Black Sabbath

album cover

I. . .Am. . .Iron Man!

Before British rock singer Ozzy Osbourne was a one-joke reality TV star, before he allegedly bit the head off a live bat in concert, before he became a caricature of stoned celebrity excess, he was the first master of rock and roll psychodrama. And this, the second Black Sabbath album, is his Inventory of Primal Fears and Thrilling Nightmares of Great Portent. This stuff is not for the faint of heart: Meet the boy who's shunned by others, trapped in his own paranoid delusions (the title track). Step into the dark hall where the "Iron Man" dwells; he's a machine devoid of soul who knows "nobody wants him." (He'd be something to shun were he not powered by one of the most devastating two-measure riffs in all of guitardom.) Shudder at the craven scheming of the "War Pigs." Beware the "Hand of Doom," with its foreboding fuzztone fingers.

Recorded live in the studio in just three days, Paranoid neatly defines the sound and the philosophical disposition of heavy metal. Its obsessions (hate, the supernatural, war, alienation) became the obsessions of every other band aspiring to hardness. Its basic premise—that we must atone for the inherent evil of mankind—became the cornerstone upon which an overwhelming preponderance of heavy metal texts are built.

Running through these eight tunes is a feeling of malevolence waiting just out of sight. The vibe's so thick that Osborne doesn't have to do much; he bellows a little something about fairies wearing boots, and suddenly it's the witching hour. Black Sabbath's original lineup—Osborne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Terry "Geezer" Butler, and drummer Bill Ward—watched what the fast-ascending Led Zeppelin (see p. 442) was doing, and realized that blues rock, then huge in England, could travel down different roads. Zeppelin made it mystical. And Sabbath cranked it up, creating battle music of brute Wagnerian force and Ben Hur scope. This album, the first full realization of Sabbath's power, was a hit almost instantly, but is equally significant for its influence on the hard rock that followed.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1971 (U.K. release, 1970), Warner Bros.
Key Tracks: "War Pigs," "Paranoid," "Iron Man."
F.Y.I.: Kurt Cobain once described his band Nirvana as "a cross between Black Sabbath and the Beatles."
Catalog Choice: Master of Reality
Next Stop: Metallica: . . . And Justice for All
After That: Pantera: Vulgar Display of Power (see p. 575)
Book Pages: 92–93

Buy this Recording

Share this page:


#1 from TW., Canada - 12/17/2008 4:48

An excellent choice and it quite simply rates as one of the best rock albums ever.
Anytime I hear about a “Best of” list for music I don’t hope it includes something by Black Sabbath, I expect it to.
One could argue that the first six albums from Sabbath should be on this list as well, but I assume the author’s thinking Paranoid encapsulates that evocative Sabbath sound as a whole and I would agree.
Personally I love this album and have since I was a kid, War Pigs still moves me and I’ve heard it 1000’s of times. People outgrow certain music styles - such as my brief foray into Motley Crue - but you never outgrow good music, and Black Sabbath is good music.
When I was younger only the headbangers admitted to liking Sabbath now I hear it on college radio right after a John Coltrane track, kids want to learn Iron Man on Guitar Hero, no longer does one have to pretend they don’t like it.

#2 from Adam, New Jersey - 01/16/2009 7:07

My best friend recently said that War Pigs was the best political rock song ever.  I don’t think so, but it is a good point.

#3 from Shane, Nashville - 01/17/2009 5:36

I learned about Sabbath by listening to Casey Casem’s top 40 countdown of all places about 20 years ago.  He was talking about this album and I went out and bought it that day.

It scared me the first few times I listened to it (I was only 13)  Then I realized how heavy it was and kept on listening.  Eventually I bought all of the Ozzy sabbath albums as well as all of the Dio years as well.

Essential for anyone who is trying to discover metal.

Commenting is not available in this content area entry.
site design: Juxtaprose