Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Paranoid

Science tells us of a time when it rained on earth for thousands of years. Water, having traveled to our nascent planet on various asteroids smashing around each other in the early solar system, finally cooled the atmosphere to the point where it could precipitate, and it would seem — at least in hyper-simplified terms — that happened long enough for 70-plus percent of the crust to be covered with water surrounding whichever supercontinent the landmass was at the time. It is what let life happen here. It’s how we got here.

This is what Paranoid is to doom. Not a watershed, but the watershed. Ubiquitous to a point of cliché, though fortunately the genre doesn’t seem to mind. Released in Sept. 1970 as a seven-months-later follow-up to Black Sabbath‘s likewise genre-defining self-titled debut (discussed here just last week), it was the band’s most commercially successful release during their initial run, and is arguably the most important heavy metal record of all-time, at least from a pop-cultural standpoint. It’s not their most accomplished work, or a personal favorite, but its component songs are so pivotal to the making of heavy music of any and all niches/microgenres/whathaveyou that it’s a given. It was the first Black Sabbath album I owned, and I don’t imagine I’m alone in that.

The album like a vacuum for hyperbole. I’ll just say the names of the songs since I assume that’s all you need to hear them in your head: “War Pigs,” “Paranoid,” “Planet Caravan,” “Iron Man,” “Electric Funeral,” “Hand of Doom,” “Rat Salad” and “Fairies Wear Boots.”

To call it god-tier feels inadequate, considering the decades its relevance has held and the subsequent generations of bands who’ve internalized its teachings. 54 years after its original release, it has been put through a ringer of remasters and remixes and special editions, but the power of the original material hasn’t waned. If you want to compare it directly to its predecessor, you don’t need to look further than how each LP starts: the rainstorm at the beginning of “Black Sabbath” on the first record casting a morose atmosphere for the immediately-dug-in slow roll of that eponymous statement, and the riff and air raid siren of “War Pigs.” The one is foreboding, the other a literal alarm, a more active noise, and most of all, an acknowledgment of audience.

Generally speaking, you can only do something for the first time once. Among the most substantial differences between Black Sabbath circa Black Sabbath and Black Sabbath circa Paranoid — remember, we’re talking about a difference of months in terms of when these records happened — is that the audience is a clear consideration. Black Sabbath ParanoidNot just in “Paranoid,” the speedier track famously born from a spur-of-the-moment Tony Iommi riff as the label wanted a single. Even the label wanting a single is a change. With the element of surprise no longer on their side, Black Sabbath — the original lineup of IommiOzzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward — instead had to take the work they did on the self-titled and expand on it. First came the heavy and then came the metal. “Electric Funeral” hits hard at the start of side B and is dark in atmosphere in a way that is more cogent but also more performative. Black Sabbath had ‘a sound’ they were playing toward, and Paranoid allowed them to focus on elements like atmosphere and songwriting all the more for that.

In addition to setting a standard that few LPs could ever hope to stand up to, by Sabbath or anyone else, Paranoid also serves as a model for trajectory and creative growth. Much of it is in conversation with its predecessor, but at the same time the band had clearly learned. The performances are sharper on Paranoid, with Ward rolling immediately on the “War Pigs” intro, giving depth to the chug of “Paranoid” through jazzy swing and holding the proceedings together as “Iron Man” invents proto-crush. Iommi is more confident as a soloist, Butler expands his palette lyrically to the sociopolitical — I’ll spare you the I’m-a-liberal-on-the-internet-so-I’m-performing-sadness-about-war diatribe about the ongoing applicability of “War Pigs” or the class consciousness of “Hand of Doom”; you’re welcome — and Osbourne emerges as both frontman and singer. The latter’s on-stage charisma feels accounted for in the shouts of “Paranoid,” and while he never was a technical, voice-as-instrument-style vocalist, he reaches highs in the verses of “War Pigs” that have seen cover versions fall short for decades and defines the style he’d later explore in his solo career on “Electric Funeral,” and so even within the band, Paranoid is monumental. There is no understanding or engaging Black Sabbath without it.

