and Tommy Iommi's guitar solo borders on jazz as ghostly piano chords create a dense backdrop. It's a very engaging track that caught me completely off guard and it's by far the most impressive song on the album.

Ozzy growls through an electric fan as Tommy's guitar drones menacingly to begin "Iron Man." To call this number "heavy" is to do it an injustice because it's unbelievably gargantuan in scope. (Malcom used to blast this tune first thing in the morning just to bug me.) Again, nobody in the biz was doing rock this way in that it had such a minimalist attack. To embellish it would've ruined the aura so they were happy to leave well enough alone. Kudos to Iommi re: his ability to double his guitar tracks with such precision. Not easy to do. "Electric Funeral" is another riff-based rocker but the wah-wah effect on one of the guitars gives this plodding number a different hue. Their sudden leap into the shrill bridge section is jarring and then they return to the original theme to finish it out. Geezer Butler's bluesy bass line starts "Hand of Doom" in a subdued air but then they crank it up for the chorus. As they did in the preceding track, they change gears midstream and go running off into curious detours. It's kinda like they combined 3 or 4 song ideas into one. "Rat Salad" is an instrumental that most likely was written in the studio one day while they were waiting for Ozzy to show. It surely came in very handy in concert because drum solos were mandatory in that era and this gave their stick man Bill Ward a vehicle in which to hog the spotlight for a few minutes. Thankfully, he doesn't wear out his welcome here. They end with "Jack the Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots" that starts out as a high-spirited instrumental before morphing into a metallic rocker rumbling over a semi-shuffle beat. Osborne's vocal is sufficiently devilish and they sound like they're enjoying themselves. It's apparent to me that they owe a lot to Cream for inspiring their means of delivery but they do so with a lot more abandon than Eric, Jack and Ginger did.

"Paranoid" was recorded just four short months after the release of their first LP and it only took them six days to complete. That left little time to over-think the music and it worked to their advantage because its "spareness" is what gives it such an unorthodox, raw flavor. Call it the genius of the uncluttered mind. It certainly tapped into a hungry demographic because even without the help of a Top 40 single the album rose to #12 in the USA and sold over 4 million copies. While you won't find any of these tunes on my personal playlist I do have a better understanding of their appeal and look forward to hearing where they took it from here. They are without question the godfathers of metal and they started a ball rolling that hasn't slowed down since. They were true innovators and that earns them an extra star in itself. 3.5 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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