Black Sabbath is often cited as one of the founders of the popular rock subgenre “metal,” but you’d never guess if you compared it to the drop-D tuned, breakdown plagued, double-kick-drum fury of today’s metal.
This is too melodic, lacking the palm muted chunks of contemporary metal, instead favoring dark (for the time) lyrics put over heavily distorted (again, for the time) blues rock.
But don’t take that as a criticism of the music, only of modern semantics.
For a record that came out the same year as Let It Be, Paranoid is defiantly innovative, from the jazz-improv of “War Pigs” to the heavy-handed sci-fi of “Iron Man.” This is the stuff genres are (and were) birthed out of. The lumbering guitar riffs, fret-happy bass guitar, and perma-soloing drums, along with Ozzy’s signature yelp, herald a sound that had up to that point only been hinted to in Paul McCartney’s “Helter Skelter,” but not anywhere near the depths Black Sabbath took it to.
Historical significance aside, is it listenable? More often than you might think. The first side is flawless, with a surprisingly atmospheric third track, “Planet Caravan,” linking the lead single and the iconic “Iron Man.”
“Electric Funeral” is a bit too heavy-handed, and without an innovative melody to save it from its post-apocalyptic ramblings. But to be honest, this album isn’t really carried by Ozzy (who only wrote one song, all the others are credited to the bassist Geezer Butler). Rather, the album succeeds because the group’s other three members are really, really good, creating some instrumental passages that are more interesting than any sung section.
Drummer Bill Ward throws fills in every place imaginable, but his touch is light enough that it doesn’t overpower the rest of the band, and volumes have been written about guitarist Tommy Iommi’s signature screaming leads and power riffs and his wisdom concerning when to play which.
But the real unsung hero here is Geezer Butler, whose bass playing spends most of its time only casually flirting with the root notes most other bassists would cling to. The interplay between Butler and Iommi creates most of the albums appeal, especially on the throughout the seamless suite of “Hand of Doom,” “Rat Salad,” and “Faeries Wear Boots,” in which Ozzy does what’s best and largely stays out of the way.
And in the end, this is a fitting summary for Paranoid–Ozzy Osborne at the top of his form letting a brilliant trio play, only interjecting when necessary. It’s a historical album, and deservedly so.