It's impossible to imagine what heavy metal would have become without the iconic gloomy riff of "Iron Man," the musical thickness of "War Pigs" and the rapid-fire chugging of "Paranoid."
"Paranoid is important because it’s the blueprint for metal," Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford said in the liner notes for a 2016 reissue of the album. "It led the world into a new sound and scene." From the first track to the last, Ozzy Osbourne's cutting voice outlines any manner of topics that would feature in metal over the next few generations: imminent doom, drug casualties, nuclear war, brutality, uncaring autocrats, cosmically fated love and general disillusionment. The music is dark and gloomy with blues-inspired guitar riffs that other groups have Xeroxed into an unrecognizable oblivion. The album even has a drum solo.
The way the band members have told it over the years, they arrived at the sound of Paranoid through endless gigging before they were famous, playing several sets a night at residencies in Hamburg and Zürich to almost nonexistent audiences. They'd stretch out a tune like "Warning," the epic blues guitar showcase on Black Sabbath, to the point that it proffered the main riff of "War Pigs" – a tune whose original lyrics under the title "Walpurgis" narrated a black mass. "Rat Salad" was Bill Ward's drum solo in the early days and it could last up to 45 minutes. The ominous bass part in "Hand of Doom" by Geezer Butler, who also wrote the majority of Paranoid's bleak lyrics, came from improvising. And the funky "Fairies Wear Boots" was loosely based on a real, incredibly violent fight the band got into with a group of skinheads after a gig in the north of England (the slur "fairy" was meant to emasculate their attackers, who wore boots). Butler wrote about his own disillusionment with a sci-fi twist in the lyrics to "Iron Man" (which had nothing to do with the Marvel comic-book character).
For the bassist, who, like the rest of the band grew up in a bleak postwar environment – bombed-out Birmingham, England – it was easy for him to describe dystopias like those in "War Pigs" and "Electric Funeral." He even gave the hippie-ish love song "Planet Caravan," with its bongos and jazzy flamenco guitar line, cold, distant, fantastical lyrics about feeling lost in space. And he simply described his own depression on "Paranoid," a throwaway tune written at the last minute to fill out an LP side, with witty aplomb in turns of phrase like "Make a joke and I will sigh and you will laugh and I will cry." Yet it resounded, becoming a huge hit and one of the group's most-performed songs.
Paranoid was the sound of Black Sabbath's reality, a plea for understanding that would resonate with millions of people feeling the same disaffection, many of whom would form groups like Metallica, Pantera and Slipknot – groups that would change the face of metal, as well as the world. "Bands on Ozzfest would tell me Sabbath was their biggest influence," Osbourne once said. "I'd listen to them and go, 'What part of that did Sabbath influence?'" "It doesn't sound anything like heavy metal to me," Butler once said. "But it’s better to be called inventors rather than followers." Regardless, the album was metal's call to arms, and it's been answered loudly and passionately ever since. K.G.