When taken out of the “first metal band ever” context and objectively examined, the songs on Black Sabbath’s first two albums were misunderstood psychedelic projects. They were all about the freakout and the image. Just look at their lead man, Ozzy Osbourne. He was ready to let his freak flag fly, even if it was black instead of tie-dye.
Sabbath wasn’t scared of experimentation and did not adhere to any standards. In its efforts going against the norm, the band created new standards in rock music, and instead of adding more wah-wah and shimmering guitar work that pushed them close to the psychedelic genre, they instead followed their gut into uncharted territory and ended up creating something new and original.
The product is today considered heavy metal, which sparked an entire new genre that gave permission to a generation of musicians to blow up their speakers and amplifiers and play faster, harder and angrier than any musician has done before. They birthed one of the most infectious, insane, technically talented and precise, in-your-face, ever-expanding spectrum of metal music.
Whether you ask a Norwegian death, American Southern, grind, electro industrial, sludge, doom, melodic-death or power-metal band (or any other combination of words in the endless subgenres we can choose from today), across the board Black Sabbath is always noted as major influence. If not a major influence directly, Sabbath may be the grandparent to the sons and daughters that influenced the bands that inspired even today’s youngest crowd to play.
None of this would have been possible without one extremely trippy record that many forget has a track with bongos and washed-out vocals on it, a track you could play in an acid party and not scare the partygoers. Many forget the setting of Paranoid. It was released in 1970, just after Black Sabbath had been released—after the band changed its name from Earth to Black Sabbath.
“War Pigs” is a quintessential album opener. It starts out with that drone riff; that influential two-chord groove has been copied many times over, yet it’s timeless when heard today. It makes listeners feel like they’re drifting out to sea.
“Electric Funeral” is a psychedelic song at its core, but it created the sound for today’s stoner/sludge/doom-metal. Listen to the opening riff that carries throughout the song. Listen to that distortion and that flange. Listen to the wah-wah. The repetition of the riff put on a different tone to the listener after each verse. The repetition of the riff poses a question to the listener about the future. It makes you anxious and scared.
Oddly enough, the band was forced to write “Paranoid” by their label so the album had a “radio-friendly” track. “Paranoid,” however, set the stage for 1980s metal as we know it. Any ’80s band like Metallica or Megadeath augmented and expanded the element of this simple song. (It was written in the studio in 15 minutes before it was recorded.)
To throw the heaviness off, there’s “Planet Caravan.” It’s a dreamy song that might pass by unnoticed if you aren’t listening or the volume isn’t turned up. There are bongos and washed-out vocals that sound like Osbourne is at the bottom of a well. Black Sabbath wasn’t scared to find themselves in their music by experimenting. This experimentation gave them the freedom to invent a new style of playing the guitar that made the signature stand out track on this album which is, of course, “Iron Man.”
“Iron Man” is a jam out song; it is a head-banger. It is a drone/stoner-metal song at its core just as much as it is a psychedelic song. That solo doesn’t scream metal, it screams drugs and guitar. The song’s instrumental break is the mortar and pestle for something you hear every day in metal-core songs: the breakdown.
This is only a tiny morsel of what Black Sabbath accomplished and of what Osbourne accomplished on his own. Once heavy metal was cemented into musical society, people started to buy records and they were hungry for more. The more metal you listen to, the deeper you want to go. You want to see how brutal the sounds musicians can manufacture from just a few instruments. You grow a taste for the double bass; you learn to decipher growls from shrieks and then from shrieks from screams. You develop an ear for technical death, melodic death, black-death and death-core. Getting into metal is a lifelong journey, learning experience and process of rediscovery, and it all started with a misunderstood psychedelic band.
Black Sabbath – Paranoid tracklist:
- “War Pigs”
- “Planet Caravan”
- “Iron Man”
- “Electronic Funeral”
- “Hand of Doom”
- “Rat Salad”
- “Fairies Wear Boots”