Master of Reality is the third studio album by English heavy metal band Black Sabbath, released in August 1971 by Vertigo Records.[3] It is regarded by some critics as the foundation of doom metal, stoner rock, and sludge metal.[4] Produced by Rodger Bain, who also produced the band's prior two albums, Master of Reality was recorded at Island Studios in London from February to April 1971. Guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler downtuned their instruments during the production, achieving what Iommi called a "bigger, heavier sound".[5]

Master of Reality
Studio album by
ReleasedAugust 1971
Recorded7–15 February 1971
6–13 April 1971[1]
StudioIsland (London)
GenreHeavy metal
ProducerRodger Bain
Black Sabbath chronology
Master of Reality
Vol. 4
Singles from Master of Reality
  1. "Children of the Grave"
    Released: August 1971[2]

Master of Reality peaked at number five on the UK Albums Chart and number eight on the US Billboard 200.[6] Though negatively received by critics on release, the album is now considered one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time. It was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) after having sold over two million copies in the US.[7]

Recording edit

Master of Reality was recorded at Island Studios in London from February to April 1971. The album was produced by Rodger Bain, who had also produced Black Sabbath's previous two albums, with Tom Allom handling engineering.[8] This was to be Bain's final collaboration with Black Sabbath as guitarist Tony Iommi took over production for the band's next several albums. Drummer Bill Ward explained: "Previously, we didn't have a clue what to do in the studio, and relied heavily on Rodger. But this time we were a lot more together, understood what was involved and were more opinionated on how things should be done."[8]

On the tracks "Children of the Grave", "Lord of This World", and "Into the Void", Iommi downtuned his guitar 112 steps in an effort to reduce string tension, thus making the guitar less painful for him to play. This pain was the result of a factory accident years earlier in which he had the tips of two of his fingers severed.[9] The downtuning also helped the guitarist produce what he called a "bigger, heavier sound".[5] 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 Ozzy (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 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 Ward commented that Master of Reality was "an exploratory album". Ward elaborated in a 2016 interview with Metal Hammer magazine: "On the first album, we had two days to do everything, and not much more time for Paranoid. But now we could take our time, and try out different things. We all embraced the opportunity: Tony threw in classical guitar parts, Geezer's bass was virtually doubled in power, I went for bigger bass drums, also experimenting with overdubs. And Ozzy was so much better. But this was the first time when we didn't have gigs booked in, and could just focus on making the album a landmark."[8] 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 saying in the same interview: "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 and 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." The song "Solitude" showcases guitarist Iommi's multi-instrumental talents, featuring him playing guitar, flute, and piano.[10] A delay effect was later added to Osbourne's vocals on the song as a means of doubling the vocal track.

Composition edit

During the album's recording sessions, Osbourne brought Iommi a large joint which caused the guitarist to cough uncontrollably.[9] 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.[9] Iommi recalls "We all played 'Sweet Leaf' while stoned."[9] 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: "it's the sweetest leaf that gives you the taste" 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]

Butler, the band's primary lyricist, had a Catholic upbringing,[9] and the song "After Forever" 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.[9] "After Forever" was released as a single along with "Fairies Wear Boots" in 1971.[11]

Artwork edit

Re-released non-embossed cover

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". The labels of the album were different too, as Side A featured the infamous swirl label, although the black circles were white and the white circles black. Side B, which was the information label, was black with white writing instead of white with black writing. That variant of the Vertigo label was never to be used again thereafter.

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 coda 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.[12] Subsequent editions corrected the album's title and removed three of the four subtitles (all but "The Elegy").

