[Review] Black Sabbath: Master of Reality (1971)

Behind ramparts of towering riffitude, surrounded by clouds of sulfuric haze, another feast of Sabbath songs.

Kronomyth 3.0: Masters of the metal universe

The opening moments of Sweet Leaf may well contain the most perfect heavy metal riff of all time. The band’s third album, Master of Reality, is another brilliant, blacklit album of heavy metal, and nothing less than the listener’s soul hangs in the balance. It’s a battle between good and evil, and Black Sabbath doesn’t land decidedly on one side or the other. It could be a Christian lost in the wilderness of sin, or the devil convicting you of the hopelessness of your own salvation. It is, beyond a shadow of doubt, one of the darkest and heaviest albums of its time.

The opening “Sweet Leaf” starts out with a cough (presumably after too big a bong hit) and launches into a full front assault on the senses as Ozzy Osbourne sings the ultimate ode to marijuana. The next track, After Forever, cautions the listener to consider their immortal soul. The riff is so powerful, however, you might just miss the message. A very short bit of classical guitar, Embryo, is followed by the classic Children of the Grave. After five minutes of pounding fury, it ends with a truly spooky bit of synthesizers. The production on this album is markedly better on this album, with lots of overdubs and a sound that is, impossibly, both hazy and clear at the same time.

Side two starts with another classic guitar piece from Tony Iommi, Orchid. This is a device that Iommi would use on future albums, providing little oases of calmness before the next sonic apocalypse arrived. Lord of This World is some dark stuff indeed. As the music plods along like a tank, Geezer Butler’s lyrics are a condemnation of the world. I mean, “the soul I took from you was not even missed” is just bone-chilling. Into the Void is a return to the dark dreams of “Planet Caravan,” featuring Iommi on flute. It sounds like Uriah Heep, but that’s not a bad thing. The album closes with the crushing Solitude. The trio of this, “Children of the Grave” and “Sweet Leaf” is a miniature master’s class in how to construct a heavy metal riff.

The next two albums, Volume 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, lacked the biting crunch of their second and third albums. The first three albums, however, are established classics. Paranoid and Master of Reality in particular are stunning from end to end. In a Metal Hammer poll from 2015, Master of Reality was voted the greatest Sabbath album of all time. Of course, polls aren’t an exact science. Heaven and Hell came in third in that poll (behind Paranoid, naturally) and, as good as it is, there’s no way in hell that’s their third-best album.

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Original elpee version

A1. Sweet Leaf (5:02)
A2. After Forever (5:25)
A3. Embryo (Tony Iommi) (0:20)
A4. Children of the Grave (5:23)
B1. Orchid (Tony Iommi) (1:30)
B2. Lord of This World (5:24)
B3. Into the Void (6:12)
B4. Solitude (5:02)

Songs written by Tony Iommi/Geezer Butler/Bill Ward/Ozzy Osbourne unless noted.

Original 8-track version
A1. Sweet Leaf
A2. Orchid
A3. Lord of This World (beg)
B1. Lord of This World (concl)
B2. Children of the Grave
C1. Embryo
C2. Solitude
D1. After Forever
D2. Into the Void

CD reissue bonus track
9. Killing Yourself to Live (live)

Deluxe Edition bonus elpee
C1. Weevil Woman ‘71
C2. Sweet Leaf (studio outtake)
C3. After Forever (instrumental studio outtake)
C4. Children of the Grave (studio outtake)
D1. Children of the Grave (instrumental studio outtake)
D2. Orchid (studio outtake)
D3. Lord of This World (studio outtake)
D4. Solitude (studio outtake)
D5. Into the Void (studio outtake)

The Players

Geezer Butler (bass), Tony Iommi (lead guitar), Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), Bill Ward (drums). Produced by Rodger Bain; engineered by Colin Caldwell and Vic Smith.

The Pictures

Art direction by Mike Stanford. Design by Bloomsbury Group. Photography by Keef.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on July 21, 1971 in the UK, Australia and Germany (Vertigo, 6360 050), the US (Warner Bros., BS/M5/M8 2562) and France (Vertigo, 6321 003) with poster; reached #5 on the UK charts and #8 on the US charts (RIAA-certified 2X platinum record). “Orchid” appears at the end of side one on the original cassette version.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in January 1974 in the UK (WWA, WWA 08) and in 1974 in the US (Warner Bros., WS4-1887).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in February 1976 in the UK and the Netherlands (NEMS, NEL 6004).
  3. Re-issued on cassette in November 1985 in the UK (NEMS, NELMC 6004) and on elpee in 1985 in Germany (NEMS, CLALP 198).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in 1986 in the UK (Castle Classics, CLACD 198).
  5. Re-issued on elpee in 1987 in Yugoslavia (Jugodisk, LPS1115).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in 1987 in the US (Creative Sounds, 6004).
  7. Re-released on remastered compact disc on February 26, 1996 in the UK (Essential, EMS CD 303).
  8. Re-issued on limited edition remastered compact disc on September 18, 2000 in the UK (Castle, CMTCD005) with poster.
  9. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in 2002 in Japan (Victor, VICP-61712).
  10. Re-issued on compact disc in 2004 in Europe (Sanctuary, SMRCD033).
  11. Re-released as Deluxe Edition 2CD on June 29, 2009 in Europe (Sanctuary, 2701106) and 2LP in 2009 in Europe (Vertigo, P2701103LP) with 9 bonus tracks.
  12. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 2010 in the US (Rhino, R1 2562).
  13. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in 2010 in Europe (Sanctuary, 2730325).
  14. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in 2016 in the US (Rhino, RR2 2562).
  15. Re-issued as Deluxe Edition 2LP on January 22, 2016 in the US (Rhino, R1 552926) with 9 bonus tracks.

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