Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Revolution In Their Minds: Black Sabbath's Master of Reality at 40

 Black Sabbath - Master of Reality
Black Sabbath
Master of Reality
Rating: ****

In 1971, English heavy metal band Black Sabbath were enjoying success. In 1970, the band had released two albums. Their sophomore effort, Paranoid, was both a critical and commercial success. It also gave the band a hit single with the album’s self-titled track. To follow up an album like Paranoid wouldn’t be easy to do. However, the band did just that on July 21, 1971: the band released their third album Master of Reality. For many, Master of Reality is one of the best albums by the band. Some even think it’s their best yet.
            When the band went into the recording studio to make Master of Reality, the band changed a few things to their sound. Guitarist Tony Iommi, who had lost his fingertips in an accident, decided to detune his guitar to reduce string tension. Iommi had used (to this day, still does) puts small rubber caps over the fingers where he’d loss his fingertips, which gave the band a “sludge” like sound. When Iommi detuned his guitar, Geezer Butler decided to detune his bass. Detuning the instruments gave the band a somewhat darker sound, which was all good. The band entered Island Studios in London on February 5, 1971. The band finished recording on April 5, 1971. Rodger Bain was producing once again but it would be his last time producing a Sabbath album.
            Master of Reality begins with the sound of a looping cough. The cough happens to belong to Tony Iommi. The music kicks in, in which Ozzy Osbourne shouts “Alright now!” “Sweet Leaf” is an instant Sabbath classic. The song is the band’s ode to marijuana. The song title came from the name of cigarettes Geezer Butler bought in Dublin once since the tobacco was known as “the sweet leaf”. The lyrics are somewhat confusing as to how it connects to marijuana but in the end, it becomes obvious (“When I first met you didn’t realize/I can’t forget you or your surprise/You introduced me to my mind/And left me wanting you and your kind”). “After Forever” is a great rocker. The lyrics, however, take a stab at religion (specifically Christianity). How can you not love lyrics like this?: “Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope- Do you think he’s a fool?”. The irony of the this is that the song writer, Geezer Butler, is actually a proclaimed Catholic. “Embryo” is one of two guitar instrumentals by Iommi on the album. This is the shortest of them as it’s only thirty seconds. “Children of the Grave” follows in the vein of “War Pigs” and “Electric Funeral” as it is an anti-war hymn. Iommi’s guitar work on here is really great. It sounds like you’re right there in the middle of a war. It feels like the guitar, bass, and drums are marching and the leader of it all is Ozzy Osbourne. How can you not love that? The lyrics warn of the future: “If you want a better place to live in, spread the words today”. For me, “Children of the Grave” is the best song off the album just for its anti-war themes.
“Orchid” is the second and last of Iommi’s instrumentals. It sounds like Iommi is playing an acoustic guitar as opposed to “Embryo” where he’s playing electric guitar. “Lord of This World” starts off as this sludge rock/stoner rock number. The song transitions into this killer beat/rhythm that can be best described as tight. The lyrics sound angry at the world and the leader of it all. “Lord of this world” sings Osbourne. “Evil Possessor/Lord of this world/He’s your confessor now!” “Solitude” is very different from other Sabbath songs: it’s very soft. No one would ever think to call a Sabbath song soft but for this one, it is (if you want a ballad, then I suggest “Changes” from Black Sabbath Vol. 4). Iommi is even playing flute on this one! Some believe that drummer Bill Ward sings this song but that is a myth: Ozzy is singing on this one. “Into the Void” ends the album with a terrifying vision of the world, possibly the future. It does seem to be a doomsday-like song, but like “Children of the Grave” it is warning listeners. It’s a pretty dark way to end an album.
For me, Master of Reality isn’t as good as their debut or Paranoid but there’s no doubting that Master of Reality is an amazing album. It currently sits at #125 on my list of favorite albums. It may sound not very high but it is. I really do like Master of Reality. I think of it as the third part of a trilogy. First, you have Black Sabbath. Next you have Paranoid. Finally, you have Master of Reality.

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