To say Sabbath were at the top of their game in '71 would be quite the understatement. They'd just released arguably the single most influential album in the history of metal, which took them from a cult phenomenon garnered from their bluesy self titled release, to outright stars. Though Paranoid
didn't receive an ounce of radio airplay, it became a word of mouth success, propelling itself into the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. And yet that very same year, Sabbath wrote and recorded another album. In most cases, that would be a recipe for disaster, probably putting forth a rushed re-hack of their previous album, capitalizing on commercial success, but not critical. Instead, Black Sabbath made arguably the single greatest album of their illustrious career.
Spread across the albums tracklist are six tracks of utter heavy metal bliss, and two instrumental intros (one necessary, the other utterly pointless, but thats a forgivable flaw.) The band rarely sounded as tight as they did here. Tony Iommi's crushing downtuned riffs, highlighted by Geezer Butler's thunderous bass and Bill Wards jazzy chops provided the perfect palette for Ozzy's tuneless wail. Though none of the players brake out of the formula they created on Paranoid
their performance's sound rich and fresh, even if they're not as groundbreaking.
The album itself kicks off with the odd sound of Tony Iommi choking on a joint (yes thats what that cough is,) before the guitarist launches into the Sweet Leaf
giving us one of the most memorable riffs ever recorded. Ozzy sings the song as only he can (giving us a quite vivid account of the band's love of Marijuana.) About half way through the song the tempo speeds up with a galloping bassline form Geezer and crashing drums from Bill letting Tony spread his wings and play some lead before the original riff takes over again (and Ozzy tells us to 'try it out' not advice I'd take from the Ozz man.)
kicks in next, with a brief appearance from the Moog Synthesizer, before yet another classic Iommi/Geezer riff takes off. Ozzy sings about his familiar apocalyptic topics. Iommi's also tracks between the speakers (or ears if you're using headphones) which gives it a cool sound.
The next track. Embryo
is rather pointless, as its a thirty second instrumental which really should have just been part of the next track. However, it does introduce a medieval theme, something Sabbath explore on two other tracks on the album. But the song following it, Children of the Grave
is another bona-fide classic, one of their best known songs. Iommi starts the song with a little palm muted bit, before the classic riff takes over. Ozzy once again gives proves that not only hippies wanted peace with his lyrics.
Next up is the second instrumental (this time clocking in at about a minute and a half) and its much more worthwhile than its predecessor. Orchid
is the second medieval tinged pieces, with a calm, very well written acoustic part form Tony, before one of his most evil riffs comes in to give us Lord of this World
. Once again exhibiting the snails crawl sludge that Sabbath innovated.
Probably the biggest surprise on the album is found in Solitude
, one of Sabbath's most forgotten tunes, but one of my very favorites. Based around a medieval chord progression that was associated with satanism, Tony and Geezer paint a perfect smooth picture, while Ozzy's depressive vocals are augmented by a flute and later a rhythmic piano. Bill never makes his entrance, letting this fantastic song remain mellow the whole way through.
But the band certainly go out with a bang with another heavy metal standard Into the Void
. Tony and Geezer's riffs are at their best and Ozzy's wail was rarely so affective. And so it is that as the album draws to a close with a wailing solo from Tony it has certainly been an effective listen. Though never as famous as Paranoid
, Masters of Reality
is easily my favorite Sabbath album (only their Self Titled and portions of Heaven and Hell
come close to it for me.) Its dark, its metallic, its grinding, and its Black Sabbath at their finest.