Master of Reality

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Master of Reality
Studio album by Black Sabbath
Released 21 July 1971
Recorded February – April 1971 at Island Studios in London, England
Genre Heavy metal
Length 34:29
Language English
Label Vertigo
Producer Rodger Bain
Black Sabbath chronology
Paranoid
(1970)
Master of Reality
(1971)
Vol. 4
(1972)

Master of Reality is the third album by the English heavy metal band Black Sabbath, released in July 1971. It is credited as the foundation of doom, stoner and sludge metal.[1] Master of Reality was certified double platinum after having sold over 2 million copies.

Recording[edit]

Master of Reality was recorded at Island Studios, in London, during February and April 1971. The album was produced by Rodger Bain, who had also produced their previous two albums; this was be his final collaboration with the band.

On the tracks "Children of the Grave", "Lord of This World" and "Into the Void", guitarist Tony Iommi downtuned his guitar three semi-tones to produce what he referred to as a "bigger, heavier sound".[2] This also reduced string tension, thus making the guitar less painful for him to play; Iommi had two of his fingers partially severed in a factory accident years earlier.[3] Geezer Butler also downtuned his bass guitar to match Iommi. "It helped with the sound, too," Butler explained to Guitar for the Practicing Musician in 1994. "Then it got to the point where we tuned even lower to make it easier vocal-wise. But Osbourne would then sing higher so it sort of defeated the object." In the 2013 biography of the band Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe, Mick Wall writes that "the Sabbath sound took a plunge into even greater darkness. Bereft even of reverb, leaving their sound as dry as old bones dug up from some desert burial plot, the finished music's brutish force would so alarm the critics they would punish Sabbath in print for being blatantly thuggish, purposefully mindless, creepy and obnoxious. Twenty years later groups like Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden and, particularly, Nirvana, would excavate the same heaving-lung sound...and be rewarded with critical garlands. "In his autobiography I Am Ozzy, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne states that he cannot remember much about recording Master Of Reality "apart from the fact that Tony detuned his guitar to make it easier to play, Geezer wrote 'Sweet Leaf' about all the dope we'd been smoking, and 'Children Of The Grave' was the most kick-ass song we'd ever recorded."

In the liner notes to the 1998 live album Reunion, drummer Bill Ward commented that Master of Reality was "an exploratory album." In 2013, Mojo magazine called Master of Reality "...the sound of a band becoming increasingly comfortable in their studio surroundings." Iommi believes the band might have become too comfortable, however, telling Guitar World in 1992, "During Master of Reality, we started getting more experimental and began taking too much time to record. Ultimately, I think it really confused us. Sometimes I think I’d really like to go back to the way we recorded the first two albums. I’ve always preferred just going into the studio and playing, without spending a lot of time rehearsing or getting sounds." The song "Into The Void" was especially problematic, with Iommi revealing in the same inetrview, "We tried recording 'Into The Void' in a couple of different studios because Bill just couldn’t get it right. Whenever that happened, he would start believing that he wasn’t capable of playing the song. He’d say, 'To hell with it — I’m not doing this!' There was one track like that on every album, and 'Into the Void' was the most difficult one on Master of Reality." In his autobiography Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath, Iommi describes the difficulty Osbourne also experienced recording the vocal: ""It has this slow bit, but then the riff where Osbourne comes in is very fast. Osbourne had to sing really rapidly: 'Rocket engines burning fuel so fast, up into the night sky they blast', quick words like that. Geezer had written all the words out for him...Seeing him try was hilarious."

