Review Summary: If you look past the mediocre years, this is indefinitely a 'Best of'.
(Currently reviewing the second release version)
After the war-torn years of constant lyricist changes, constant critic fire in the recycled last albums, Black Sabbath has never exactly had the greatest of careers, but it left one hell of an aftermath. Almost as a calm after the storm, Sabbath has been consistently referred to as one of the greatest metal bands of all time, if not THE best, for, in a highly cataclysmic style, introduced heavy metal, completely attacking the scene. Sabbath is an example of a band that continues to draw endless fans, even after their downfall.
The main reason this compilation works is because of the likable material that was not picked by popularity from the critical masses, but by tracks that continue to remain intergalatical popularity with fans alike. The instrumental work on this album is nothing less than exceptional. The guitar work is heavy, cataclysmic, and haunting, containing some expert notes and blazing solos here and there, while maintaining a great pace. The drum kit work is crushing and epic in it's own style, with pounding beats. Although I do prefer the Ronnie James Dio era (one problem that infects this compilation is Osbourne's voice only), Ozzy's lyrical fire is still admirable after several years, and the amazing bass work should more than please aspiring artists, which laid down the foundation for later bassists, containing some hard, thumping notes and melodies.
The tracks off the debut and Paranoid continue to impress and please, the two albums fans constantly recognize as the LPs that started metal. The famous riffs and Ozzy-sung singles continue in the self-titled single, Black Sabbath, and Iron Man, both of which have become cult classics and favorites around the world. The cataclysmic, war-torn, 7-minute message in "War Pigs" and the famous "wah wah" riff in "Electric Funeral" help highlight "Into the Void", arguably one of the best tracks on Master of Reality. "Paranoid", the famous 3-minute, off-kilter dose of adrenaline is spot-on, and "N.I.B." contains some of the finest bass and drum work of the band's career.
The Master of Reality tracks simply can't go wrong, as they are comprised of some of the best songs of the band's career. "Into the Void" continues the anti-war message, with epic instrumental work, and "Sweet Leaf", is an amusing, admirable nod to marijuana (named after a pack of cigarettes), over some surprisingly stellar Osbourne lyrical work. The "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" track is another particular standout, and shows how the band continued to grow even after the first three.
Is there anything wrong with this compilation? Arguably, it could be called "The Tracks That Started Heavy Metal", and it proves it here. The Volume 4 tracks could be a bit of a turnoff. The bittersweet vocals of "Changes" might leave a sour taste alongside the other frantic juggernauts here (it's followed by Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, so the track order could be better). "Tomorrow Dream" is better, but below average for the selection. As I mentioned before, the absence of Ronnie James Dio's work might be a flaw in this nicely wrapped-up compilation, but let's be honest: this entire compilation is a superb example of how Black Sabbath proved their name in the metal scene. Does this make it an album everybody should listen to? No, there could be a few changes (pun intended), and we've already heard most of everything on here (if you haven't heard Iron Man yet, well... yeah.) BY NOW. But, even though this is a simple compilation (We Sold Our Soul had a better track listing for the original albums), it proves that it only took three - four albums for heavy metal to become what it is today.