The year was 1970. A group of four twenty-somethings had just finished their debut, one that invented the genre that shook my world as a writer. Yes, I’m talking about Black Sabbath. Their original self-titled debut album invented heavy metal, characterised by it’s doomy, evil sound and it’s thumping basslines. This is evident in the whole album, especially The Wizard, N.I.B and Black Sabbath, the latter of which Judas Priest’s Rob Halford said is the most evil song ever written. Only a few months after releasing this milestone record, the then-lineup of bassist and lyricist Geezer Butler, songwriter and guitarist Tony Iommi, drummer Bill Ward and singer Ozzy Osbourne, released an album much bigger…
The ending result was Paranoid. It contains the band’s three signature songs: Paranoid, Iron Man and War Pigs. It is often described by critics old and new as one of the quintessential metal albums. I mean, we’re talking really essential. The chances are, you probably know someone who owns this record, or at least spent the whole of Year 5/6 playing it on Guitar Hero 3. I was one cool 10 year old I’ll give you that.
Enough of that, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. The first track, War Pigs, is an absolute monster of a tune. It gets you, as the listener, hyped for the rest of the album. Musically it has what you expect of Sabbath, some slow, stoned-esque power chords in the intro, and then silence… D and E power chords come in then a hi-hat rhythm comes in to set the scene, D and E chords again. Some a capella from Ozzy “generals gathered in their masses… Just like witches at black masses, …Oh lord yeah!” it’s not just the lyrical themes dealing with Satan and witchcraft that grab your attention, it’s Ozzy’s photogenic (or should I say CDgenic) voice that goes perfectly with their style. If all that about the musical jargon confuses you, just take a few minutes out and listen to it. It could change your life.
Another track that is worthy of mention is Iron Man. It has everything you could ask for from a Black Sabbath song: atmospheric string-bending – check; simple but heavy riffs – check; bone-chilling lyrics – check. It’s a really good song. In fact, it’s one of the most recognised metal songs ever and is considered a metal anthem among many. It starts off with a 4/4 crotchet drum beat (which I often get confused with Slow Ride by Foghat), then it goes into vibrato-laden semibreves in F (which are a pain in the backside to play on guitar) that set the scene and give you chills. Then it goes into one of Tony Iommi’s most famous riffs of B, D, D/E, E; G/F# G/F# G, D, D/E, E. If you don’t know what that means just listen to it. I would talk about the rest of the album but because I gave you a good idea of the musical direction the band have talking about the rest would be seen as repeating myself (I’m not saying the album is repetitive, it isn’t at all, it’s just the review is more about their style and how it influenced many).
That gives me some time to talk about the title track, and commercially the best, Paranoid. It starts off with a rainfall of hammer-ons in the typical Iommi style we know and love, then the drums come in for a few bars, then the vocals come in “Finished with my woman cause she couldn’t help me with my mind, people think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time”. Those words are the metal version of “to be or not to be”, everyone knows them as Paranoid, just as everyone knows “to be or not to be” as Shakespeare. Going back to the music, the post-verse section is some sustained power chords and then the verse riff comes in again, palm muted quavers, or 8th notes followed by a crushing cadence of heavy chords that go synonymously with Sabbath.
This really is a groundbreaking album. It’s not their first record, but it’s the first really popular metal album that shook the world.
I understand this review is mostly about musical analysis and non-musicians probably closed the tab as soon as I got to line 12 so if you got this far thanks for reading!