Master Of Reality
Warner Brothers Records, 1971
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/14/2000
After the masterpiece that was Paranoid, the question loomed in front of Black Sabbath: How are you going to top that one?
They actually wouldn't top that album until they got around to their fifth release, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but their third album, Master Of Reality, showed that Ozzy Osbourne and crew could consistently deliver the goods, even if this wasn't as strong of an album as its predecessor.
Note that I'm not saying this is a bad album in the least; anyone would have encountered difficulty trying to top Paranoid straight out of the gate. Yet the group - vocalist Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward - make a valiant effort to do just that. And while there are some absolutely brilliant moments on this record, it just falls short of the mark.
The classics from this disc still sound as exciting as they did way back in 1971, when this album was first released. How can you not love the opening cough that leads into "Sweet Leaf," another track which has become a classic in the Sabbath catalog? How can you not smile with a little guilt at a line such as "Would you like to see the pope on the end of a rope? / Do you think he's a fool?" on "After Forever". (Note to Tipper Gore: this song, if you take the time to read the lyrics, is actually pro-God, and not a satanic call to kill religious leaders. So there.) How can you avoid getting caught up in the frenzy of the two brief instrumentals, "Embryo" and "Orchid"? Simple: you can't.
Yet Master Of Reality falls short in two areas. The first, pure and simple, is production. Where Paranoid had a crisp sound to it, Master Of Reality sounds muddied. Sure, that adds a sinister bend to some of the songs, but in the end, the overall sound ends up hurting the album. Second, some of the tracks just fail to get off the ground. "Solitude," the first track to feature someone other than Osbourne (in this case, Ward) as lead vocalist, sounds like a drawn-out retread of "Planet Caravan" and doesn't do anything for the disc. Other tracks, like "Children Of The Grave" and "Lord Of This World," occasionally tickle my fancy, but I guess I have to be in the mood for them. "Into The Void" does a better job of this, but even this track sometimes doesn't strike me as being great on some days.
If Master Of Reality is guilty of anything, it's that it is inconsistent. Where Paranoid had natural sounding peaks and valleys, it's almost as if this disc travels unfamiliar roads at times. By doing that, it sometimes doesn't do justice to the quality material that is held within the vinyl or aluminum platters.
I hesitate saying that Black Sabbath went into a slump between Paranoid and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but if you pick up Master Of Reality expecting to hear the continuation of Paranoid, you'll be somewhat disappointed. For years, I thought that this disc was really Black Sabbath's second release - and it does sound like it would fit progressively between their self-titled debut and Paranoid. Maybe it's just that Sabbath was so far ahead of themselves at the time.