Composition[edit]

During recording sessions Osbourne brought Iommi a large joint which caused the guitarist to cough uncontrollably.[2] Iommi was recording acoustic guitar parts at the time, and his coughing fit was captured on tape: a fragment of Iommi's coughing was later added by producer Bain as the intro to "Sweet Leaf", a song which was admittedly an ode to marijuana use.[2] Iommi recalls "We all played "Sweet Leaf" while stoned."[2] In an interview with Guitar World in 2001 Butler recalled, "I do remember writing 'Sweet Leaf' in the studio. I'd just come back from Dublin, and they'd had these cigarettes called Sweet Afton, which you could only get in Ireland. We were going, 'What could we write about?' I took out this cigarette packet, and as you opened it, it's got on the lid, 'The Sweetest Leaf You Can Buy!' I was like, 'Ah, Sweet Leaf!'" Writing in Mojo in 2013, Phil Alexander observed, "To most it is the quintessential stoner anthem, a point borne out by Sabbath's own Olympian consumption of hashish during their early days." In the Black Sabbath concert film The Last Supper, Ward ruminates, "Did it enhance the music? Well, you know, we wrote 'Sweet Leaf' ... 'When I first met you/didn't realize', that's about meeting marijuana, having a relationship with marijuana ... That was part of our lifestyle at that time."[citation needed]

Although the album jacket credits Iommi alone as the composer of "After Forever", Iommi admits that the song's lyrics were in fact composed by Butler.[2][4] Butler was (and remains) a Catholic[2] and the song focuses entirely on Christian themes. At the time, Black Sabbath were suspected by some observers of being Satanists due to their dark sound, image, and lyrics.[2] "After Forever" was released as a single along with "Fairies Wear Boots" in 1971.[5][6]

The song "Solitude" showcases guitarist Iommi's multi-instrumental talents, featuring him playing guitar, flute, and piano.[7] A delay effect was later added to Osbourne's vocals on the song as a means of doubling the vocal track.

Artwork[edit]

The vinyl release of Master of Reality used black-on-black raised lettering for the album's title.

The first editions of Master of Reality came in an 'envelope sleeve' containing a poster of the band, and with the album's title embossed in black lettering, visible in relief. Later editions lacking the embossed printing would render the album title in grey. This was the first Black Sabbath sleeve on which the lyrics were reproduced on the back of the sleeve. In his autobiography Iommi describes the cover as "Slightly Spinal Tap-ish, only well before Spinal Tap."

On the first North American editions of the album, several songs had subtitles given to segments, making it appear that there were more songs than there actually were. The intro of "After Forever" was given the title "The Elegy", the outro of "Children of the Grave" was called "The Haunting", the intro of "Lord of This World" was titled "Step Up", and the intro of "Into the Void" called "Deathmask". This treatment had also been used on the North American editions of Black Sabbath's previous two albums. These pressings also incorrectly listed the album title as Masters of Reality. Subsequent editions corrected the album's title and removed three of the four subtitles (all but "The Elegy").

Reception and legacy[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[8]
Robert Christgau C−[9]
MusicHound 4.5/5 stars[10]
Q 5/5 stars[11]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 4/5 stars[12]
Sputnikmusic 4/5[13]

Master of Reality peaked at number five on the UK Albums Chart,[14] and at number eight in the United States,[15] where it achieved Gold status on advance orders alone.[citation needed] It eventually sold two million copies in the US.[16] Despite the album's immediate commercial success, it was viewed with disdain by several contemporary music critics. In his review for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau called the album "a dim-witted, amoral exploitation".[9] Rolling Stone magazine's Lester Bangs described its music as "monotonous" and hardly an improvement over Paranoid, although he found the lyrics more revealing because they offer "some answers to the dark cul-de-sacs of Paranoid".[17]

In 1994, Master of Reality was ranked number 28 in Colin Larkin's Top 50 Heavy Metal Albums. Larkin described it as Black Sabbath's "first real international breakthrough" and "a remarkable piece of work".[18] Writing in MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide (1999), authors Gary Graff and Daniel Durcholz described the album as a "brilliant skull crusher", singling out "Children of the Grave" and "Sweet Leaf" as "timeless" tracks.[10] In 2001, Q included the album in their list of the 50 Heaviest Albums of All Time, calling it "malevolent ... casting Black Sabbath as a Titanic-style house band on the eve of Armageddon, cranking it as the bomb drops."[19] A critic for the magazine cited it as "the most cohesive record of [the band's] first three albums."[11] In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the album number 298 in their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[20] They described the album as representing "the greatest sludge-metal band of them all in its prime".[21] Billy Corgan, the leader of The Smashing Pumpkins, considered Master of Reality the album that "spawned grunge".[22] John Stanier, drummer for Helmet and Tomahawk, cited the record as the one that inspired him to become a musician.[23] In 2013, Sabbath biographer Mick Wall praised Iommi's "ability to incorporate more neat riffs and sudden unexpected time-changes in one song than most bands would contemplate on an entire album."

