Sometimes an album can make you sit up and pay attention. Sometimes it can take a formerly unknown group of individuals and turn them into your new favourite band. Rarely do those albums create a whole new genre and, even more scarcely does one album manage to do all three in just eight songs. Today, on the 50th anniversary of its release, we’re looking back at the magnificent Paranoid from Black Sabbath.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how Paranoid ended the free-love and soaring spirits of the sixties with a stake straight through the heart. Black Sabbath saw the wounded body of the decade, bleeding technicolour hopes of counter-culture kingdoms and spewing out the false promises of a generation of artists and instead of performing CPR was happy to kill off the decade with a strong hand over its mouth and a fire in the band’s collective eyes. This was the album that started not only began Sabbath’s rock dominance, nor did it just became a heavy metal blueprint for all to follow. This was the album that murdered the sixties.
The band’s second album was packed full of malicious intent when it was cast from the studio by Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Bill Ward and Geezer Butler. Whether they knew it or not, Sabbath had just put the sixties in a shallow grave and they did it with one of the most comprehensive heavy metal records of all time. By the end of 1970, the world’s vision of the sixties and the free love movement which had emanated out of San Francisco in 1967 had soured. Drastically.
Much of what had bubbled out of the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood, the epicentre of the counter-culture movement and the prime location for the Summer of Love, was built on hope and the belief that collective action could change things. As time went on and nothing seemed to change except the mental capacity of those hippies continuously participating in LSD experiments, the vision that had been mapped out in the swinging decade was now beginning to darken at every turn. By 1970, everything had gone black.
If you were looking for the antithesis of the San Francisco’s lofty neighbourhood then you need only turn your head to seventies Birmingham, England. The city had always had a beating industrial heart but now those industries were beginning to pack up. It left the city in ruins and the coal-dusted streets weren’t exactly the kind of place you could walk around barefooted. It’s easy to see how the visions and the sonic landscapes created within them match the music that was made in them.
Of course, the album was actually recorded in London and overseen by Rodger Bain. While it’s a bit difficult to call Paranoid the first heavy metal album, Led Zeppelin’s own stonker had come out nearly two years prior, but it certainly has all the hallmarks and perhaps goes a little step further with its obviously more twisted iconography. While Zeppelin were inspired by Aleister Crowley, it always felt like Ozzy and the band were actually living in it.
Through songs like the title track, ‘Electric Funeral’ and ‘Iron Man’ Sabbath created a brand new sound, extrapolating the best bit of blues and the rock revolution that had gone before it but now with a glinting blade behind their back. Ozzy Osbourne was that very glinting blade, it is almost impossible to remove his charisma from this album, it integrates with every single note. Vocally, he is masterful, sincerely masterful. However, it is in his command of the songs that he really shines.
Under his guidance, though we’re not so sure how aware of it he was, he oversaw Black Sabbath creating one of the most potent albums of all time. They could pull it off because Ozzy always felt so incredibly authentic when singing the songs. Either on this record, where vocally he shows just how good he really was or on stage—whatever ‘it’ is, Osbourne had it. In fact, he still does.
Across the rest of the eight tracks on the record, there are reminders of why Sabbath became a muso-cult. Whether it is the unnerving reprieve of ‘Planet Caravan’ or the gloomy blues that rings out of ‘Hand of Doom’, here is an album that is certainly all killer and no filler. Of course, perhaps the album also has one opening weapon unlike any other LP, the incredible song ‘War Pigs’. The track rages with an intensity unmatched and tells you everything you need to know about what this album was all about. War.
This was the album that confirmed all the hope and freedom of the sixties was over. Now, the reality of a decade-long party landed heavily at the feet of a new generation. Rather than rescue the situation, with Paranoid, Black Sabbath just put the entire decade out of its misery.