“Master of Reality” is the epitome of Black Sabbath’s monolithic riff-fuelled rock. If you want music with heavy, bluesy and infectious riffs, melodic vocals and breath-taking guitar solos, then look no further than “Master of Reality”.
This is one of those special albums where every track has become a classic over the years. It all starts with the fantastic “Sweet Leaf”, which was initially my favourite song on the album. The song kicks the album off in style and lays down the foundations perfectly. The opening cough/splutter sample gives meaning to the title (and sets up one of the most prominent themes and influences for the band – marijuana). This was truly the start of stoner rock. Please don’t come to the conclusion that this stupefies the music in any way – an accusation I have heard many a time. Yes, this album is a great experience when ripped, as are the best of the modern day stoner albums, but don’t be put off thinking a sober state will forge no rewards. Bong or no bong, this is one of the best rock albums ever made.
The riffs. Let me talk about some of the timeless riffs on this album. Riffs that over the years have become massively influential and classic in every sense of the word. It is through no chance or overreaction that people nowadays refer to some guitar riffs and leads as “Sabbath-esque” or “Sabbathy”. The grand onslaught of these riffs starts with the simplistic and contagious lead to “Sweet Leaf”, one of my favourite riffs ever conceived. The glory to this riff, and with the majority of Tony Iommi’s genius craft, is the simplicity – sacrificing complex timings, extra ghost notes and fancy finger work for simple motifs. The emphasis is put firmly on execution and groove. Take for example the riff changeups in the fine closer “Into The Void”, going from the fine rolling and laid-back intro riff to some ferocious muted riffing, all complemented perfectly by Ozzy’s high and melodic vocals. All of this combines to make one of the album’s finest moments. Then there’s “Children of the Grave” which stretches the simplicity to a basic rolling note, repeated in a galloping time signature, augmented by the occasional menacing chord progression. This song was really ahead of its time, paving the way for the galloping marches of the finest Iron Maiden. What makes these riffs even better is the structure of the songs, which are intelligent and keep the various riffs fresh. For example, the changeups in “After Forever” evolve around a repetitive lead riff which gives way to various themes and new riffs, but always returns to retain the original flow and groove. Call them stoners, but this is intelligent song writing, and something ensued throughout the album.
So the song writing is clever. It keeps the riffs fresh and interesting and manages to hold the fantastic groove. However, it is the overall writing and structuring of the album as a whole that I find most impressive. The balance of “Master of Reality” is perfect and superior to any of their other albums. There are no overly long songs, as all are between 5 and 7 minutes. The effect of this gives the album a special kind of flow that is often lacking in their other releases. “Embryo” and “Orchid” are short little pieces that act as introductions rather than fillers, and again retain the sense of flow as they are not too long or boring.
Mention should of course go to Ozzy Osbourne. In my opinion Sabbath simply isn’t Sabbath without Ozzy on the vocals. His voice has become one of the most distinctive and acclaimed in rock history, and rightly so. He has what all the best rock singers have – the ability to hit the right notes, often quite high ones, and an idiosyncratic style that is instantly recognisable. The Black Sabbath sound is rounded off perfectly by this master vocalist, best highlighted by his inspired deliveries on “Children of the Grave” and “Into The Void”.
Any fan of rock music should enjoy this album. It has every ingredient that makes rock so enjoyable – powerful and inspired vocals, stunning guitar solos and riffs, solid bass playing and some stellar drumming. Black Sabbath at the pinnacle of their career.