Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Master of Reality

The quintessential third record. With the July 1971 release of Master of Reality (also discussed here), Black Sabbath further refined the dark, brooding aggression of Paranoid (discussed here) and the riff-following bad-trip hard acid blues of the self-titled (discussed here) to become something even more their own. More than five decades after the fact, the influence of the eight-song/34-minute LP continues to spread to new players, fans and underground culture at large, and it will probably never surpass Paranoid in sales, but there has been nothing made in the last 40-plus years that doom has been a genre primarily in Master of Reality‘s wake that has not been either directly or indirectly touched by its machinations. If you add pivotal opening track “Sweet Leaf” — which swapped out the storm and siren that began their first two records for a repeated cough counting into the riff in a way that’s become no less iconic, and was by no means the first rock song about marijuana but was perhaps the first to sound so hypnotically thick in tone — as a founding moment of all things stoner in heavy music, that reach goes even further.

It was their third go with producer Rodger Bain, who was then on-staff at Vertigo Records and would produce records for Troggs, Budgie, Arthur Brown and helm Judas Priest‘s undervalued Rocka Rolla before the 1970s were done, and clearly lessons had been learned over the past year. Black Sabbath both sharpened and filled out their attack to a degree that makes it difficult to avoid hyperbole in talking about it. Like either of its predecessors, it is arguable as the pinnacle of heavy music full-length recording in the 60-plus years that such a thing might have existed, and whether it’s “Lord of This World” speaking to economic and social inequalities, “Children of the Grave” chugging out a resistant surge, “After Forever” with its worshipful lyrics by drummer Bill Ward inadvertently inventing Christian metal, or the the soft-delivered quiet melancholia of “Solitude” before the escape-the-apocalypse envisioned in “Into the Void” — “Pollution kills the air, land and sea/Man prepares to meet his destiny” — as a wretched Earth is left behind in favor of a new planet where refugees might, “Make a home where love is there to stay/Peace and happiness in every day,” it is a landmark in performance, structure, atmosphere and purpose. Even the cover font gets ripped off. Rightly so.

At the core of the band’s craft, as ever, is Tony Iommi‘s guitar, and in Master of Reality, the boogie of “Rat Salad” that provided a side-step from Paranoid‘s harder fare becomes instead a showcase of more progressive ambitions that in some ways Iommi would struggle to make a part of Black Sabbath for the band’s entire career — and one could go on about the band’s working class background in Birmingham, England, as part of that; it comes up a bit in the 2010 Classic Albums: Paranoid documentary (review here) that was part of the VH1 series — with a showy mastery in his soloing throughout, as well as the interlude “Embryo” and side B intro “Orchid.”

At just 28 seconds and 1:31, respectively, they’re of course not as much a focal point as “Sweet Leaf” or “Into the Void,”black sabbath master of reality etc., but the angular, off-sounding electric guitar strum of “Embryo” makes what might’ve been a tape-rolling toss-off into a landmark contrast as the brief gestation births “Children of the Grave” with an impact given additional force by the tense but obviously more subdued lead-in. And “Orchid” laid claim to both acoustic work and classical stylings as within Black Sabbath‘s sphere. From front to back, Master of Reality presents a more professional incarnation of Black Sabbath — still with the IommiWardOzzy OsbourneGeezer Butler lineup and just a year after their first LP, mind you — who are more directed and purposefully denser in tone, who know what they want their songs to do and to sound like, and who are growing creatively.

The four-piece had toured diligently between 1970 and 1971 in the UK, continental Europe, and the US, taken on new management later in 1970 and as the tour wound down, both Paranoid and Black Sabbath went gold in US sales, so Black Sabbath were no longer an obscure, not-from-London band with druggy, sad-sounding songs. Their music had begun to speak to an audience, and as the third album, Master of Reality is a realization and an arrival in ways that would help define the band across the decades that followed. In its divergences as well as its most intense stretches, it pushed further than the band had yet gone into their persona, and to call it classic is in some ways laughable because its relevance is so enduring. Every single day, Master of Reality continues to have an effect on heavy music. Entire genre ecosystems thrive in the crater it left behind.

The way “Children of the Grave” and “Into the Void” anchor its sides, the way “Solitude” took the mellow-psych of “Planet Caravan” to a place of genuine emotional resonance, or how “Lord of This World” hit the economic angle in answer to “War Pigs,” or the maybe-drugs-are-the-answer-to-all-this-disillusion attitude of “Sweet Leaf” and the confidence with which Master of Reality directly addresses its audience throughout — all of this and more that had been lurking in Black Sabbath‘s approach across the year prior came to fruition here, and the result is a singular, unique achievement.