Documentary edit

In May 2022, an unsanctioned documentary was released in the lead up to recording Master of Reality and its legacy.[13][14]

Reception and legacy edit

Retrospective professional reviews
Review scores
AllMusic     [15]
Christgau's Record GuideC−[16]
MusicHound Rock4.5/5[17]
Q     [18]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide (1992)     [19]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004)     [20]

Master of Reality peaked at number five on the UK Albums Chart,[23] and number eight in the United States,[24] where it achieved gold status on advance orders alone.[citation needed] It eventually sold two million copies in the US.[25] Despite the album's commercial success, it was viewed with disdain by contemporary music critics. In The Village Voice, Robert Christgau called it "a dim-witted, amoral exploitation."[26] Rolling Stone magazine's Lester Bangs described it as "monotonous" and hardly an improvement over its predecessor, although he found the lyrics more revealing because they offer "some answers to the dark cul-de-sacs of Paranoid."[27]

In 1994, Master of Reality was ranked number 28 in Colin Larkin's Top 50 Heavy Metal Albums. Larkin described it as Sabbath's "first real international breakthrough" and "a remarkable piece of work".[28] 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".[17] In 2001, Q included it 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."[29] A critic for the magazine cited it as "the most cohesive record of [the band's] first three albums."[18] In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked the album number 298 in their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time,[30] 300 in a 2012 revised list,[31] and 234 in a 2020 revised list.[32] They described the album as representing "the greatest sludge-metal band of them all in its prime."[33] The same magazine also ranked the album 34th on its "100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time".[34] Billy Corgan, leader of The Smashing Pumpkins, considered Master of Reality the album that "spawned grunge". Black Sabbath and especially Master of Reality was a huge influence of the 1990s stoner rock / Desert Rock scenes in the UK and the US, bands like Kyuss, Monster Magnet, Sleep, and Orange Goblin have cited Sabbath and Master of Reality as a defining album of that genre.[35] John Stanier, drummer for Helmet and Tomahawk, cited the record as the one that inspired him to become a musician.[36] 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."

In 2017, Ward ranked Master of Reality as his favorite Black Sabbath album that he has ever worked on.[37]

Track listing edit

Original UK LP Pressing edit

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

Side A, Standard Edition
1."Sweet Leaf"5:05
2."After Forever"5:27
3."Embryo" (Instrumental)0:28
4."Children of the Grave"5:18
Total length:16:18
Side B
5."Orchid" (Instrumental)1:31
6."Lord of This World"5:27
8."Into the Void"6:13
Total length:18:13 34:29

Original US LP Pressing edit

Side A
1."Sweet Leaf"5:02
2."After Forever (Including The Elegy)"5:25
4."Children of the Grave"4:30
5."The Haunting"0:45
Total length:16:11
Side B
7."Step Up"0:30
8."Lord of This World"4:55
11."Into the Void"3:08
Total length:18:13 34:30

Note that, while the overall timing of "Deathmask/Into the Void" is approximately correct, the apportioning of time between the two parts of the song may be arbitrary, as the 3:08 mark occurs during "Into the Void"'s middle-8 vocal section ("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

1."Sweet Leaf"5:02
2."After Forever (Including The Elegy)"5:25
4."Children of the Grave"5:15
Total length:16:12
Side B
6."Lord of This World"4:55
8."Into the Void"3:08
Total length:18:11 34:29

Note that the timing of "Orchid" on revised US pressings is incorrect: it includes the "Step Up" introductory section of "Lord of This World." The timing of "Solitude" on these pressings is also incorrect, as it includes the first half of "Into the Void", whereas the timings of "Deathmask" and "Into the Void" from the original US pressing 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.[38] However, the songs are not indexed on the CD using those timings – the breaks between songs are correctly 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
1."Sweet Leaf"5:05
2."After Forever"5:27
4."Children of the Grave"5:18
6."Lord of This World"5:27
8."Into the Void"6:13
Total length:34:29
Disc Two (Bonus Tracks)
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
Total length:41:29

Personnel edit

Charts edit

Certifications edit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[56] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[57] Gold 100,000
United States (RIAA)[58] 2× Platinum 2,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Release history edit

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

References edit

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Bibliography edit

External links edit