Black Sabbath – Master of Reality (1971)
Welcome back to YDCS! Remember that you can check out a playlist of the top songs from the blog HERE on Spotify! This week we’re taking a look at Black Sabbath’s third album, Master of Reality. I actually planned on reviewing a different album this week until “Children of the Grave” came on at work and I said, ‘Now that’s an album I need to cover!’ Master of Reality is a significant album for the band for a few reasons. First, the production cycle on this record was double what they had for their first two releases, and that shows in the both the quality of the recording and the musicianship put forward on every song. Second, Master of Reality is the first example of a full-fledged “Black Sabbath sound.” Yes, Paranoid was probably one of the most influential albums in the early development of heavy metal, black metal, and sludge rock, but Master of Reality is the first Sabbath album to feature their signature down-tuned guitars, giving the album a deeper, darker sound.
As an album, I can’t get enough of this one. I prefer Paranoid as a full body of work, but some of the songs on this album are the stuff of rock gods (looking at you “Children of the Grave”). There were even some tracks that I was surprised I liked as much as I did, notably “Sweet Leaf” and “Orchid.” Some of the album’s main themes are a continuation of the anti-war themes from Paranoid, drug use, and Christianity. It’s an odd combination that works well for an experimental album that features everything from loud, rocking solos to classical guitar pieces. This is an album for everyone, and I think you’ll find something to like about it. Enjoy!
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Sweet Leaf: Ahh sweet leaf. La ganga estranja. That sticky icky. A friend named Mary Jane. An ode to marijuana. I’ve never been a drug user so I’m not even going to try and explain the lyrics except as possibly the most striking and overt tribute to marijuana. Now musically, this is a hell of a way to start an album! The multi-track cough taking from Tommy Iommi actually smoking a joint in the studio is an ingenious way to start a song, nevermind an album! On top of that, the first time I heard the solo on “Sweet Leaf” my mind was blown. The energy in Bill Ward’s drumming is infectious and I love how the song picks up to a frenetic tempo. “Sweet Leaf” is one of those hidden gems that unless you’re a Sabbath fan, you probably won’t know, but I strongly recommend giving it a listen. Dad’s Rating 9/10
After Forever: “After Forever” is an interesting song that may have been written just to quiet those who believed Sabbath were a bunch of Satanists. The whole song’s lyrics focus overtly on Christian themes but they’re sung over hard rock backing instrumentation. The instrumentation is good but the song feels like it’s missing something. Maybe it was too much of a lyrical push in one direction, and maybe it was that the instrumentation just didn’t stand up to the rest of the album, but it feels a bit hollow. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Embryo/Children of the Grave: I’d like to combine “Embryo” and “Children of the Grave” as the first acts as a great introduction to the other. On “Children of the Grave,” this is one of the baddest, most rocking songs ever written. Hands down. Let’s break it down. Ward drums like a madman on those backing high drums, Iommi’s guitar riff is absolutely iconic, and Osbourne’s vocals howl over everything else. The loud instrumentals are a great contrast to the lyrics advocating civil disobedience and non-violent change. The solos are stellar, the music is amazing, the composition and production are top-notch, and this is a 10/10. Dad’s Rating 10/10
Orchid: After a track like “Children of the Grave” you almost need something to calm down, and Black Sabbath completely went the other direction on Orchid, making an entirely acoustic, soft, classical guitar song. It’s almost as if the civil disobedience advocated for in the earlier song has blossomed. This is a really beautiful piece and completely unexpected on a Sabbath album. I really recommend listening to “Embryo,” “Children of the Grave,” and “Orchid” in order to get the effect of a full story, starting with the beginning of a journey, the adventure itself, and the resulting peace. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Lord of this World: This is the Sabbath that I know and love. “Lord of this World” perfectly captures the final evolution of the dark, down-tuned, heavy metal sound that Sabbath would be known for. This bass driven track has a little bit of groove, one of the better instrumental sections on the record, and I think it’s bassist Geezer Butler’s best work on the album. They really let him shine through here and it paid off. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Solitude: Black Sabbath struck the perfect balance between soft tracks and head bangers on Master of Reality, and “Solitude” is a great example of how to do a peaceful song that stays true to rock roots. There’s no real build to a loud finish, just a peaceful solitude. You really get the sense that the band tried to show more of their colors on this record with songs like this. They were multi-faceted musicians capable of telling a deeper story of peaceful resistance, belief in a higher power, and coming to terms with oneself. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Into the Void: We’re going to finish the record off with a hard rocker! I’d like to take a moment to appreciate that the song is driven by a pounding percussion session from Ward and Geezer. Osbourne’s vocal work on this track is the best on the record. He’s keeping up with some quick, complicated phrases and the final take is a great reflection of his work on that. The band has said this was their hardest song to record, both because of the vocals and because the song has an unnatural, syncopated beat. Ending the way they did with no notice is a great way to “mic drop” on their way out the door. They put together an awesome album and tied it together with a rocker of a final track. Well done! Dad’s Rating 7/10
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