Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Record of the Moment: Black Sabbath - Paranoid

You may say, "WOAH THERE, what happened to this guy?  He now listens to heavy metal?"  The answer is "This record," and this record only.  Let's be honest, this record isn't heavy metal in the modern sense.  It's like Led Zeppelin but jammier and heavier.  But at the time, that was way heavy metal.  No one really dared to go that heavy before.

But that's not the point.  This is a one-of-a-kind record.  I'm no expert on metal, but sources I've gathered say that it simply is one of the finest, ever.  I don't listen to metal at all, but the songs on this record are pretty sick.  "War Pigs" is, according to a friend of mine who's more metal-inclined than I am (though he is of the Grateful Dead vein more than anything else), the best heavy metal song of all time, and one of those flawless rock songs.  The second I can definitely agree with.  "War Pigs" is both a flaming indictment of warmongers in power and a maelstrom of sheer muscle and power.  Iommi's guitar charges along, while the rest of the band acts like they are, perhaps, dogged on by the hounds of hell.

I know that heavy metal and Black Sabbath in particular gets a rap as Satanist, but look at these lyrics, from "War Pigs":

"Now in darkness world stops turning
As the war machine keeps burning
No more war pigs have the power
Hand of God has struck the hour
Day of judgment God is calling
On their knees, the war pigs crawling
Begging mercy for their sins
Satan laughing spreads his wings"

What is Satanist about that?  There really isn't a whole lot of Satanism going on there.  It really is a whole bunch of talk about the end of the times, which is not very Satanist to me.  Especially when the song calls on the Hand of God to render judgment unto the war pigs.  Of course, I'm not really familiar with later Black Sabbath, and we all know Ozzy Ozbourne is a loony, so I could be wrong.  But back then it doesn't seem like that.

Other dudes like Christgau make fun of the hokey lyrical themes that Black Sabbath use, such as all the sci-fi, horror-film talk, but in the end, it's the same application just of a different theme.  In the sense that, for example, David Bowie plumbed the Ziggy imagery.  It's a little different, but you get the gist.  If all the faux-horror and sci-fi imagery was not artfully applied to the music they had, I'm sure Black Sabbath would deserve that rap.  But once, again, look at the above lyrics.  They're not too shabby, are they?  Look to basically the first side of the record and prepare to have your face blown off.

But yet, it is heavy metal.  I'm not going to put this on a whole lot.  But it is a great record.  It shows a definite Zeppelin influence in the same sense that both adapted blues styles and played it as heavily as possible.  The guitar work on the record is killer, the bass and drums are tight, and Ozzy sounds a bit like Iggy Pop, but in a much different mindset.  Invariably, from what I can tell, the Black Sabbath strain of heavy metal is dead.

This is my discussion on the genre itself.  Black Sabbath, while still trying to sound demented in only the way heavy metal can, always seemed to base itself a bit off of the Zeppelin model, relying on old blues forms, a stiff pair of balls, and a bunch of gusto to make the songs heavy metal.  While certainly Iommi shows his chops a whole lot, it's not exactly slavish in the way metal sounds now.  He doesn't take a whole lot of solos on the record, mostly just chilling and creating a mean rhythm track for Ozzy.

But look at metal now.  It has sort of degenerated into a bunch of people trying to outplay one another, becoming a showcase of technical skill rather than an art form related to the spirit of rock music.  Which is why I consider modern metal disowned from the rock tradition.  Metallica was the rare band, from what I can tell (another friend of mine is much more Metallica-inclined than I am), that straddled the line between embracing the tradition while still sort of being as "technically excelling" as possible.

But all these phonies running around trying to outplay one another miss the point of rock music.  I would make the claim that they actually are moreover descendants of the classical music tradition, where technical displays are actually encouraged and written into the music.  Because, to be honest, classical music is dying out.  Hardcore.  It pains me to admit it (having been an orchestra dork in high school), but it's true.  It's dying.  And somehow, a bunch of metalheads are the ones concerned enough with the extremely technical sides of music to save it.

Sorry for the divergence.  Seriously, this is a wicked record.  And I mean "wicked" in the sense that it's good, not in the Satanist sense, mind you.

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