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Ah, Master of Reality. The crown jewel of the sludgy origins of the metal genre. Black Sabbath DOMINATED the metal scene, and for good reason. Tony Iommi's riffs are almost always unforgettable, Bill Ward's drumming is ridiculous, Ozzy's vocals, though gruff and very off-putting at first, have a distinct quality, and Geezer is, in my opinion, the greatest bassist of all time. Master of Reality was probably the first metal album that I could consider high art. There is such a terrifying shadow-and-light dynamic here. But enough gushing. Let's really talk about WHY Master of Reality is, well...masterful.
Starting off, songwriting is stellar. There's stuff here that's haunting (Into the Void) thought-provoking (Children of the Grave) controversial (After Forever) and poignant (Solitude). Master of Reality truly exploits a massive range of emotions in its eight tracks (Only six of which even have vocals!).
Instrumentals have always been one of Black Sabbath's strongest points. Tony Iommi probably has more unforgettable riffs on this album than most guitarists have in all their career. The structure on Children of the Grave was, at the time, unlike anything Sabbath had normally written. Children also has one of the catchiest riffs you'll ever hear, and is guaranteed to get stuck in your head later. Bill Ward's drumming on that same track is ridiculously tight. This is actually one of the few songs I've ever heard where I ALTERNATE between air guitar and drums. Geezer Butler's bass guitar adds a lot of the quality which makes this album so amazingly heavy. He doesn't play around with it much, but the "less is more" approach really works. Into the Void is easily Iommi's highlight on MoR, as it bears the greatest metal riff ever penned. Overall, riffs are as strong as ever.
Ozzy's voice is always a stumbling block. He is very raspy, and sometimes he sounds like he's choking on a rat, but even for its shrillness, Ozzy's voice fits the songs here perfectly. Ozzy's voice is, for better or for worse, very recognizable, very memorable, and very imposing. As always in Sabbath, he uses his vocal disadvantage to the best effect.
Speaking of vocals, there is one track that stands out for its lyrics-After Forever. See, I LOVE this song, I love the riffs and the tune and almost everything, but this song takes a lot of shit because it's a rather ham-fisted Christianity endorsement. But even though I am a staunch Atheist, I have an appreciation for the passion Geezer has for his faith. He could bear to tone it down, but this song still isn't bad by any means.
Production, as always for the classic lineup of Black Sabbath, is muddy and grainy. But much like Ozzy's raspy voice, this actually has an advantage, because the production quality fits the songs being played nigh-perfectly. It never gets in the way, and that is pretty impressive a feat in itself.
Lyrical themes are varied. There is some very meaningful, powerful stuff here (Children of the Grave warns the consequences of nuclear warfare, for example.) Of course, in its sound, this album is very sludgy, very "stoner", and nowhere does this shine through more than on the album's opener, Sweet Leaf, a love note to marijuana. Solitude is a relatable song about loneliness. The tone and themes here are very dark.
So there we have it, Master of Reality. There are qualities this album has that are almost intangible, for example, Master is one of the few albums I've ever heard that is both frenetic and slow at the same time. It's also one of the best albums I've ever heard for simple relaxation. Plus, it's a thinker's album. To paraphrase Sweet Leaf, this album introduced me to my mind. My favorite metal album ever, if you haven't heard it then go listen NOW.