From the box: "The second album by Black Sabbath, released in 1970, has long attained classic status. 'Paranoid' not only changed the face of rock music forever, but also defined the sound and style of Heavy Metal more than any other record in rock history. The result of a magic chemistry between four English musicians, it catapulted Black Sabbath into the rock stratosphere."
For many of our younger readers, Black Sabbath's most recognizable song -- featured among the many gems on 'Paranoid' -- may be 'Iron Man' due to the recent cinematic adventures of Tony Stark. Personally, thanks to my heavy metal loving buddy Carl, I was fortunate enough to discover Ozzy Osbourne circa 1992, long before he became MTV reality show fodder. In finding one singer, my world was opened to a twenty-plus year history of arena rock theatrics, lyrical poetry, and through the original Black Sabbath, the building blocks of harder edged rock n' roll and heavy metal music, which in many ways is "blues" meets "jazz" meets "classical" with the amps turned to 11. In a universe sans Sabbath, Kurt Cobain's magical combination of punk rock, Black Sabbath power chords, and Beatles pop hooks may never have happened. And even this week, in late June of 2010, some 40 years post 'Paranoid', Ozzy continues to release solo work as Eminem samples Sabbath's classic ballad 'Changes' on his new album, 'Recovery.'
All of that is to say I approached Classic Album's 'Black Sabbath Paranoid' as an avid fan. The piece is composed of archival footage and brand new high definition interviews with Sabbath's original line up: vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi , bass player Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward. The stories are lively, covering the transition from a generic rock band named Earth in a world of Peace, Love and Flower Power, into the trend-setting Black Sabbath. Four young kids who started like any other group, playing to crowds of three in empty clubs, and ended up with multi-platinum selling albums, which to this day are featured daily in film, television, and radio. Fans will know most of these stories, but there are fresh details a-plenty. For example, I didn't know the album was originally supposed to be titled after a different song, the anti-war anthem 'War Pigs,' but Warner Bros. made them change it to 'Paranoid' because they didn't want to piss off people who were still pro-Vietnam.
The usual crew of historians, rock magazine editors, musicians, and record label executives are tossed in for good measure, but what makes this TV documentary a real treat is 'Paranoid' Record Engineer Tom Allom. Allom, who later became a famous Producer by working on albums for Judas Priest and Def Leopard, is shown in a studio with 'Paranoid' original master recordings. As band members talk about lyrical and historical influences behind the tracks, Allom separates songs into individual parts – playing only vocals or bass or guitar or drums. It's fascinating to listen to songs in that way, and really demonstrates how great music is about collaboration. Most of Black Sabbath's success is credited to Osbourne's eerie vocalizations and Iommi's mad-man guitar acrobatics, but without the rhythm section, with no bass or drums, Osbourne and Iommi are incomplete.
Overall, Classic Album's 'Black Sabbath Paranoid' is a fun, behind the scenes look at what created a genre-changing musical recording. It's not terribly in depth, nor is it a fluff piece. Sabbath fans and rock fans in general will definitely enjoy, and casual viewers may be drawn into the intimate conversations as the band looks back to 1970. What non-fans may find most interesting is after years of censors trying to burn what are supposedly satanic records, there is zero devil worshipping here. Sure, there's imagery and metaphor, but when explored in historical context, it's clear that Black Sabbath was taking on many issues of the day, from Vietnam with 'War Pigs,' to skinheads with 'Fairies Wear Boots,' and drug use in 'Hand of Doom' just to name a handful.
The only real flaw with the piece deals with the Bonus Material (see below), some 42 minutes of extra footage that was chopped away to make the original documentary run for approximately 55 minutes. On it's own, the Bonus Material is not really stand alone, and would have been much more effective cut back into the original as watching this footage out of context and after the fact is like viewing a shorter, much less cohesive version of same documentary, rather than an expansion.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 50GB dual layer Blu-ray disc is does not appear to be region locked.
This AVC MPEG4 1080i/60 encode (aspect ratio 1.78:1) is a mixed bag of source material spanning the last 40 years, from U.S. propaganda films and war footage, to 1970s music videos, and all the way to high definition video interviews.
The interviews look nice, clearly focused, naturalized skin tones, with inky blacks, occasional vivid colors. The older footage, as one would expect, doesn't compare at all. It's not necessarily processed beyond an up-conversion, but Blu-ray's greatest strength of added detail shows off many, many flaws.
Bottom line, this Blu-ray will play fine on a large television, a step up from satellite or broadcast in many ways thanks to higher bit rates, but not-surprisingly, remains very far away from demo material.
Sadly, the audio here, a Linear PCM Stereo track, fairs even worse than the video.
Sounding best during the interviews, voices are always clear, and there's no real need to ever reach for a remote. It's an even mix. But, for a Blu-ray about a seminal musical recording, the music here is given short shrift. The whole piece, even when the individual band members play songs for interviews on modern equipment, everything sounds flat and bland. In order to double check my ears just to make sure I wasn't fondly remembering a 40 year old album as having more power than it really did, after finishing the documentary, I hooked my computer up to my surround sound system. Even as heavily compressed mp3s, it was clear how great 'Paranoid' can still sound. Deep bass, strong mids, and screaming highs, all balanced nicely in the stereo format. Sadly, here on the Blu-ray, none of those inherent strengths appear, which is really sad for an LPCM soundtrack. A big disappointment for a music Blu-ray.
There are no other soundtracks available, but the following subtitles choices are available: Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish.
As described above, Classic Album's 'Black Sabbath Paranoid' comes with 42 minutes of extra interview footage encoded in 1080i/60, much of it really fun. While it's less cohesive, thanks to being remnants on the cutting room floor, these are all definitely worth watching. Highlights include master guitarist Tony Iommi teaching the audience how to play a few songs, with drummer Bill Ward doing a similar service in showing the origins of his famous beats.
Featuring decent video, despite the multiple sources, Classic Album's 'Black Sabbath Paranoid' is ultimately a must-watch for fans, but thanks to sub par audio in the music department, not necessarily a must-own. Casual viewers interested in learning about classic rock and fans alike are encouraged to rent this one, or pick it up at a comfortable price point. Buyers beware, your TV and surround systems won't be getting a serious workout on this one.