Oh right, THIS is why people love Black Sabbath!
To go with the music critic cliché of the cheesy Beatles analogy, Master of Reality is Revolver to Paranoid’s Rubber Soul: they’re more or less in the same general category and are great in their own ways, but this album ratchets the previous one up to eleven in all departments. The biggest difference, famously, is the guitar tone. It’s far heavier than before, and some of the best I’ve heard on a metal album. It’s just so satisfyingly crunchy!
But just because they were recording what was, at that point, the heaviest album ever made, doesn’t mean they forgot about the songwriting. Not only are the riffs as absurdly catchy as the more famous ones from Paranoid, but the melodies themselves are some of the best Sabbath ever put out. The thing that strikes me the most about them, besides their catchiness, is how huge they sound. This is a BIG album in every respect, especially in the composition.
The band is in top form. Iommi’s monster riffs shine throughout the album’s run time, Ward pulls out some of his most entertaining drumming, Geezer’s basslines add a wonderful depth of mood, I even like Osbourne’s singing on here! When Sabbath is running on all cylinders, it produces some truly marvelous results. The highlights of those results are the sonically powerful “After Forever” (aka “the one with the hilariously out-of-place Christian lyrics written so that the Catholic Geezer could convince people he wasn’t actually a Satanist”) and “Children of the Grave.” “After Forever” is fist-pumping, heart racing and ear worming enough to please anyone, Christian or Satanist. “Children of the Grave” has some of the best, most fun drumming in Sabbath’s catalogue and the most driving riffs on the relatively heavy and mid-tempo album. It’s also got this cool, spooky outro reminiscent of Sabbath’s moody debut. Second-tier highlights are the outrageously catchy stoner anthem “Sweet Leaf,” which boasts possibly the best set of riffs on the album; “Lord of this World” is a tad slow but still a lumbering good time; “Into The Void” is a satisfying conclusion that absolutely tears through any sonic barriers that the other songs might not have conquered with terrifyingly perfect riffs and soloing.
Even the throwaways are fun! The thirty-second “Embryo” is completely dull on a compositional level, but its exotic flavor makes it a fun oddball. “Orchid” is another short instrumental, actually quite lovely if insubstantial. “Solitude” is a ballad, basically an inferior rewrite of “Planet Caravan” from Paranoid (medieval influences and all that), but it’s harmlessly nice and breaks up the heavy sound of the album before the rousing “Into the Void” finale. This is the first Sabbath album I’ve listened to where all the songs are capital G “good”, not just “tolerable” like the weak links on their other work (“A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning” on Black Sabbath, “Rat Salad” on Paranoid).
It’s hard describe, besides the amazing riffage and satisfying heaviness, why this album clicked with me so much. I enjoy some of Sabbath’s other stuff, but I always found it kind of…distant, I guess? Something about this album has true character. I should find it solid-yet-generic, but something about its aura is intoxicatingly likable. And no, I don’t think it has anything to do with the hilarious Christian lyrics.
Best Sabbath album? Best Sabbath album.
Thematic Content: 4/5 This is the aura, I guess?
Lyricism: 1/5 “They should realize before they criticize/That God is the only way to love”
Diversity: 4/5 Come at me, bro.
Resonance: 4/5 Rockers + that weird aura + “Solitude” isn’t horrible.
Experience: Discovering that your favorite chips have been rebranded. Thankfully, they’re even crunchier then before. What’s with all the religious imagery on the bag, though?
10/10. Best Song: Children of the Grave