Cover versions[edit]

Songs from Master of Reality have been covered by a variety of bands.

"After Forever" has been covered by Biohazard for Nativity in Black, a Black Sabbath tribute album,[24] Aurora Borealis for Hell Rules: Tribute to Black Sabbath, Vol. 2, Deliverance on their 1992 album What a Joke, and by the hardcore band Shelter on their 1992 album Quest for Certainty. Frost Like Ashes on their debut EP Pure As the Blood Covered Snow. The song "Solitude" was covered by English doom metal band Cathedral as a bonus track for the European version of the 1994 Black Sabbath tribute album Nativity in Black, and later by Norwegian group Ulver on their 2007 album Shadows of the Sun.[25] White Zombie covered "Children of the Grave" on Nativity in Black, spawning a single for Nativity in Black. Racer X, Earth Crisis and Neurosis have all covered the song as well. "Into the Void" was covered in 1995 by stoner rock band Kyuss and released on the 1997 split EP Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age, and by Soundgarden on their EP Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas. Soundgarden's version featured new lyrics derived from the words of Chief Seattle.[26] "Sweet Leaf" was covered by Alice in Chains in a live performance in Cincinnati on August 1991 and by Godsmack as a bonus track for the Japanese special edition of their 2000 album Awake and for the second volume of the Nativity in Black series. The riff from "Sweet Leaf" was used as the basis for the Butthole Surfers' song "Sweat Loaf", from the album Locust Abortion Technician. Thrash metal band Anthrax, at the end of their cover of another Black Sabbath song, "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" from their 1987 EP I'm the Man, launch into an abbreviated version of "Sweet Leaf" which fades to silence after several seconds. That same riff is referenced near the end of "Give It Away" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.[27] "Sweet Leaf" has also been covered by American metal band Ugly Kid Joe on their first release, As Ugly as They Wanna Be, and by Baltimore hardcore band Next Step Up on their 1995 album, Fall From Grace. Riffs from "Sweet Leaf" and "Into the Void" feature in a live recording of a Black Sabbath medley performed by Candlemass in 1988. The medley was released as a track on the bonus CD accompanying the 2003 re-release of their debut album, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. Estonian band Rondellus, in their tribute album Sabbatum, covered the songs "After Forever" and "Solitude" in Medieval style with lyrics translated into Latin. "After Forever" is retitled "Post Aeternitatem" (literally, "After Eternity"), and is sung by a choir of male voices. "Solitude" is sung by male and female voices, accompanied by positive organ.Exhorder covered the song "Into The Void" on their album The Law released in 1992. Stoner doom metal band Sleep covered "Lord of this World" on their EP Volume Two. Grindcore band Brutal Truth made a cover of this song on their EP Perpetual Conversion. Also, Corrosion of Conformity recorded a version for Nativity in Black.

In popular culture[edit]

Several bands are named after songs on Master of Reality, or the album itself. Syracuse, New York hard rock band Masters of Reality, who enjoyed moderate success in the 1990s, took their name from the album title. Metal bands After Forever and Orchid take their name from the album tracks of the same name.[28] Mountain Goats leader John Darnielle wrote a short novel for the 33⅓ book series with Master of Reality as a central theme. The book is written in the form of a diary of a young man who has been committed to a mental health treatment facility, and how the teen relates to the world through the songs on the album.[29] The song "Solitude" was featured as the leitmotif of main character, Zombie, in the 1991 motion picture Zombie ja Kummitusjuna (Zombie and The Ghost Train) by Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki.[30] Future Black Sabbath producer Rick Rubin sampled Sweet Leaf's main guitar riff in producing the Beastie Boys' 1986 song "Rhymin' and Stealin'".[31] The track "Into the Void" was featured at the beginning of episode 23 (entitled Hog Heaven) of the ninth season of the television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.[citation needed]

