There is little argument that Paranoid was “a defining moment” for Black Sabbath. Both the song and the album it was titled after helped to catapult Sabbath from scruffy working-class schlubs to progenitors of a new form of hard rock that would come to be known as heavy metal. To validate the greatness surrounding Paranoid, the group’s second album, the Classic Album series gathered all the key players — singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Bill Ward, first manger Jim Simpson, engineer Tom Allom, Warner Brothers president Joe Smith — along with various journalists, pundits, and intelligent outsiders like Henry Rollins, to weigh in on the period and creation of one of rock’s darkest, most powerful recordings. Classic Albums: Paranoid (available on DVD, as well as Blu-ray) lives up to the series’ reputation, delving deep into a fantastic voyage of musical unity and conquest.
We basically start from the beginning when Sabbath comes together and records their first, self-titled album. The talent of each band member receives special attention: Osbourne’s raw and distinctive voice gives way, ala his fondness for the Beatles, to his sense of melody; Iommi conjures those heavy, stick-to-the-wall riffs from who-knows-where; Butler writes a bulk of the lyrics and plays a thundering bass; and Ward wavers between jazz influences and extraordinary power. Together, Sabbath create a dark and ominous sound right out of the gate.
By tracing the birth of the song “Black Sabbath,” the group broke so much ground, inventing heavy metal at its most visceral. Iommi breaks out his Gibson SG and plays the riffs, making it look simple. When they get to “War Pigs,” the war and peace footage gets a bit thick. But it’s “Iron Man,” a song we learn that’s about the future, that gets get dissected. The riff is easy, but intense. Rollins credits the band with shifting the tempo at one point. Allom roles the tape and isolates the parts.
Iommi grabs a beautiful black Taylor to play the chords to “Planet Caravan,” and we get a glimpse of how a Sabbath ballad came to be. Osbourne gets kudos for his abilities, while Butler explains the song’s spacier qualities. “Electric Funeral” and “Hand Of Doom” somehow warrant more propaganda bombing and war footage. But there are lessons to be learned. Allom describes how on “Electric Funeral,” the vocal, guitar and bass all seem to be playing the same melody. And “Hand Of Doom”…is just a downer. There’s really nothing more you can say about “Fairies Wear Boots” except that Osbourne is largely responsible for the lyrics and Ward’s drumming is insanely perfect.
The song “Paranoid” was a last-minute addition that doubled as the album’s title after original War Pigs title was rejected. Allom plays an outtake with Osbourne scatting through the vocal. (You can hear it in its entirety on the Deluxe Version of Paranoid, which also includes a quad mix of the album). To hear the final mix, however, is familiar ground, like seeing an old friend — it suddenly becomes clear how important “Paranoid” is. The band’s meteoric rise in the States is attributed to Paranoid, but it should be noted Sabbath released a lot more albums, some perhaps a bit more realized.
The bonus interviews are priceless. Osbourne, Iommi, Butler and Ward talk at length about their influences, instruments, technique and first tour of the U.S. There’s lots more in-studio jamming and focus on certain songs, plus Joe Smith raving about how no one returned copies of Sabbath albums. As the first Classic Albums episode on Blu-Ray, the sound, picture and additional menu features are especially enticing. Either way, it’s all the members of Black Sabbath talking in-depth about their first big break. There isn’t any good reason, aside from an inability to absorb rock and roll history at its finest, any music fan shouldn’t seek this out and watch it intently.
~ Shawn Perry