Master of Reality
By David Chiu
The end is indeed here for Black Sabbath as the group is currently on its final tour ever—so it’s rather appropriate that Sabbath’s first three classic albums were just recently reissued as double-disc deluxe editions. There is no doubt whatsoever that Black Sabbath—Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward—are the godfathers of heavy metal: from the thunderous bombast of the music through Osbourne’s ominous vocals, to the doomy lyrics, Sabbath spawned numerous metals bands then and now. The 1970 self-titled debut sets the tone and template for the genre, although marked by the British blues of the time–“The Wizard,” for example, sounds something akin to early Jethro Tull. Yet you pretty much know where the band when you hear the sounds of thunder and bells of doom on the title song; “Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep/Basically/N.I.B.” is very Zeppelin-esque (featuring Butler’s trippy bass solo on “Basically”). Only “Evil Woman” could arguably be the most accessible of all the album’s songs.
But it is Paranoid, also released in 1970, that the band really hit its stride by abandoning the previous blues influences of the debut; it’s forever known for its three metal classics– the politically-conscious “War Pigs”; the headbanging title track; and “Iron Man” with its memorable riff. There are some stylistic divergences such as the jazzy Latin-tinged “Planet Caravan,” but for the most part it’s pile-driving , lumbering hard rock thanks to the apocalyptic “Electric Funeral;” the aggressive “Fairies Wear Boots” featuring some screeching guitar by Iommi; and the bone crushing “Rat Salad” highlighting Ward’s ferocious drumming.
1971’s Master of Reality further builds on Paranoid‘s strength with another set of Sabbath staples in the sludgey “Sweet Leaf” (one could hear how Nirvana might have copped from that track for “In Bloom”); the swaggering “After Forever,” which at times kind of hints at punk; and “Children of the Grave,” the metal equivalent of a Wagnerian piece. A few ‘softer’ tracks from the pretty instrumental “Orchid” to the pastoral “Solitude” provide a respite from the noise but they don’t dull the attack of harder songs like “Lord of the World” and the explosive “Into the Void.” All three albums are essential for any heavy metal library and are now augmented with alternative and instrumental versions of the songs as well as outtakes and extensive liner notes.