Track listing[edit]

Original LP[edit]

All music composed by Black Sabbath (Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne, Bill Ward), except "Embryo", "Orchid", and "After Forever" by Iommi; all lyrics by Butler.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Sweet Leaf"   5:05
2. "After Forever"   5:27
3. "Embryo" (instrumental) 0:28
4. "Children of the Grave"   5:18
Side two
No. Title Length
5. "Orchid" (instrumental) 1:31
6. "Lord of This World"   5:27
7. "Solitude"   5:02
8. "Into the Void"   6:13

Original US LP Pressing[edit]

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Sweet Leaf"   5:02
2. "After Forever (including The Elegy)"   5:25
3. "Embryo"   0:29
4. "Children of the Grave"   4:30
5. "The Haunting"   0:45
Side two
No. Title Length
6. "Orchid"   1:30
7. "Step Up"   0:30
8. "Lord of This World"   4:55
9. "Solitude"   5:02
10. "Deathmask"   3:08
11. "Into the Void"   3:08

Note that, while the overall timing of "Deathmask/Into the Void" is approximately correct, the apportioning of time of "Deathmask" to "Into the Void" may be arbitrary, as the 3:08 mark of the song falls during "Into the Void"'s middle-8 vocal ("Freedom fighters sent off to the sun ..."). The revised US pressing timings, shown below, compound this likely error.

Revised US LP Pressing, with Subtitles Removed[edit]

No. Title Length
1. "Sweet Leaf"   5:02
2. "After Forever (Including The Elegy)"   5:25
3. "Embryo"   0:30
4. "Children of the Grave"   5:15
Side two
No. Title Length
5. "Orchid"   2:00
6. "Lord of this World"   4:55
7. "Solitude"   8:08
8. "Into the Void"   3:08

Note that the timing of "Orchid" on revised US pressings is incorrect, as it includes the "Step Up" introductory section of "Lord of This World." The timing of "Solitude" on these pressings is similarly incorrect, as it includes the first half of "Into the Void"; the timings of "Deathmask" and "Into the Void" should have been grouped instead.

US-made compact disc pressings of Master of Reality continue to list the incorrect timings of the Revised US LP pressing on the CD booklet.[32] The songs are not indexed on the CD using those timings, however, with breaks between songs properly placed.

2009 Deluxe Edition[edit]

A two-disc deluxe edition was released in the UK on 29 June 2009 and in the US on 14 July 2009 as an import. This deluxe edition was remastered by Andy Pearce who also did the deluxe editions of Black Sabbath and Paranoid.

Disc one
No. Title Length
1. "Sweet Leaf"   5:05
2. "After Forever"   5:27
3. "Embryo"   0:28
4. "Children of the Grave"   5:18
5. "Orchid"   1:31
6. "Lord of This World"   5:27
7. "Solitude"   5:02
8. "Into the Void"   6:13
Disc two (Bonus tracks)
No. Title Length
1. "Weevil Woman '71"   3:00
2. "Sweet Leaf" (studio outtake featuring alternative lyrics) 5:04
3. "After Forever" (studio outtake – instrumental) 5:20
4. "Children of the Grave" (studio outtake featuring alternative lyrics) 4:36
5. "Children of the Grave" (studio outtake – instrumental) 6:01
6. "Orchid" (studio outtake – with Tony count-in) 1:41
7. "Lord of this World" (studio outtake featuring piano & slide guitar) 5:38
8. "Solitude" (studio outtake – intro with alternative guitar tuning) 3:35
9. "Spanish Sid (Early Version of 'Into The Void')" (studio outtake – alternative version) 6:24

