I avoided this album for a long time on purpose. All the metalheads I knew were the most boring people to discuss music with. People whose musical world consists of Ed Sheeran, Rihanna and Coldplay are much better. At least they wouldn’t be afraid of the occasional bass drop or rap verse. Metalheads were so dull, generic and stupid that I couldn’t imagine their music to be any good. Dull, generic and stupid people probably listen to dull, generic, and stupid music.
It’s a hard album to avoid though. It haunted me like whatever’s haunting the protagonist in the title-track. It’s especially hard when you’re into Stoner Rock, and consider Monster Magnet to be one of rock’s greatest achievements. Eventually, I caved in and wondered why no one told me about how this record sounds sooner.
It sounds as influential as you heard it is. If you’re into the slower genres, its influence is more apparent. More than the birth of Heavy Metal, it sounds like the birth of Stoner. Sneak “Electric Funeral” in a playlist full of Electric Wizard, Sixy Watt Shaman and Kyuss and no one would notice the band playing it is from the 70’s. What’s far more interesting though, is that it doesn’t sound like a heavy metal record at all.
After playing some doomy riffs, Ozzy sings with that very familiar way of stretching syllables. I completely forgot that between the verses there are distorted guitars. By the time they turn it down again and Ozzy does his thing, I had to admit this doesn’t have that much to do with Heavy Metal. Paranoid is, at its heart, an American Folk record. It owes more to Dock Boggs and Blind Willie than anything. It’s a reinterpartation of the genre.
The reason it still sounds as brilliant today – aside from containing great melodies – is that Sabbath understood their source material better than anyone else. Death was a day-to-day reality in the Old Weird, but try to listen to “Oh, Death” again. It’s such a different era. It sounds alien and scary. Folk music wasn’t easygoing, but looked at tough subject matters in the eye.
Led Zeppelin tried to made a theater of it all. They tried to make big, loud music out of a genre that gained its strength from a banjo pluck and one powerful line. They worked against the style they’re interpartating. They turned up the volume and exaggerated everything, but it never had the emotional punch.
Sabbath knew that Folk Music was very dark. All they did was enhance the darkness with distortion, and some drums. How different is “Hand of Doom”’s lyrics to Dock Boggs’ “Oh, Death” or “Country Blues”? Ozzy may have been more opaque and updated his subject matter to nuclear apoclypse and sci-fi, but he didn’t work against the genre. The addiction he talks of in “Hand of Doom” is the same alcoholism folk singers been singing about. The title-track has a higher tempo, but the lyrics are the same thing as “Man of Constant Sorrow”.
Even “Planet Caravan” fits the concept. It’s weird and sparse, which is how folk music sounds like today. The Old Weird now looks like an alien planet to us, so actually singing about space travel makes sense. It’s far more deserving to be called Space Rock than anything by Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd’s songs sounded like they had space, but didn’t express what outer space felt like. Leaving planet Earth must be a pretty intense emotional experience. “Planet Caravan” has the wonder, the loneliness and the vastness of space in one song. The vocal effects are a brilliant touch.
People who are into guitars probably already own this. It will be forever considered a pioneering Heavy Metal record, but it will also always stand above the genre. Is there any follower of Black Sabbath that tried to replicate this album’s purpose? Most bands borrowed Black Sabbath’s noise and darkness. None of them were familiar with folk music and why it works, not even bands from that era. Even Monster Magnet, one of the greatest rock bands ever took a very different direction.
4 paranoids out of 5