from allmusic: Black Sabbath's debut album is given over to lengthy songs and suite-like pieces where individual songs blur together and riffs pound away one after another, frequently under extended jams. There isn't much variety in tempo, mood, or the band's simple, blues-derived musical vocabulary, but that's not the point; Sabbath's slowed-down, murky guitar rock bludgeons the listener in an almost hallucinatory fashion, reveling in its own dazed, druggy state of consciousness. Songs like the apocalyptic title track, "N.I.B.," and "The Wizard" make their obsessions with evil and black magic seem like more than just stereotypical heavy metal posturing because of the dim, suffocating musical atmosphere the band frames them in. This blueprint would be refined and occasionally elaborated upon over the band's next few albums, but there are plenty of metal classics already here.
Paranoid was not only Black Sabbath's most popular record (it was a number one smash in the U.K., and "Paranoid" and "Iron Man" both scraped the U.S. charts despite virtually nonexistent radio play), it also stands as one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal albums of all time. Paranoid refined Black Sabbath's signature sound — crushingly loud, minor-key dirges loosely based on heavy blues-rock — and applied it to a newly consistent set of songs with utterly memorable riffs, most of which now rank as all-time metal classics. Where the extended, multi-sectioned songs on the debut sometimes felt like aimless jams, their counterparts on Paranoid have been given focus and direction, lending an epic drama to now-standards like "War Pigs" and "Iron Man" (which sports one of the most immediately identifiable riffs in metal history). The subject matter is unrelentingly, obsessively dark, covering both supernatural/sci-fi horrors and the real-life traumas of death, war, nuclear annihilation, mental illness, drug hallucinations, and narcotic abuse. Yet Sabbath makes it totally convincing, thanks to the crawling, muddled bleakness and bad-trip depression evoked so frighteningly well by their music. Even the qualities that made critics deplore the album (and the group) for years increase the overall effect — the technical simplicity of Ozzy Osbourne's vocals and Tony Iommi's lead guitar vocabulary; the spots when the lyrics sink into melodrama or awkwardness; the lack of subtlety and the infrequent dynamic contrast. Everything adds up to more than the sum of its parts, as though the anxieties behind the music simply demanded that the band achieve catharsis by steamrolling everything in its path, including its own limitations. Monolithic and primally powerful, Paranoid defined the sound and style of heavy metal more than any other record in rock history.
With Paranoid, Black Sabbath perfected the formula for their lumbering heavy metal. On its follow-up, Master of Reality, the group merely repeated the formula, setting the stage for a career of recycling the same sounds and riffs. But on Master of Reality Sabbath still were fresh and had a seemingly endless supply of crushingly heavy riffs to bludgeon their audiences into sweet, willing oblivion. If the album is a showcase for anyone, it is Tony Iommi, who keeps the album afloat with a series of slow, loud riffs, the best of which — "Sweet Leaf" and "Children of the Grave" among them — rank among his finest playing. Taken in tandem with the more consistent Paranoid, Master of Reality forms the core of Sabbath's canon. There are a few stray necessary tracks scattered throughout the group's other early-'70s albums, but Master of Reality is the last time they delivered a consistent album and its influence can be heard throughout the generations of heavy metal bands that followed.
Heavy Metal Anthem is Japanese heavy metal band Anthem's return album, released nearly 8 years since their disbandment in the early 1990s. Most of the former members play on the album, but the original vocalist, Eizo Sakamoto, did not return until the next album (Seven Hills). The album was released on April 21, 2000 and was a joint collaboration between the band and singer Graham Bonnet. Most of the songs are Anthem's older releases, which have been remixed and sung in English by Bonnet…
from allmusic: Years of constant touring, alcoholism, and drug abuse finally began to affect Black Sabbath around the time of their sixth release, 1975's Sabotage. While it's not a bad album (in fact, it's one of their most underrated), you can sense that the magical chemistry that made such albums as Paranoid and Vol. 4 so special was beginning to disintegrate. But guitarist Tony Iommi again comes equipped with an arsenal of sturdy, ultra-heavy riffs, as evidenced by the raucous album opener, "Hole in the Sky," as well as the drug-induced anthem "Symptom of the Universe" – both tracks coming as close to garage rock as Sabbath ever got. But the album's biggest surprise is the melodic, synth-laced "Am I Going Insane (Radio)," which is more akin to '70s power pop than to the band's patented doom metal (although the lyrics are what you'd expect – detailing a person's downward spiral into dementia). Although often overlooked, Sabotage remains an interesting and challenging release.
from allmusic: Black Sabbath, Vol. 4 is just a cut below its two indisputably classic predecessors, as it begins to run out of steam — and memorable riffs — toward the end. However, it finds Sabbath beginning to experiment successfully with their trademark sound on tracks like the ambitious, psychedelic-tinged, multi-part "Wheels of Confusion," the concise, textured "Tomorrow's Dream," and the orchestrated piano ballad "Changes" (even if the latter's lyrics cross the line into triteness). But the classic Sabbath sound is still very much in evidence; the crushing "Supernaut" is one of the heaviest tracks the band ever recorded.
from all music:
After staking out new territory with the underrated South of Heaven, Slayer brought back some of the pounding speed of Reign in Blood for their third major-label album, Seasons in the Abyss. Essentially, Seasons fuses its two predecessors, periodically kicking up the mid-tempo grooves of South of Heaven with manic bursts of aggression. "War Ensemble" and the title track each represented opposite sides of the coin, and they both earned Slayer their heaviest MTV airplay to date. In fact, Seasons in the Abyss is probably their most accessible album, displaying the full range of their abilities all in one place, with sharp, clean production. Since the band is refining rather than progressing or experimenting, Seasons doesn't have quite the freshness of its predecessors, but aside from that drawback, it's strong almost all the way from top to bottom (with perhaps one or two exceptions). Lyrically, the band rarely turns to demonic visions of the afterlife anymore, preferring instead to find tangible horror in real life – war, murder, human weakness. There's even full-fledged social criticism, which should convince any doubters that Slayer aren't trying to promote the subjects they sing about. Like Metallica's Master of Puppets or Megadeth's Peace Sells…but Who's Buying, Seasons in the Abyss paints Reagan-era America as a cesspool of corruption and cruelty, and the music is as devilishly effective as ever.
Originally a product of Britain's new romantic movement, Depeche Mode went on to become the quintessential electropop band of the 1980s. One of the first acts to establish a musical identity based completely around the use of synthesizers, they began their existence as a bouncy dance-pop outfit but gradually developed a darker, more dramatic sound that ultimately positioned them as one of the most successful alternative bands of their era…
Dire Straits emerged during the post-punk era of the late '70s, and while their sound was minimalistic and stripped down, they owed little to punk. If anything, the band was a direct outgrowth of the roots revivalism of pub rock, but where pub rock celebrated good times, Dire Straits were melancholy…