Personnel[edit]

  • Keef – photography, poster design
  • Mike Stanfod – art direction

Certifications[edit]

Release history[edit]

Region Date Label Format Catalog
United Kingdom 21 July 1971 Vertigo LP 6360 050
1992 Castle CD CA198
United States July 1971 Warner Bros. LP BS-2562
12 May 1987 CD 2562-2
UK remastered 29 March 2009 Sanctuary double CD 2701108

See also[edit]


Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Taylor 2006, pg. 199, "Some say that Master of Reality was the first stoner rock album."
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Iommi, Tony (2011). Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-30681-9551. 
  3. ^ VH1: Heavy the Story of Metal, Part One.
  4. ^ Black Box: The Complete Original Black Sabbath (1970–1978) (Media notes). Black Sabbath. Rhino Records. 2004. 
  5. ^ "BLACK SABBATH DISCOGRAPHY v.5.0". Retrieved 14 March 2009. 
  6. ^ ""After Forever" single cover". Retrieved 14 March 2009. 
  7. ^ "Black Sabbath online". Retrieved 15 March 2009. 
  8. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Review Master of Reality". Allmusic. Retrieved 8 September 2009. 
  9. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (12 December 1971). "Consumer Guide (21)". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  10. ^ a b Graff, Gary; Durchholz, Daniel (1999). MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide. Visible Ink Press. p. 115. ISBN 978-1-57859-061-2. 
  11. ^ a b "Review: Master of Reality". Q (London): 122. January 2001. 
  12. ^ "Black Sabbath: Album Guide". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 5 June 2012. 
  13. ^ Stagno, Mike. "Review Master of Reality". Sputnikmusic.com. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  14. ^ "UK chart history – Black Sabbath Master of Reality". www.chartstats.com. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 11 October 2011. 
  15. ^ "Allmusic Billboard albums". Retrieved 28 January 2009. 
  16. ^ Pesselnick, Jill (18 August 2001). J Amasses Certifications. Billboard. p. 47. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  17. ^ Bangs, Lester (25 November 1971). "Review Master of Reality". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media. Retrieved 3 March 2011. 
  18. ^ Larkin, Colin (1994). Guinness Book of Top 1000 Albums (1 ed.). Gullane Children's Books. p. 188. ISBN 978-0-85112-786-6. 
  19. ^ "50 Heaviest Albums of All Time". Q (London): 86. July 2001. 
  20. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media. 18 November 2003. Archived from the original on 6 January 2007. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  21. ^ Levy, Joe, ed. (2005). Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (first ed.). Wenner Books. p. 180. ISBN 978-1-932958-61-4. 
  22. ^ "Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins talks about the records that changed his life". starla.org. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  23. ^ Billboard, Vol. 105, Num. 21, 22 May 1993, p.80
  24. ^ Siegler, Joe (12 February 2009). "'After Forever' Cover by Bio Hazard". Black-Sabbath.com. Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  25. ^ "Ulver". Retrieved 15 March 2009. 
  26. ^ "Soundgarden". Guitar for the Practicing Musician. December 1992.
  27. ^ Torreano, Bradley. "Black Sabbath - Sweet Leaf". Allmusic. Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  28. ^ Garry Sharpe-Young, New Wave of American Heavy Metal, Zonda Books Limited 2005, ISBN 0-9582684-0-1, ISBN 978-0-9582684-0-0
  29. ^ Information of 33 1/3 book. 31 January 2008. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
  30. ^ "Soundtracks". Retrieved 15 March 2009. 
  31. ^ Raul Pollicino. "Information on the song Rhymin' and Stealin'. Includes list of samples.". Beastiemania.com. Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  32. ^ Master of Reality album booklet
  33. ^ "RIAA Gold & Platinum database". Retrieved 28 January 2009. 
  34. ^ "CRIA certified awards". Retrieved 8 February 2009. 

References[edit]

  • Taylor, Steve (2006). A to X of Alternative Music. Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-8217-1.