The Debate Rages: Master of Reality vs. Vol. 4

Admittedly, it’s a cruel, heartless question to ask, and yet, can there be any doubt as to the answer? Could anything ever top Master of Reality? I ask the question mostly because I want to see if anyone sticks up for Vol. 4, which, apart from “Changes,” is about as flawless as an album can get. With the recent terrible news of Tony Iommi‘s lymphoma diagnosis, I think we’re due for a good time. So let’s have some fun.

Earliest Black Sabbath was nothing if not a coalescing of various elements into a cohesive whole. A kind of cultural distillation, ground down and remade into the singular most formative basis of doom — the album Black Sabbath. Only months later in 1970, they released Paranoid and refined the darkness of the first record, adding range and sonic breadth. While the title-track became the band’s signature piece, “Electric Funeral” and “Fairies Wear Boots” grew into the anthems of a subculture within a subculture, and they remain so to this day.

However, every time I put on Master of Reality and listen to it straight through, with each successive track, I say to myself, “This is the heaviest shit ever made.” And each song proves the prior assessment wrong — yes, even “Solitude” — until finally, “Into the Void” offers clear and indisputable truth of riff. It is pure in its muck, and as perfect as stoner rock has ever gotten. The standard by which the genre is and should be measured: the heaviest shit ever made.

But what about Vol. 4? It seems to have an answer for every challenge Master of Reality throws at it. A “Snowblind” for “Sweet Leaf,” “Supernaut” for “Into the Void,” “Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes” for “Lord of this World.” 1972 found Black Sabbath a more realized beast with a perfected heavy rock that seemed to already know the tropes of the metal genre it was shaping.

I could go on. I won’t. Is “Changes” enough to hold back Vol. 4 from standing up to Master of Reality? There are people who consider “Solitude” a misstep of similar magnitude. I leave it to you to decide in the comments.

You know the scenario. You can only pick one, so which is it?

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20 Responses to “The Debate Rages: Master of Reality vs. Vol. 4

  1. sabbathjeff says:

    That’s like asking me to choose between atheism and misanthropy. Those two pjhilosophies and those two albums are just so much apart of who I am; they are all my children, and I love equally.

    If I had a gun to my head though, Vol. 4 has FX and Master Of Reality doesn’t. So Master Of Reality. Plus Into The Void is the heaviest song ever. And also happens to be my favorite song.

  2. Lamprey says:

    Masters Of Reality, hands down/horns up. While both records contain some of the most epic Riffs ever, MOR is stronger and more brutal even at its quieter moments (I’ll take Solitude over F/X any day). Vol. 4 always felt a little too happy for me, and the drums (with the exception of the hi-hats) sound flat and dull. Gems like Snowblind aside, I think Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is a much better overall album (sure I’ll get some shit for that!), but nothing compares to the sonic ride through the cosmos that Masters Of Reality sends you on.

  3. Joe Wood says:

    This is one tough decision… But if I must I will have to go with Vol.4.
    Reasons: 1. The production is a bit more murky, which adds to the heaviness 2. Bill Ward went from unorthodox insanity (1st record / paranoid) to an almost laid back intensity on Master.. He brought back the crazy on vol.4 (this is a drummer talking of course). 3. Wheels of Confusion / Under The Sun / Cornucopia… ya can’t go wrong w/ these 3 tracks alone! 4. St. Vitus Dance… not only did it spur the name of one of the greatest bands ever, it’s a strange almost country tune (what were they thinking? I don’t know but I love it!).. With the exception of the ‘waste of a track’ FX, this is the perfect record.

  4. Joe Wood says:

    oh… and the cover is so awesome that Sleep had to steal it! \m/

  5. JimC says:

    I love the tone of Masters.

  6. Billy! says:

    I dunno, maybe I out-listened to “Master…” back when I was young and one had to buy albums and, as such, had very incomplete discographies. To me Vol4. is obviously a much, much more interesting record. Then again I’m a guy who likes “Changes” just fine. FX is the real turd on there. In fact I’d go so far as to say I prefer “Vol.4” and “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” to “Paranoid” and “Master…”. There’s a danger and mystery to those later albums that isn’t there for the more straight ahead stuff on the earlier two. I credit massive drugs and the rise of Progressive rock. I also blame them for “FX”.

  7. Brian H. says:

    I do love both, actually the first 6 Sabbath albums are all excellent of course. I’d have to go with Masters though, it happens to be my favorite album of all time, has some of the best tone ever, they were at the top of their game, and it is flawless – Lord of this World, Sweet Leaf, Into the Void, Children of the Grave, After Forever, hell some of the best songs ever written! Even Solitude works great on the album, its one of my fave Sab songs. There is no better slow trippy stoner song that Solitude. I looked at it as a continuation of the Planet Caravan vibe from Paranoid.

    I could rave on about Vol 4 also, but it is a actually below Paranoid and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath for me. Probably tied for 4th place with the self titled.

  8. tarotplane says:

    Why? Why pick one over the other? The last two of the four best. Not knocking what came after but…a different vibe – at least to my OLD ears. I dig the two that followed and not so much the two after that. Give me any of the first six and see me rock. Of course, I am old enough to have been there from the start so I am just a cranky old fart.

  9. Aris says:

    Masters! no doubt, for me is the Sabbath classic.

  10. Dr Space says:

    I agree, Masters of Reality is probably my all time favourite album. I love Vol4 as well. Heard this record tripping in the woods in the early 80s and it left a permanent mark on me… Still blows me away when I crank it up…. After Forever is the riff that just floors me.. The most amazing power chord riffs….

  11. Ed says:

    Masters for me, I actually think Volume 4 is overrated as far as Sabbath albums go. Of course it is still great but side one is kind of patchy in my opinion. The first real killer riff doesn’t occur till track five, Supernaut and before you get Changes and FX, two of the worst moments is Sabbath history. Wheels of Confusion and Tomorrows Dream are very good but still not up to the usual Sabbath excellence either. However side 2 of Volume 4 is flawless. Masters on the other hand is flawless from start to finish.

  12. ed b says:


  13. zebudo says:

    Master of Reality. It and Funhouse are the two finest achievements in all Rock.

  14. terabyte23 says:

    Masters. Into the Void…’nuff said.

  15. goAt says:

    “Changes” is the penis on the hot chick.

    Terabyte called it….”Into the Void”, baby!

  16. Jørn says:

    I gotta say, Under The Sun is a great competitor to the heaviness of Into The Void! But still, Vol.4 has too mush weirdness, Master Of Reality is balls heavy straight through. And I happen to enjoy Solitude, which can not be said about Changes. Master Of Reality!

  17. Woody says:

    Sabbath Bloody Sabbaths

  18. Reefer says:

    Master of Reality. I don’t even think I can give a reason that hasn’t already been given. It’s just the epitome of Black Sabbath.

  19. Milk K. Harvey says:

    My absolute favorite is Born Again. And regarding these two, Vol. 4’s Changes is awful but still not a strong enough reason to make me prefer the uniformity of MOR,

  20. Mr Red says:

    Between these two, Master of Reality hands down. It is probably the most focused statement (or album, which is really just a snapshot of where a band is at in any chronological point) we’ve ever been delivered from this band (which is a considerable achievement based upon their godlike catalog).

    You know, if we can thank The Beatles for inventing the album format as an artist achievement/document, then Master of Reality is the first benchmark in that format for sonic heaviness and dour/doom outlook/perspective.

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