Paranoid

Artist: Black Sabbath

Album: Paranoid

At the end of the 1960s, popular music began to splinter into subgenres; where The Beatles had provided a broad range of styles, from soft balladic rock (Yesterday), to hard rock (Revolution), bands at the turn of the decade began to focus on specific styles. On the soft rock side, artists such as James Taylor and Elton John emerged; on the hard rock side, Led Zepplin, The Who, and Pink Floyd.

But another, extreme style of music emerged, its R ‘n’ B rhythms slowed down, the sound cranked up, exemplified by heavy bass, drums and driving guitars, and macabre lyrics wailed at high pitch.

Heavy metal.

While heavy metal has had its many advocates and acolytes, from Motorhead to Rob Zombie, there’s no doubting the style was borne of a four-piece group from near Birmingham, England.

Fronted by the man now considered the grandfather of heavy metal, John ‘Ozzy’ Osbourne, Black Sabbath released its eponymous debut in the spring of 1970.

But it was the album released later that year that cemented the group’s status as gods within the pantheon of the genre: Paranoid.

Because of different release dates of the band’s debut, Paranoid was released in the States about six months after it was issued in the UK; it proved to be a success on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching number one on the charts in England, and cracking the top-10 Billboard chart in the U.S.

Side one is an all-too familiar listen, such as the anti-war War Pigs, the familiar riffs of Paranoid, and the guttural vocal opening of Iron Man are regular staples of classic rock radio. Side two is more of the same, as the album descends into darker and darker themes.

They beckon the listener to strap on the headphones and turn the sound up to ‘11’; however, while the tunes have probably launched more than their share of air guitar solo careers, it’s the lyrics that are also worthy of analysis. Dark, macabre, they speak of war and death, drug abuse (Hand of Doom), hallucinations (Fairies Wear Boots), nuclear annihilation (Electric Funeral), isolation.

The lyrics are entirely stripped of subtlety, Ozzy’s words as in-your-face as Tony Iommi’s crushing power chords.

It adds up to an album as powerful as it is primal, and defining a sound that other bands would follow for the next 35 years.