Black Sabbath- Master of Reality (1971): 18 November 2019

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

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Black Sabbath- Paranoid (1970): 22 April 2019

Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)

Welcome back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo! This week we’re having a listen to the most instrumental act in the formation of heavy metal and precursor to grunge and doom metal, Black Sabbath. Paranoid is the second album by the band and was quickly commissioned and released to capitalize on the success of Sabbath’s debut album four months after its release. Comprised of singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward, the band would go on to be a much more of a house-hold name after the tour for Paranoid and would release six more albums with this lineup before Osbourne was released from the band for his over-indulgence in drugs and alcohol. The band got back together in this lineup a few times in later years, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, and recently completed their final tour in their hometown of Birmingham, England in 2017.

Paranoid may just be the most influential album in the history of heavy metal music. Without Black Sabbath and the success they achieved from this album, the hair metal acts of the 80s like Ratt, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Guns ‘N Roses, Poison, and Dokken may have never gotten off the ground! The heavy metal scene that flourished in the aftermath of Black Sabbath with acts like AC/DC and Iron Maiden, and later Metallica, Megadeth, and Primus, would have been stunted! Black Sabbath were pioneers in a yet-to-be defined genre and paved the way for legendary groups. Because of news reports, we can look back and see that, at first, the band was not viewed favorably, and it’s not hard to see why! Imagine, if you will, a year where Simon and Garfunkel (nothing against S&G, but we need to make a point here) are the top act for the year, you turn the radio on, and “Paranoid” comes on. What kind of shock would that heavy guitar induce?! In fact, the hardest rock acts that broke the year-end Hot 100 were Chicago and The Guess Who. Because Black Sabbath broke down that barrier, that chart would look very different by the mid-1980s. Enjoy this groundbreaking and ground shaking album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

War Pigs/Luke’s Wall: What a way to open an album! Black Sabbath didn’t pull any punches with their opening track, “War Pigs,” which was actually supposed to be the title of the album, not Paranoid. This song (and album for what it’s worth) is hugely critical of the Vietnam War and the politicians who the band paint as the real enemy, the War Pigs if you will. Musically, this song is a hit. The guitar solo about halfway through the song shreds more than any other on the album and using the drums to break the trains of thought in the lyrics is excellent in execution; however, Osbourne’s vocals are the shining point on this track. The verses are purposefully minimalistic from the instruments so that there’s no mistaking his message, instead acting almost act as a punctuation to the lyrics. “War Pigs” might just be the band’s opus and is very deserving of the “They Don’t Make Music Like This Anymore Award.” Dad’s Rating 10/10

Paranoid: “Paranoid,” according to the band, was thrown together as an afterthought for this album. Sabbath wrote the song in a few hours during the sessions for their first album and only changed the name of the album to Paranoid after record executives thought “War Pigs” would have been too offensive. This was the lead single off of the album, and it definitely helped solidify the band’s branding if nothing else. The single was successful and even today, this is instantly recognizable as a Black Sabbath track. The heavy distortion on the guitar combined with the raw vocals gives the song such a gritty feeling. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Planet Caravan: “Planet Caravan” is a song the album desperately needed to not overwhelm the listener. The congas and flute take the listener to a completely different mental state after the shock of “War Pigs” and “Paranoid.” Iommi’s guitar playing, while not as bombastic as literally every other song on the album, still manages to come through as masterful. This is a really good track that shouldn’t be overlooked exclusively for its slowness.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Iron Man: The transition from the calmness of “Planet Caravan” into “Iron Man” is nothing short of shocking. There’s that relaxing melody on the former and then the band launches the listener into that ever-recognizable “Iron Man” guitar riff. I found it particularly interesting to learn that Osbourne created the robot effect on the opening “I am Iron Man” by placing a desk fan in front of the microphone and singing into it! The instrumental section on this track is fantastic, but I think it lacks in musicality when put next to “War Pigs” and “Hand of Doom.” Dad’s Rating 8/10

Electric Funeral: I am a big fan of “Electric Funeral,” and I really think this song never got the attention that it deserved. The heavy distortion on the lead guitar creates the perfect haunting sound. I think the best part is how dynamic this track is. It starts with that haunting sound for about two minutes before launching into a powerhouse section that sounds like it could have been ripped from a Frank Zappa album. This is a heavy song that just rocks! Dad’s Rating 9/10

Rock on!

Hand of Doom: “Hand of Doom” might be the best song on this record. The song is dynamic in the way that it builds and falls, almost like it’s heaving from the simple bass driven verses into the wailing choruses and instrumental section. The simplicity of the instrumentals during the verses enhances the message of the song by allowing Osbourne’s lyrics to be heard crisply over a dark message. Lyrically, this song describes American soldiers with drug problem arriving in England post-Vietnam, only to be consumed by the drugs they were using to forget the war. For a band that openly used drugs, this is a stunning rebuke, but much more than that, is a criticism of the handling of the Vietnam War, much like other tracks like “Paranoid” and “War Pigs.” Dad’s Rating 9/10

Rat Salad: “Rat Salad” was one of the tracks I had never listened to before and was genuinely surprised by! This is an instrumental track that really shreds! Iommi’s guitar work is really masterful here, but the real star is Bill Ward on the drums. The drum solo is nothing short of amazing and keeps your attention despite the length. When this song was performed live during the band’s early days, that drum solo would continue for up to 45 minutes, it just depended on how much time the band needed to fill before the end of their set!  Dad’s Rating 8/10

Jack the Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots: “Jack the Stripper” is the instrumental opening to “Fairies Wear Boots” and it sounds like a continuation of “Rat Salad,” which to me, lends credit to the composition of the album. The flow of the record was clearly considered when Sabbath was composing it and I think it shows. The instrumental starts right with a hard rock sound and is very similar to something like a slowed down Deep Purple track. “Fairies Wear Boots” describes an encounter the band had with a group of skinheads. The track has a driving pace and one of the best guitar riffs on the album. As far as rock tracks go this one is above-average, but is just par for the course on this album. That lends much credit to the band’s musicianship, attention to detail, and groundbreaking nature. Top notch! Dad’s Rating 8/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.