Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Black Sabbath—
Paranoid


Released 1970 on Warner Brothers/Vertigo
The Seth Man, June 2002ce
“Paranoid”, man...it’s heavy. And it always ends far too soon: like the most fleeting and powerful of ecstasies that make even the most permafrost of all ice cream headaches seem soothing in comparison.

Beating both brain and senses while lashing them together and dropping them down a bottomless mental mineshaft for its duration, “Paranoid” weaves an atmosphere of dread that stared down and cast an unflinching bead on reality while maintaining liberating levels of exhilaration running roughshod over everything in an effort to beat down the walls of wickedness its lyrical observations so claustrophobically perceived. The eight tracks that comprise this regimented power chord, shock stormtrooping masterpiece of enduring heaviness all hang together in the same exploration of mental landscapes of wickedness, fear and destruction. In fact, ALL of them are about destruction to some extent (except “Rat Salad,” and only because it’s an instrumental) or a series of warnings glimpsed from the very edge of reality. And Sabbath were totally switched on to industrial strength with Iommi’s perfected left-handed blare-riffs, Geezer’s sinuous and intuitively fleet of fingered bass playing, Bill Ward’s unadorned pounding and Ozzy’s ranting and raving projecting from a gaping maw crooked downwards at both ends as they all trail-blaze fearlessly through unending cycles of wilderness and confusion.

The ever-singeing “War Pigs” opens up this sonic turtle stampede of an LP s-l-o-w-l-y with a skeletal, web-spinning bass line and a series of howling guitar BAAAOUUWWWWs like successive waves of an electric ocean lapping the shorelines of sanity with undertowing ripples of feedback from Iommi’s welling and swelling SG guitar. Sirens sound off in the distance signaling mutually assured destruction, but it is no mere portent of nuclear destruction -- it’s already in process and too late for any observations on the Apocalypse but Ozzy’s, as his is the voice of the objective and all-seeing eye of the outsider. The opening trudge comes a dead halt but for the tensely quiet hissing of the hi-hat and Iommi’s “DAH-DAAAH!” guitar bursts. But by the passing of the first forceful tom-tom flourish, it’s apparent that Bill Ward’s kit is not properly miked and will remain tunelessly flat for the rest of the proceedings. In lesser hands this would spell fucking dragging disaster, but since all of Ward’s battering impact is being put behind every thump, cymbal crash and lumpen drum roll, it’s a fierce display of a ninnyhammering beat co-joined by an ensemble who were the heaviest but still capable of swinging beyond any of their jazz influences. “Luke’s Wall,” the sub-titled outro to “War Pigs” is the brightest moment of the album, with said wall the final fortification of humanity shored up against the warheads of evil (Well, that’s what it sure sounds like because with each slashing down stroke of Iommi’s guitar and Geezer’s ambidextrous plectrum spanning the track’s rhythmic circumference, the inference is that all is clear and a glimmer of hope has begun to sprout. Unfortunately, the opening riff then rebounds back only to speed up crazily and spin out of control as if the final ICBM has touched down on the last remaining city to promptly blot out all humanity forever.)

“Paranoid” is the simplest and fastest track on the album. Something that eluded me for decades was the melody of Ozzy’s vocals lurking just beneath a veil of staggered echo. Upon close inspection it is probably the most uncannily sweet and harmonious vocal line ever to grace such a furious and freaked out super blast of a thrash. The fuzz-distortion’d guitar solo isn’t nearly as fast as the blasting 2.5 fingered rhythm guitar but wotta Tsuper Tstrained Tstrangulation of elation and ejaculation: ‘specially with that monochord rhythm guitar repetitiously chugging with a full head of steam, pausing only to accent the end of each line beneath it with anvil-striking force. “Planet Caravan” is the late night calm where gloom is the only balm for shattered nerves, minds and bodies. Ozzy’s disembodied voice incants low mysteries from beyond the void as echoed, near-vibraphone notes are struck and hang echoed like the same evening stars that “shine like eyes” upon a post-hunting astral travellin’ campfire scene sometime in the near-prehistoric future. Ringing a circle of severed heads hanging suspended in mid-air sparse are bongos, bass, de-electrified guitar chords and scattered piano notes are without gravity, without time, without bounds and collect into a supernatural and ambient chamber piece.

“Iron Man” sees Ozzy approximate a child’s “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah” snotty scoff, sticking his red razzer out a mile as his vocals sneer out lyrics recounting the saga of a human transformation into iron, with backing at a speed approximating the lumbering of said metallic persona non grata’s “heavy boots of lead” -- Which makes the entire population of planet earth run away much as they did from similar objects of dread on the first Sabbath LP. At six minutes long, “Iron Man” is a hulking bulk of repetitious, 15mph slashing guitars and overall Sab murk-backing until the middle break when Iommi’s solo slings everything into top speed, causing Geezer’s bass to run amok all over the place. The murk re-settles back into its original lumbering shape, until once more Geezer’s wired bass strums herald yet another series of Iommi’s aerial bombardment throughout an extended, strafing coda.

“Electric Funeral” begins side two with Iommi’s domineering wah-wah. Or more specifically: “WAH-WAH-WAH-WAH-WAH/WAH-WAH-WAH-WAH.” It’s linked to previous tracks thematically via radioactive fallout from nuclear war, here spread upon a slow-moving slab played heavy as fuck. Abruptly cutting in is a fast and explosive proto-thrash section that razes all in a blinding flash of energy whose discharge can only be measured in megatons. It returns back into its previous slow paces ever so quietly as it staggers towards a post-fallout horizon blurred by smoke and falling embers. Continuing in a similarly quiet and creeping doubt groove is the opening minor bass line to the cautionary dope tale, “Hand Of Doom.” Despite four separate eruptive verses (and one extended into the realms of manic cluster-fuck zone) this mesmerising sound ALWAYS returns, sometimes alone or sometimes accompanied by wisps of non-FX guitar and steady drums. This deeply bludgeoning epic alternates between pulverising and soothing. Elements of “Pusher Man” by Curtis Mayfield played by half of “Tago Mago”-era Can on amphetamines abound here.

Unlike most drum solos, the one caught midway in “Rat Salad” is by far one of the few non-token thrills I can think of, because it doesn’t sound forced in the least and it’s the perfect length. And since it is quickly pressed in between a full ensemble outing fore and aft ala “Moby Dick,” it makes me think the original title may have been “Rat Sandwich” with the Sabs deciding later to change it to a far greasier and visually grossed-out designation. “Fairies Wear Boots” triumphantly ends the album with a streetwalker’s undulating rhythm. When it falls into place at a quicker pace, everyone is there for it and the track begins to swing just as hard and hairy between the legs as a run-through-the-full moon-town square dong clothed with imagery part acid flashback/part weirdly voyeuristic and as altogether unrefined yet precise as all the preceding tracks. For Iommi to churn out those buzzsawing guitar lines THAT precise is stunning, while Ward and Geezer bearing the full force of the white heat of the moment...which they have already extended out into an entire album. And Ozzy just rasps out the lyrics so desperately unhinged that by the final delirious build, all he can do is purge his final lines into a failing shout from a bottomless hole: “The e-e-n-n-n-d...!” The group continues for another round with Geezer’s bass lurking loudly on tiptoe over his flailing compatriots until it all recedes resoundingly into the future.

“Paranoid” is the result of the sort of chemistry I’d venture occurs in this dimension only once or twice a lifetime.