Black Sabbath: ‘Master Of Reality’

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Black Sabbath released their third long-playing record “Master of Reality” in 1971 to much acclaim and controversy. It was hailed in some quarters as the birth of Doom Metal, Stoner Rock or my favorite, Sludge Metal. In other circles it was derided as drivel, not to be taken at all seriously and a fad by these talentless musicians that would be quickly forgotten.

Whatever moniker you put on it, heads banged all the way through the album, either rocking to the beat or in exasperation at such a travesty. Sales of the album gave it a double-platinum certificate in America and it was the first Black Sabbath album to reach the Billboard Top Ten, the band’s last album to do so until forty-two years later when “13” topped the charts.

This vinyl offering was presented to buyers in a shiny black embossed envelope sleeve and a suitably gloomy poster of the band (a forerunner to Spinal Tap’s “Smell the Glove” perhaps?) It opens with the sound of lead guitarist Toni Iommi coughing up his lungs and descends downwards in scales from there.

The first track “Sweet Leaf” opens in great traditional Black Sabbath fashion with booming lead guitar riffs from Iommi; the strings on his instrument loosened by a step and a half to make it easier for him to play due to him suffering an accident in his youth and severing two of his fingertips. Bass guitarist Geezer Butler also detuned his strings, giving Sabbath their unique sound. Bill Ward’s pounding percussion and extensive use of his bass drums completed the musical side of the band.

Butler also wrote most of the lyrics to the songs, but it was Ozzy Osbourne’s vocal delivery that provided much of Black Sabbath’s winning combination. Singing at the top of his range, he became the Devil himself as, in the space of seconds, he declares love for you before enquiring if you are comfortable in your coffin. “Sweet Leaf” was written about a certain type of tea that the band drank in between takes – traditional Birmingham boys – and the song became a high point of every Black Sabbath concert from then on. It was feared the crowd would riot without its inclusion!

The band members stomp on from song to song, being particularly effective when both guitarists hang on to a riff and the drums pound in after them, following all the way to the basement. Toni Iommi turns in some wonderful effects on his guitar with his solos often switching from speaker to speaker, causing more craning of the neck if the head-banging has not already shaken your brains.

There are two other stone cold Sabbath classics in this collection: “Children of the Grave” with its infectious bass riff and dramatic guitar breaks as well as Ozzy’s rabble rousing chants, and “Into The Void”, a master class which completes the album with selective changes of pace and blistering solos.

Light and shade are applied on the album by Iommi playing a couple of short but diligent guitar pieces and the haunting “Solitude”, where Sabbath cut the pace out completely and rely upon dynamics to put their story across. It features piano, flute and a harrowing song line, a romantic ballad this is not.

Whatever your thoughts on Black Sabbath they were the first of many bands to travel down this path, and now that they have completed their last world tour “The End” they leave behind a fine legacy and a huge fan base.

Black Sabbath in 1970, from left to right: Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, Ozzy Osbourne.
Black Sabbath in 1970, from left to right: Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, Ozzy Osbourne.

Album rating: 5 Stars

Track List:

Sweet Leaf

After Forever

Embryo

Children Of the Grave

Orchid

Lord Of This World

Solitude

Into The Void

Black Sabbath:

Toni Iommi – lead guitar

Ozzy Osbourne – voice of the Devil

Geezer Butler – bass guitar

Bill Ward – drums

Note: Dragged out by Mott The Dog from Fletchers’ Folly on Pattaya’s Dark Side.