DVD Review: Black Sabbath / Classic Albums: Paranoid
Reviewed by: Antonio Marino Jr.
September marks the 40th anniversary of Black Sabbath’s landmark album Paranoid. To commemorate this four decade old cornerstone of heavy metal Eagle Entertainment has assembled the original members of the band as well as their former manager (Jim Simpson), recording engineer (Tom Allom) and record company executive (Joe Smith) to produce another Classic Albums series DVD. Words like “landmark” and “classic album” are used so often that it’s easy to gloss over such expressions but when it comes to Paranoid they only begin to tell the story.
By September of 1970 the ingredient of Heavy Metal had already been introduced. Steppenwolf had already coined the phrase “Heavy Metal thunder”, Led Zeppelin had at that point released their first 2 albums and Jimi Hendrix (who sadly died the day Paranoid was released) had completely re-written the book when it came to playing lead guitar – so the idea of big sounding drums coupled with wildly distorted guitars was not new. What was about to change was the musical direction that those established ideas would be used to give Heavy Metal its own voice and not just be the blues played loudly.
The DVD starts with a brief history of the band. Detailing how four friends jamming simple 12 bar blues tunes quickly discovered that playing music was a lot more fun, and as Tony Iommi would discover, less dangerous then working factory jobs in Birmingham, England. The documentary never dwells on any particular facet of the story for too long, it moves quickly but efficiently. You get an understanding of what the harsh early days were like with tales about them being so poor that Ozzy went to the first studio sessions barefoot. Then through constant gigging, the four kids playing basic blues songs started to forge a new musical direction. The bands first release Black Sabbath in February of 1970 set the ground work for what was to come. The debut release with it’s occult inspired lyrics and trudging guitar tone gave a taste of what Paranoid would more coherently deliver.
Sitting with his trusty SG in hand Tony Iommi shows the viewer how some of heavy metal’s greatest riffs were born. Tony, as well as bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward – all in the sixties now – happily retrace each songs history with background on each song and with surprisingly keen memory of who came up with what. Ozzy’s unique ability to come up with vocal melodies that sit perfectly on top of this music, that at the time was completely unorthodox, is detailed with surprising praise by the other members of the band (at the time that this DVD was filmed there were unresolved lawsuits between Iommi and Osbourne).
It’s hard to think of Sabbath as a political band but the majority of the songs on Paranoid outline the sad state of the world in 1970 (a message that still strikes a familiar cord 40 years later). The song’s lyrics are explained and make for some of the more revealing moments of the DVD. In many ways Black Sabbath was the anti-hippie band but when you break down the lyrics to this album you start to see a band willing to take on hippie causes but from a different point of view. As Geezer says in the DVD, by 1970 “We realized that the revolution was never going to happen” so they sneered at the idea that anybody could save a world that was already lost. Songs like “War Pigs” point out that the true evil in this world doesn’t come in the form a red guy with a pitch fork but suit and tie guys that think nothing of sending 19 year old kids to meet their doom on a battlefield.
Each member of the band appears to have been interviewed at least on two different occasions and all of the members of the band are engaging and each adds important insight into the overall story – even Ozzy. For most people it’s probably hard to remember a time when Ozzy wasn’t the mumbling half-wit that he’s been portrayed as for the past decade but this documentary goes a long way in restoring some of his dignity… and that’s a very nice by-product of this release.
Aside from the insightful interviews with the band members it’s nice to hear Tom Alloms side of the story. Tom would go on to produce some amazing music with Judas Priest but for Paranoid he was behind the board engineering. Tom does a very good job of filling in the pieces of the story that only someone from outside of the band could accurately do. Another, surprisingly great inclusion is singer Henry Rollins. Henry does a great job of explaining the power of Paranoid by coming from the perspective of a fan. His knowledge of the music is evident and his ability to breakdown the music as a fan is important to the overall success of this DVD.
Obviously Black Sabbath fans will love this nicely done documentary. Even the most astute Sabbath fan will come away knowing something new about the band but I hope this release is able to find an audience outside of just the hardcore Black Sabbath fan. Unlike the documentaries VH1 produces for their “Behind the Music” series this one doesn’t use an outside narrator, the only voices you hear are from people that are on camera and in most cases were there when the album was being made. If there is anything that could have made this feature slightly more interesting it would have been an interview with all of the members in one room at the same time. Overall that’s a small nit-pick in what is otherwise an incredibly enjoyable DVD.
Purchase the DVD here