I don’t believe in gods, but Master of Reality in my mind represents an ideal of the ‘higher power’ that can be reached through creative collaboration. I offer it as nothing less than a reason to feel lucky to be alive at this time in human history and a remedy for troubled souls. Putting it on feels like going home, and while much of it is grim in theme, there is a warmth in its presentation that’s like nothing Black Sabbath would ever do again. If that’s hindsight perspective, informed maybe by the massive influence the album and band have had since, a fan speaking to fans, preaching to the converted, whatever? Good. That’s the point. If perhaps you never have, open your heart and let these songs in. Your life will be better for it.

Thanks for reading.

Friday. Okay. Gotta get through the morning. Gotta get the kid fed, medded up, dropped off at school, then I’m home, finish posting, start setup for the Quarterly Review, hit the grocery store, blah blah. I woke up at 3:15AM. I figure maybe noon’ll be fuckoff time if I’m reasonably efficient? Very much looking forward to that.

She — the kid — has been on methylphenidate now for ADHD since December. It’s been a pretty remarkable turnaround at school from everything we’ve heard, which is great. The comedown at home is hard — it’s a whole thing with these drugs, apparently — but I’ll take the hit(s) for her to be successful elsewhere. I don’t think she’ll ever be an easygoing, cooperative kid, but I’m not easygoing or particularly cooperative either. Generally I’m a fucking prick to everybody without meaning to be and I feel terrible about it after the fact. So I’ll say she comes by it honestly and we’ll book some social skills classes at some point so she can learn why to say hello back to her classmates when they talk to her. That usually just gets the spit swished in her mouth. Kid is brutal.

The delivery method of the meds is kind of a quandary. She and The Patient Mrs. both have notably sensitive skin, and while slapping a patch on The Pecan’s lower back was working for a while, it’s been a week now and the itchy and plainly uncomfortable — though she’d just about never admit that out loud — is still there, which says to me finding another way was the right call. It’s fading, needs more lotion, etc. But what we’ve got instead are capsules with the medication in them that I’ve been opening up and putting in the morning yogurt that’s usually what she eats before a breakfast of cinnamon toast, apple, banana, strawberries if we have them. The dilemma is she doesn’t know I’m putting that in there.

Am I really supposed to be drugging my six-year-old daughter without her awareness? Does she not have rights as an individual? Isn’t it part of my job as a parent to build trust? How am I supposed to do that if I’m lying by concealment? The kid already tells me in so many words to fuck myself daily in any number of regards. I think I might deserve it more for this even than for suggesting she go to the bathroom when it’s been six hours and she needs to so badly she can’t sit still.

But here’s the rub: she might never eat yogurt again. She doesn’t eat meat, fish, beans, eggs, any of it. She eats cheese, but currently only Muenster and only sliced into small cubes. If I make some, every now and then I can get her to take a couple bites of almond/pecan butter, but that’s never a guarantee. Nutritionally, there’s a lot hinging on that yogurt. She is adamant about not trying new foods. Hard no. She did pasta for a while with butter, but it was basically just calories to get through an afternoon, and it didn’t last. And it turns out since it’s not the ’80s anymore you can’t just shove things in a kid’s mouth. It’s that whole autonomy thing again. Wildly inconvenient, that.

I don’t have a choice but to tell her. I’ll say we tried it this week and if it was okay with her we’ll keep going. My hope is that if I can convince her it’s a plan that’s already worked it’ll be easier for her to get past that initial wall of opposition into which just about any new idea or task is bound to slam, it’ll be easier for her to see that it’s alright, that it doesn’t make the yogurt taste funny, that it’s helping and that it doesn’t need to change. I’m trying to help, but I feel a very specific rot in my mind for this one. She deserves to know and deserve has nothing to actually do with it since it’s a basic human right.

How would I feel if some strange man put a drug in her food without her knowing it? How do I feel about being that man, even if my intentions are arguable as good and the results are positive across multiple levels? Ends justifying means? Am I right to compromise my values to support her success? Or am I teaching her that even the people she’s supposed to trust the most will betray that trust? Am I taking one for the team here or is it just easier for me to deal with getting the medication in her if she doesn’t know it’s happening? And does the fact that she’s six and not really able to make responsible judgments for herself at this point play in at all? Beyond the decision to medicate her in the first place — about which I have feelings, to say the least, mitigated though they are by the to-date outcome — is this even my jurisdiction?

