There’s a persuasive argument that complication is the enemy of great rock’n’roll. And in some ways the hard rock template that Black Sabbath moulded with their breakthrough second album Paranoid in 1970 backs up that notion.
After all, the title track – which will still emerge first from your speaker if you ask: “Alexa, play me Black Sabbath” – was dashed off in half an hour or so. But this was never a band relying solely on bludgeoning riffs and Beelzebub.
Contrary to stereotype, Sabbath always displayed intriguing prog tendencies and an ear for the atmospheric. It’s evident in the air-raid siren accompanying the funereal intro of War Pigs, before the dramatic one-two riff breaks in, the bewitching psychedelic reverie of Planet Caravan, the jumpy prog-metal time signatures of Hand Of Doom and Rat Salad, and the lurching, shape-shifting jam of Jack The Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots.
Still, few members of the Classic Rock parish will need convincing of this band’s many qualities, so why should they invest in this five-LP or four-CD reissue?
Maybe for the 1974 ‘Stereo Quad’ mix offered on the second disc. Sure, it’s been left behind by technological overhauls, and the remaster that represents the first disc here offers a noticeably clearer, crisper sound. But you might actually prefer a little vintage mud caked on your dark, cloudy 1970s classics, especially on the comfortingly retro format of vinyl, even if we can’t pretend objectively that it’s superior.
Then we have the two 1970 live sets included here, both previously available on bootlegs but polished up nicely for this official release. The August 1970 Casino De Montreux performance begins with the sound of feedback and the sound of nails being hammered, presumably into the stage. And the sounds continue in the same agreeably abrasive vein as the filthy fuzz of Tony Iommi’s riffs are a visceral joy.
The oft-mocked ‘masses/masses’ rhyme of the studio take of War Pigs is also different here, as Ozzy sings alternative lyrics, including the memorable couplet ‘It’s a place for all bad sinners/Watch them eating dead rats’ innards’.
The live set from a gig in Brussels in October 1970 is a little less in-your-face, but the newer songs are pacier and more assured in the hands of a band now firmly on the up. No dead rats’ innards being consumed this time, but you can’t have everything, right?