Like Pink Floyd‘s The Wall or The Jimi Hendrix Experience‘s Are You Experienced?, if grimmer in outlook and outwardly angrier about it, Paranoid has pervaded the pop-cultural mainstream in such a way that it no longer belongs solely to the genre born out of its primordial ooze. “War Pigs” was in Marvel movies. I tell you no lie, I heard “Paranoid” two weeks ago over the speakers at the grocery store down the road (and yes I absolutely rocked out my middle-aged self while picking up yogurt and eggs, thank you very much). It’s not just a classic metal record, it’s a classic record. It belongs to everybody.

Maybe in part because of that, doom itself tends to hold other albums closer, whether that’s the self-titled or 1971’s Master of Reality (discussed here), Vol. 4 in ’72, or something else from the catalog, but there’s no getting around Paranoid since it’s so essential to the persona of Black Sabbath as a whole, casting their aesthetic in its purposeful, willful, defiant-of-moment-but-representative-of-moment heft. Even “Planet Caravan,” float incarnate, is heavy.

I won’t feign impartiality here, or insight for that matter. Whatever else Black Sabbath was, is, will or would ever be, Paranoid is the album for which they’ll most be remembered, the moment the entered the zeitgeist, and the greatest source of their ongoing influence across heavy music styles. And somehow, even in acknowledging all of this, I can’t help but feel like I’m underselling it. Maybe because the songs are good?

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

That’s two weeks in a row of a Sabbath delve. Is this how I’m celebrating the site’s 15th anniversary? I don’t know. I’m curious though. Sometimes a thing kind of happens and then you have to explain it afterward. I’m doing my best. My brain’s got nooks and crannies like a Thomas’ English Muffin, so sometimes I need to chase my own motivations to their source.

It was a week, it’ll be a weekend. The godsend was a productive Monday. Shit you not, I’m still today posting stuff that I wrote Monday afternoon, which almost never happens unless I’m really behind. The difference this time was I was ahead. My daughter went to school Monday, had a snow day Tuesday, was home sick Wednesday, went Thursday and is off today and Monday for President’s Day — just in case anyone wanted to be reminded of Joe Biden, which is kind of a drag even in concept, what with all that fostering genocide — so it was the fact that I got shit done on Monday that let this week happen without my eyeballs falling out. I am behind on news but that’s nothing new, and I managed this week to even have some flex on last-minute stuff, which was satisfying considering that most of the time the kid is home, that’s where focus goes. You can’t really bust out the laptop and expect productivity, though I did for a bit on Tuesday as well.

That chaos and the sick kid also pulled me out of my own head a bit, which I needed desperately. I renewed my prescriptions for whichever  mood stabilizer I’m on and whichever meth I take for ADHD, so I’m back on that horse, wagon, etc. Drugs. You know how we look back on people drilling into each other’s heads and think “oh how savage! how fortunate we are now to have modern medical science!” Some day people will look back on all the shit we dump in our bodies the same way. And they won’t be wrong, but you work with what you’ve got and if I can make my trip easier from one end of an average, probably-not-that-difficult-generally day to the other, there is a value to that beyond the fiscal exploitation of the pharmaceutical industry. I am fortunate to have insurance.

So, a four-day weekend coming up. I’ve got a Holy Fingers video premiere on Monday that I hope you’ll watch, premieres for Clarion Void and Kitsa, the latter a full LP stream, and a review either Thursday or Friday for the new album from The Obsessed, which is out today. I’m slated to interview Brume next Thursday as well, but that record isn’t out for like two months, so I might wait a bit to post. We’ll see how it goes.

Coming on 7AM (today was a pre-4 wakeup) and I hear thudding upstairs, so I’ll punch out and wish you a great and safe weekend. Have fun, hail Black Sabbath, watch your head, hydrate. That list is getting pretty long. Whatever you’re up to, thanks for your time and for reading and I hope it’s the exact opposite of awful.


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3 Responses to “Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Paranoid

  1. Cola TheLodger says:

    Love the Sabbath write up!

  2. SJ Matt says:

    I am LOVING subsequent ‘Sabbath Fridays!
    These talks of ‘Canon of Heavy?’ You are on to something, pal. Book? What?

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