So I guess telling her is my goal for Saturday morning. I’ll say we tried it this week and if it’s okay with her we’ll keep it going and if not we’ll find another way. But is she going to look at her yogurt every day now and wonder if it’s drugged? Or is she going to refuse the yogurt outright because that’s who she is, write it off entirely and lose a cornerstone of her daily intake with nothing on the horizon to replace it?

Guess we’ll find out.

As always, I thank you for reading and for your time. Have a great and safe weekend. Don’t forget to hydrate, watch your head, all that stuff. Quarterly Review starts Monday. I can’t wait to be stressed out all week and behind on news posts, which I already am. Rock and roll.


[EDIT 10:37AM: So after writing the above, I decided there was no point in delaying until tomorrow to tell her; it wouldn’t make my case any stronger anyhow. I said that this week I’d been putting her medicine in her yogurt instead of doing the patch, and if it was okay we’d keep doing it. She was headed toward no, but we were able to sort of steer that back around to realizing it’s not a big deal and she ate the yogurt this morning knowing that the meds were in it. I feel better about it, and I’m really, really glad I don’t need a new primary source of protein for my kid. Sometimes you roll the dice and come out alright. I acknowledge I got away with one here, and for what it’s worth, I’m still not really okay with how I went about it. I’d say next time I’ll do differently, like I learned a moral lesson or something, but real life makes jokes of those promises and a moment’s need can eclipse bigger-picture concerns. I will continue to try my best to do right by my kid for as long as I am able.]

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3 Responses to “Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Master of Reality

  1. SabbathJeff says:

    Thanks for writing all of this, the music stuff, the non-music stuff, everything. I’ve no room to discuss any of the non-music stuff (especially in regards to parenting as my child has four legs and fur), but thank you.

    In response to this particular post, after sitting with it a weekend, I’ll slightly paraphrase myself yesterday when I noted, aloud, for the 1st time to someone else, that the last…twenty seven years of my life have been an increasingly elaborate ruse that I set up to allow me to justify taking the time to warrant to listen to Into The Void just once more, like a lost love you never forgot or psychotropic experience you can’t recreate but can’t forget. I have not just the lyrics memorized to that damn track – I know the notes between the notes, the exact time between the pulsing, the thrust of the thing, the absolute earth-shattering first truly heavy sound that I lost all concept of reality to and just wanted to live in the riff. As I turned 13 years old, and my father had already given me cream and hendrix and mountain and a template, his sole vinyl Sabbath came from seemingly out of thin air, which he at the time purchased because of the lyrics on the back cover for Solitude. And it spun the dawn of ’97, and side B naturally flipped to life, and Solitude naturally ended, and Into The Void just appeared, but not to my ears; I heard it in my heart and my mind. And I re-queued it. Like, 17 times in a row. That night. And that’s when I knew the secret of the riff. That’s when the riff originally made me happy. Even though then I was in my infancy of my soul pain and suicidality and misanthropy and active addiction lifestyle, the riff cut through all of it. And it continues to this day to permeate everything. And 26 years after I shook their hands on the day the Reunion album released at FYE in Neshaminy Mall Oct. 20, ’98, and then saw them live 25 years ago Feb. 18th ’99, my first gig, and through the evolution of my past digging down into my invented darkness below my own personal mariana trench, and bottoming and dying Schroedinger-style after 18 years of chemically-obliviating my mind and body, and 8 1/2 years of sobriety and learning love of self and leaving the pain in the past with years of help and learning and growth, the riff is just…there. No matter what happens, it is there. It is omnipresent beyond a spiritual sense. I’ve no ability and/or am beyond the ability to believe that belief in any religion has any meaning or bearing on life here and how it is lived. I don’t know is not to say empirical evidence doesn’t exist and in all likelihood the vastness and emptiness of space and the heavens is more comfort to one who has an ability to believe that they’ll get there some day. I’m without that ability to believe, but if I could believe, and had infinite time, the riff wouldn’t be as precious. I’ve only so much time to allot to listening, as we all, and how much time I spend listening to Into The Void seems to me to only be time well spent.



    I heard the riff, and the riff was good. Thanks for continuing to highlight this music, JJ.

  2. Obvious & Odious says:

    JJ – parenting is hard. Try not to be too hard on yourself in the process

    Sabbath Jeff – that is an epic post!

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