Review Summary: The first stoner rock.
Black Sabbath was the first heavy metal band. I'm well aware the term has been attributed to many bands before them (The Jeff Beck Group, Led Zeppelin, Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, etc…) but in my book, those artists surely helped paving the way for metal, yet ultimately belong in the history of hard rock. Since telling a hard rock band apart from a metal band is in my case often more based on instinct than rationale, I'll try to put it in words, and avoid becoming completely nonsensical. Hard rock both rocks and rolls, often has both the straightforward attack of classic rock 'n' roll as well as the soulful vibe of blues. Most great hard rock bands are basically guys that play white boy-versions of blues-rock, sometimes further blended with folk, country & soul. Heavy metal doesn't roll, it refuses to do so. There's no swing or vibe in heavy metal, it ain't no picnic. There's not much place for soul either. Bon Scott in AC/DC? The greatest white soul singer of the '70's! Ozzy Osbourne's vocal style? A flat wail from a guy who'd rather sing about drugs, the "dark side" and politics than pussy, backdoors and, uh, the ladies in general. Whereas hard rock often seems active on the outer fringes of rock 'n' roll, where sleaze and perversion are basically half-allowed, classic heavy metal music seems to be the music of social outcasts. Unlike hard rock, heavy metal has no desire whatsoever to appeal to mainstream audiences, and that's because the music sounds so grotesquely anti-commercial (not necessarily a good thing), nearly unrecognizable to anyone who's only familiar with only what's being spoon-fed by them on prime time TV and radio. As such, metal - even more than hard rock - is the preferred music of outcasts, teenagers and adolescents looking for an escapist way out of their existence.
This all sounds very pretentious and simplistic, but do check it out, it's true. Of course, this distinction is arbitrary, but that's how I've always felt it. Of course there's also the 'hard' vs. 'heavy' thing. Metal is louder than hard rock, lacks the swing, the finesse, the subtleties. Even though they had the image of morally bereft scum, the guys in Led Zeppelin actually were top musicians who understood the language of music (and especially its dynamics) better than most of their contemporaries. Black Sabbath, on the other hand, isn't about abusing up the amps, playing blues rock and adding ingredients from pop, soul, funk and folk. Black Sabbath's grind is an impossibly corpulent sludge, wallowing in its own colossal heaviness and some of the most brutal, bludgeoning riffs in the history of popular music.
It's no surprise that these days, Black Sabbath still tops many Heaviest bands ever-lists. Granted, bands have become more extreme, are able to kick up an even bigger wall of sound, but essentially it had all been done by the mighty Sab. Just listen to anything off of Master of Reality or just Sabbath Bloody Sabbath's title track, for instance. Nearly 30 years old and still a grinding mind*** of the highest order.
Master of Reality
is dark, and damn heavy. Here's a brief history: for the recording of Master of Reality, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler had detuned their guitars, in order to reduce the stress his injured fingers took when he played. (This was due to an industrial accident at his work) The incredibly dark tone later became a genre known as stoner rock, that mixes metal and acid rock together in numerous cases. So it is a notch heavier than the previous release, Paranoid
. Such examples are proven in the opening riff of Into the Void
, or the midtempo melody of Children Of The Grave
. The bass is much heavier, so it comes through a lot better.
There are still several problems present. There are only two that completely get in the way of the package. Unlike Paranoid, Master of Reality contains only six tracks. The two instrumentals, Orchid and Embryo
are short and uneventful, but this is just a minor flaw. The next one is a doozy: Osbourne's vocals. I'll be honest: I never truly enjoyed Osbourne's vocals, the exceptions being their debut and Sabotage, but if you exclude Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
, these are Osbourne's vocals at their most annoying, unfortunately.
Master of Reality is unpolished, a little stupid ("Sweet Leaf"), and short, but in the end, it's one hell of a Sabbath album. A rating of 4.5 should demote an album that is worth listening to. And as flawed as it may be, there's so much here to love in this phenomenal title. So, I can't give it anything less.