Review Summary: One of the most overlooked records in modern rock history… and it shouldn’t be that way
Masters of Reality is the debut album of the homonymous band released in 1988 on Def American, a record label owned by Rick Rubin who was also the producer of the album (also produced Slayer and Johnny Cash among others). The band itself was formed in Syracuse, New York in 1981 and took its name from Black Sabbath's third album. Its original lineup consisted of its founding members Chris Goss (vocals/guitar/keyboards and the driving force of the group) and Tim Harrington (lead guitar); Vinnie Ludovico was on drums and the bassist was only known as Googe. The album was reissued by Delicious Vinyl in 1990 with new artwork, a change is song sequence and an additional track - "Doraldina's Prophecies". Due to the album's lack of commercial success, the band was effectively disbanded. Goss remained though and embarked on another album in 1992, named "Sunrise on the Sufferbus", most notably recruiting Ginger Baker for the now vacant drum spot; but that's another story.
Ok, that's enough with the formalities.
Despite what their name may suggest when you think of Black Sabbath, they have nothing to do with heavy metal. They are in fact quite reminiscent of Cream with a more hard bluesy-driven kind of sound, although it has to be said that the album is more diverse than that, ranging from some straightforward hard rock acts to gentle dreamy blues to somewhat acoustic mid tempo numbers. Someone might even say that there is an element of a progressive groove in a couple songs ("The Blue Garden" and "Kill the King"). Goss's vocals are smooth and mellow in a kind of jazzy way but also rich which, in my opinion, suits the album very well. Just to clarify at this point, that I'm reviewing the album version that I have; the 1990 Delicious Vinyl edition.
The record opens dynamically with the hard rocker "Candy Song" followed by "Doraldina's Prophecies", one of my favorite tracks of the album. "John Brown" has some excellent slide guitars in it and "Getting High" is a very groovy rocking piece. Once again the diversity of the album kicks in with "Magical Spell"; the piano in this track is a bit reminiscent of the Doors, with some sweet blues guitar licks playing in the background. "Domino" is another hard rocker with a great intro of repeating power chords. A couple reviews I've read argue that the full chugging power chords in this song ignited the spark for stoner rock, or at least massively contributed to it, but I won't delve into that. There are some great bluesy tones in "The Eyes of Texas", "Looking to get Rite" and "Sleep Walking" although I believe the last two to be the weakest tracks of the album. Special mention is required to the highlights of this record, "The Blue Garden", "Kill the King" and "Doraldina's Prophecies", the added song on the 1990 release which I mentioned earlier. "The Blue Garden" is reminiscent of a psychedelic jam from the Cream era with a very nice wah-wah solo whilst "Kill the King" is a multi-part epic which ranges from a piano and acoustic guitar intro into a heavy riff with a tremolo bar-infused solo in various tempos that not many bands were making at the time.
I believe that this is one of the more underrated and overlooked albums of the relatively modern (90s and onwards) hard rock/blues rock era, but it's (sadly) a bit understandable why it was largely ignored at the time of its release. Fronted by a chubby bald Mr. Goss and playing groovy bluesy rock and hard rock tunes at a time where spandex and massive hairdos ruled the airwaves doesn't sound like a road to success does it? And shortly after its release Grunge happened and this type of music slowly faded out. Nevertheless music as they say, is immortal and the chance to enjoy this album many years after its release is up for grabs. So do yourself a favor and listen to this little piece of gem.