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Black Sabbath - Master Of Reality CD (album) cover


Black Sabbath


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4 stars REVIEW #11 - "Master of Reality" by Black Sabbath (1971). 07/09/2018

Black Sabbath's first two albums were massively successful commercial hits, with the latter "Paranoid" being considered the greatest heavy metal album of all time in some circles. Over the course of one year the quartet of Ozzy Osborne (vocals), Tony Iommi (lead guitar), Geezer Butler (bass), and Bill Ward (drums) had gone from a local blue-collar rock act out of the West Midlands to the forefront of the burgeoning rock and roll scene alongside Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple.

1971's "Master of Reality", the band's third studio album, was also its shortest to date, lasting only thirty-five minutes and featuring six songs with two acoustic interludes. However, it would also stand as the band's most commercially successful album for over forty years, eventually being topped by the band's final album "13". This is one of the most influential albums in rock history, especially for heavy metal, alternative rock, and stoner rock; Iommi, who had lost parts of two of his fingers while working in a factory pre-Black Sabbath, had long struggled to find a technique which would allow him to comfortably play his guitar. He eventually was able to reduce the pressure on his fingers by downtuning the strings of his guitar to make them more soft and bendable. The result was an unintended stroke of musical luck as Iommi's guitar tone was now deep and roaring, a range that had only hardly been heard of by the dawn of the seventies. If heavy metal was not birthed by the band's self-titled debut, it had been chiseled out of stone and presented to an audience thirsty for blood.

Butler down-tuned his bass guitar in accordance with Iommi's new sound. The opening track "Sweet Leaf" exposes us to this once-radical maelstrom of noise. Although his simple guitar riffs mesmerized rock fans around the world on "Paranoid", they had a new edge which was unparalleled. Following the sound of the guitarist coughing after taking a draw of a joint, we are introduced to the formal beginning of the stoner rock genre. As the title may indicate, this song describes the bands love for cannabis. Ozzy's voice remains largely unchanged from "Paranoid", and still works very well with the rest of the music. Otherwise, this is a rather typical Sabbath rocker with a memorable riff, powerful lyrics, and a strong guitar solo. The band uses the same formula for the follow-up "After Forever", which is the album's track which discusses religion. One big misconception among the public (especially evangelicals here in the States) is that Black Sabbath was made up of "satanists." This could not be farther from the truth, as all four members of the band are self-proclaimed Christians; main lyricist Geezer Butler is a Catholic and wrote this song as a response to those who had falsely accused the band of worshiping Satan. The lone single off the album, it never matched the success of Sabbath hits such as "Iron Man" or "Paranoid" and consequently has gone under the radar despite being rather underrated. Following this piece, we are treated to a very short Iommi acoustic interlude titled "Embryo." Lasting only half a minute, it serves as a bridge to the classic "Children of the Grave". Considered by Butler to be "the most kick-ass song we ever recorded", it is hard to disagree as the thumping bass rhythm of this song is purely orgasmic. Throttling the bass, Iommi and Butler play alongside each other to create a sheer wall of noise which cannot be matched. While the lyrical themes of this song are not as overt as themes such as "War Pigs" or "Hand of Doom", this is another anti-war song penned by the band. This is one of the most iconic Black Sabbath songs, and is a staple of their live shows. The end of side one features a locked groove which repeats the album title in a whisper on the original LP; while this effect is obviously lost on CD and digital reissues, it is a cute little addition to finish off what is a very powerful first half of the album.

The album's second acoustic piece leads off the second side. Titled "Orchid", it is a minute longer than "Embryo", while still retaining largely the same theme and purpose; to provide a soft entrance into what is a looming and heavy main track. This time we are treated to what I believe is one of Sabbath's most underrated songs in "Lord of this World." Starting off in similar fashion to "Children" this one more prodding and less frantic. I believe the stoner rock band Sleep made a fantastic cover of this song some time in the 1990's; in fact, many of the stoner rock bands have made covers of each song on this album (minus the interludes), owing to the fact that this album was responsible for the birthing of their genre. Given the breadth of the Sabbath catalog, "Lord" often gets passed over, but if you have never heard this piece despite listening to the band on a casual level, I advise you to give this album a quick run-through just for this tune. Sabbath brings forth next a mellow reprieve from the metal, something that would become a recurring theme in the band's early discography, in the form of "Solitude". Similar in style to the much-loved "Planet Caravan" from Paranoid in its psychedelic themes and the fact it is a love ballad, it is nowhere near as popular as its successor, despite finding itself onto an episode of the TV series Supernatural. I did not find any problem with this song, and actually quite enjoyed it among first listen. Sabbath does a pretty good job at track listings, namely in juxtaposing songs so that you are constantly kept on your feet. Finally we reach the grand finale in "Into the Void", another classic heavy metal tune. The band uses apocalyptic and science fiction themes for this one, detailing humanity's exodus from a destroyed Earth and its journey to a new colony on the Sun. I find it funny that songwriters often choose the Sun as the new home of humanity - the title track from Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" album details humanity abandoning Earth for the sun as well - even though Mars or Venus, let alone an Earth-like planet in some distant galaxy, would be a better choice. All scientific gropes aside, this is a very heavy song, and is probably the most fitting track to conclude this very short album. It is also the longest at just over six minutes.

Let me set the record straight, if we were on metalarchives instead of progarchives, "Master of Reality" would get an easy five-stars, maybe somewhere bordering my fabled 100% review. However, this album is by no means progressive except in the sense it furthered the genre of rock in general. While an argument could be made for the band's first two albums to be included in the prog canon, there is simply no route for this one to fit in with the likes of Yes, King Crimson, or Rush. That being said, it is still a wonderful addition to your prog collection, as is the case with any of Black Sabbath's early work. While music critics lambasted "Master of Reality" upon its release, it has long stood the test of time, and now in the 21st century everything about it, from the musical content to the text on the album cover, has been immortalized and honored. Apart from the forgettable interludes, every track on this album is solid, from the much beloved "Children of the Grave" to the underrated "Lord of this World", and everything in between. In fact, even the album's short run time works well in its favor to avoid wearing the listener down. This album gets the highest rating it can get without being five stars, at a four-star (89% - B+) rating here in the prog community. Play this one loud, and under the influence of that "Sweet Leaf"!

SonomaComa1999 | 4/5 |


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