One can only scratch their head in amazement at the fact that Black Sabbath managed to release two classic albums within a few months of each other, as Paranoid emerged in the autumn of 1970. With the Vietnam War continuing its horrific march, the original title of War Pigs was shelved, and so Paranoid – providing just as much mysticism, image-wise, as the debut – was used.
Strangely, a man seemingly dressed in his underpants and a crash helmet, wielding a sword, would become a classic cover – the band by now familiar with evoking strangely hypnotic and almost spooky manifestations.
Lead single ‘Paranoid’ (it has often been argued that the album was called Paranoid simply due to the success of the single), despite its almost poppy, blues-based ingenuity, fades into the background as truly monstrous tracks such as ‘War Pigs’, ‘Planet Caravan’ and ‘Iron Man’ take over, with Geezer Butler’s lyrics taking rock music to another level and walking hand in hand with Ozzy Osbourne’s all too familiar banshee wail and Tony Iommi’s gargantuan riffs. Black Sabbath were the musical equivalent to stumbling across a black mass in the woods – the shocked audience never quite sure if to take a step closer or run home to hide under the bed.
The booming ‘War Pigs’ not only features some of Bill Ward’s best drumming, but it’s simply another perfect Sabbath track that, despite its epic nature, rambles like an invincible tank – Butler’s bass is armour-plated, and Iommi’s licks shift between bombastic blues and jazzed up shuffles.
‘Paranoid’ is without doubt the “pop” track of the album, bright and breezy in comparison to the psych-folk swirl of ‘Planet Caravan’ – Ozzy’s vocals have an almost watery splendour to them as they are accompanied by Ward’s folky bongo-styled drums and Iommi’s breathless acoustics.
But this lull in doom doesn’t last for long as ‘Iron Man’ lurches forth from its extra-terrestrial lair. Suddenly, Black Sabbath find their niche; ‘Iron Man’ is a plodding beast of a track, made all the more rigid by Butler’s dogged bass and Ward’s stabbing drums. Lyrically, it’s oh so simple yet eternally effective, which brings us to the dread that is ‘Electric Funeral’, probably one of the band’s doomiest ever tracks as Ozzy barks “Dying world of radiation”, clearly in no mood to celebrate a summer of love he never experienced. Instead, Sabbath commentates on the real world around them; war, poverty, hunger and bad, bad weather.
The ominous chug of ‘Electric Funeral’ is very much the track every doom band has tried to replicate over the last 20 or so years, never once coming close to the stormy glory of this devastating golem. And if you’re still not scared by Sabbath, then ‘Hand Of Doom’ will make sure those underpants need changing – Butler’s bass intro simmers until the drums and guitar join for a waterfall of sorrow, accompanied by Ozzy’s vitriolic yawn.
‘Hand Of Doom’ is a schizophrenic track that one moment bubbles with malicious intent and then roars into the ear of the listener. It’s a seven-minute stomper that once again addresses the state of the world, while the short but sweet instrumental ‘Rat Salad’ features Iommi’s blues-based solos and a killer Ward drum assault.
Paranoid exits the room with the staggering ‘Fairies Wear Boots’, a seemingly drug-induced alcoholic haze of a groover that begins life as an instrumental before taking on a mid-paced chug. Many have debated as to what the song is actually about, with Geezer Butler claiming that it spawned from an encounter he and Ozzy had with a group of skinheads one night, although Tony Iommi opts for the more esoteric version that Ozzy and Geezer saw mythical winged entities while they were under the influence of cannabis! Either way, ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ is simply another timeless Sabbath track that rounds off another truly great record.
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