From time to time, I’ve heard people calling “Master Of Reality” as “the heaviest record evah”. This declaration is more retarded than, say, telling people that “Death Magnetic” is “a return to form for Metallica” and it displays a huge lack of knowledge of what the “heavy” is. See, obviously “Master…” IS NOT Black Sabbath’s heaviest record. What it is, though, at least for the day and age it came out, is the band’s most uniformly-sounding record.
With the exception of two – mostly pointless – instrumentals and the beautiful acoustic hippie ballad “Solitude”, everything else here sounds big, downtuned and oversaturated. The guitar and bass mostly roar, the drums pound deeply and Ozzy, well, Ozzy is just Mk. I era Black Sabbath Ozzy. His singing style is like in “Paranoid” and his technical aspects are still questionable (he still sings what the guitar plays), but his confidence is huge and his personality stamps the songs for ever.
I’ve also heard some people calling this record “a collection of dumb riffs”. This is also as stupid as calling it “the heaviest record”. The riffs in here ain’t dumb at all. If anything, I would call this record – with the exception of “Children of the Grave” – the blueprint upon which every single stoner band has based its career. The slow, omnipresent groove of the songs, the turgid riffs, the THC-induced heavosity, everything almost screams “Yeah, everybody, grab yer bongs, man!”, while the less complex structures of the songs – than those in “Paranoid” – are great for slow headbanging.
One more thing that has to be pointed out is the Christian elements the band displays in its lyrics, especially in “After Forever” (supposedly, Tony got pissed off by the “satanic” image the band had been burdened with, go figure…), and the anti-drugs sentiments expressed in “Lord of this world”. Which, y’know, is a joke, as the record starts with the all-time-classic maryjane anthem, “Sweet Leaf”. As I said before, go figure…
9. Basically, “Master…” is just an extension and streamlining of the ideas first explored in “Paranoid”. Lasting almost 35 minutes, this is not what one would call a looooong record. But the band moves sure-footedly, composing a monolithic series of riffs that slowly pound the listener to a pulp, after over-saturating his ears with downtuned playing that barely avoids passing into atonal territory. This record displays Black Sabbath as tonal masters (…of reality? Nah…), harnessing the heaviness they played with in their earlier records and transforming it into a series of dopehead-friendly ditties.
Of course, there are always surprises to be found in each and every early Black Sabbath record. Here, the easter egg – so to speak – is “Children of the Grave”, a song upon which almost the totality of modern metal is based. Its brisk pace and anthemic riff, its overdubbed drums, its military precision and super-dark lyrics – probably a nudge-nudge-wink-wink thingy toward the wilting flower-power generation – makes it a bona fide classic and a song which would be copied and transformed by a gazillion bands afterwards. As far as the other songs are concerned, as I said before, they follow the rules laid down in “Paranoid”, but they’re less convoluted and more, ah, grind-ya-slowly-down. All in all, the band has found its character and seems to be expanding on it.
8,5. Roger Bain goes here for a more uniform sound, that is, he goes for a sludgier, dirtier sound than in previous albums. This is how people have come to view “Master…” as the “heaviest record ever”: the oversaturation that characterizes it is being passed by ignoramuses all around as heaviness. Of course, the recording is heavy and the downtuned guitar and bass sound almost suffocating. Anyway, if one wants production that reeks of sludge and darkness, that how you do it.
10. I know that I’m repeating meself, but I cannot help it. Iommi, at least during the early days of Black Sabbath was THE guitarist. Heavy, monolithic, downtuned, dominating, expressive, concise, soulful, dirty,… fuck, I’m running out of epithets here. Look, Tony Iommi is the guitarist that invented and expanded heavy metal. If you know it, all’s fine. If you don’t, then, fuck you.
9. Ozzy’s still a technically-challenged vocalist. OK, fuck you, now tell me who’s ever sang “Children of the Grave”, “Sweet Leaf”, “Into the Void” or any other song of the Ozzy-era Sabbath better than him? What? I can’t hear you? Yes, that’s right, nobody. And he displays a more delicate side with “Solitude”, without going into corny territory (alas, he’ll do that on the next record), so kudos to him.
9,5. It’s still the Geezer that we all know and love: he keeps things steady, he grooves like a motherfucker, he adds tasteful bass licks whenever possible, he covers the sludge quotient when Tony’s soloing,he’s got the looks and the hooks. He’s my main man and a great bass player.
9,5. Complementing Geezer, Bill is the great white doom-and-gloom metal drummer. Whether playing slow and stomping, or doing the mid-paced rumble, Bill is always there, always dependable and expressive. The overdubbed drums in “Children…” is a balm for sore ears and a display of his creativity and ideas. Good for him and good for us.
9. They cover a lot of ground, from THC-worship, to Christian sentiments, to escapism, to children and bees and flowers and little doggies and even littler kitties and stuff. They’re OK, if you’re an unrepentant dope-fiend, which I would suggest that you become, if you ain’t already.
8. Mininal and classy.
6. No logo, just the band’s name in a wavy purple font.
8. First, something personal: sooner or later, I’m gonna find the bastard who stole my vinyl copy of “Master…” and he’s gonna pay dearly for what he did. Now, as far as the booklet is concerned, I have the 1996 Castle re-issue and it’s choke-full of interesting info about the band, the recording process and whatnot. Plus, it’s got some really cool pix of the band, so it’s OK in my book.
“Master of Reality” is a continuation of Black Sabbath’s evolutionary process and a step forward from “Paranoid”. The band continues to amaze with its heavosity, its monolithic power, its interesting experimentation with sound, song structures and tone. This is, to put it bluntly, a record that if it’s not a part of your collection, your collection sucks. The hairy one. Big time. “Master…” is also the first record that can be categorized into the “stoner-sludge” subgenre, what with its uniformly slow and roaring sound. It’s a classic, what the fuck more can I say?…