BLACK SABBATH — Master Of Reality (review)

BLACK SABBATH — Master Of Reality album cover Album · 1971 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
BLACK SABBATH has not only gone down in history as one of the greatest rock bands EVER and not only for being the primary reason metal music exists today AND also not because the music was so damn good but ALSO in how this band moved on so effectively from one album to next and in the process paved the way for a ridiculous amount of sub-genres to form in the following decades. The “other” fab four of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward dropped not one but two bombs on the unsuspecting world with their self-titled debut and then with “Paranoid” in 1970. Each only took a mere two days to record but their legacies have reverberated well into the 21st century. Only a year later the band was already shifting gears with the third album MASTER OF REALITY.

Due to the heavy touring schedule that immediately followed the previous albums, Iommi was suffering from finger pain due to the stress on his deformed finger tips that were severed during an accident years earlier. While this was fortuitous for the future headbangers of the world in that his misfortune turned an innovative adaptation into the world of heavy metal, the truth is that it also took its toll on his ability to perform. Being the guitar god innovator that he was, Iommi found a way out by taking yet another step to ease his discomfort as the music evolved into ever more challenging stylistic changes. One of these adaptations was simply down tuning his guitar on some of the heavier tracks and in the process invented even more styles of heavy metal in the forms of stoner and sludge that wouldn’t really find new life for over 20 years.

MASTER OF REALITY found the band off the road and having some time on their hands to experiment. The success of the first two albums and the tour also guaranteed a much heftier budget to play with and in the process this third album benefited from both more time and much more money. Rodger Bain would return as producer along with future Judas Priest associate Tom Allom joining in on engineering. The bigger budget meant a fuller sound and the band’s playful experimentalism allowed the music to diversify past the heavy metal shock rock that graced the first two albums. The album lived up to all expectations and was a major commercial success and clearly showed that BLACK SABBATH was no fly by night act. The band handled success quite well and utilized every opportunity to enhance the creative process. The world has never been the same since and neither would the “other” fab four.

The most obvious precursor for the stoner metal world single-handedly comes from the opener “Sweet Leaf” which opens with a coughing Tony Iommi after toking on a joint. After two albums of nihilism, the occult and impending doom and gloom, MASTER OF REALITY seemed like a therapy session in comparison with the sweet herb providing the zone out substance de jour. After the adolescent tuning out session of the opener, the band gets down to some serious heavy metal business as it jumps back into the political critique and anti-religious zealotry so prevalent on the first two albums. “After Forever” also displays a bigger and fuller sound with heavier distortion and a more clearly delineated bass lines distinct from the guitar. Bill Ward also developed a more staunchly independent style of drumming and the overall sound is darker due to the forced down-tuning of various songs. Ozzy pretty much stayed the same which added a bit of stability to an otherwise evolutionary thrust into a more psychedelic and even progressive outburst of creativity.

The album also hosted two short acoustic finger-picked guitar tracks that served as intermissions. Both “Embryo” and “Orchid” offered a veritable contrast between the longer heavy metal tracks that ranged from aggressive stomps to jamming sessions which allowed Iommi to crank out some stellar guitar solos. These short tracks have sort of a Scottish jig jerkiness to them. Three tracks were downtuned 1 1/2 times: “Children Of The Grave,” Lord Of This World” and “Into The Void” and allowed Iommi the comfort to expand his guitar playing skills and thus are more explorative than many of the other heavy metal tracks. These tracks also followed the first two album’s thematic approach with lyrical content that preached anti-war, mutual love and protests about injustices in the world in general. Of course this album was quite 420 friendly according to its participants. Wink and nod.

Perhaps the strangest track on the album is “Solitude” which recalls the mopey distortion-free contemplation of “Planet Caravan” from “Paranoid.” This track not only displays an exclusively clean guitar delivery from Tony Iommi but also finds him expanding his duties of playing flute and piano. The delay effect on Ozzy’s vocals, the mid-tempo pace and the hypnotic bass groove give this track a very psychedelic effect and the lack of percussion places this more into a freak folk category of music than anything remotely heavy metal, a trait that would continue throughout SABBATH’s career as well as being adopted by Ozzy as a solo artist. The grand finale “Into The Void” ends the album with gusto as heavy distorted guitar in the typical wickedly melodic style finds guitar stomps, sinister riffs, solos and features some early metal guitar gallops that pretty much spawned the careers of future bands like Metallica and the entire thrash scene.

While it’s hard to choose a favorite SABBATH album from the first six essentials, my personal favorite is this one. MASTER OF REALITY not only stands up over the test of time and can be played at any moment and as many times as i want but it also was one of the first albums that really got me to sink my psyche into the master SABBATH reality. While i wasn’t around to experience this first time around, it exudes a rather timeless display of how great music doesn’t have to rely on technical prowess or even excessive speed to be effective. This music perfectly evokes the emotional responses it summons. No one could ever argue that Tony Iommi was the greatest guitarist of all time or even that Ozzy Osbourne was the best vocalist but no one can deny that this band conjured up some serious sonic demons that possessed the soul for all eternity. This is truly one of the best albums ever to have been recorded and best of all BLACK SABBATH had a few more gems in them before the pressures of it all took its toll.
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