Earlier I posted a get well to Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi based on yesterday’s news that he is battling lymphoma. That got me feeling a little introspective about how much Black Sabbath has contributed to the good things in my life. Would there have been heavy metal without Black Sabbath? Maybe there would be, maybe not. But if there was, it would certainly be a different beast than the one we enjoy today. So for everything Tony and the rest of Sabbath have given us, I say thank you.
A lot of people cite the first album or “Vol. 4” as their favorite Sabbath album, but not me, I’m all about “Master of Reality”, which is rather ironic given that I didn’t really like the album when I first bought it. I remember I was living in Michigan and my school did a 7th grade trip to Toronto which involved a long bus ride, a hotel, and chaperones. I’m not sure how I got talked into this trip as that sort of school activity was really not my thing. But off I went and I remember really hating the trip. However, my parents had given me some money for food and essentials and somehow I found myself in a position to buy music. I think we may have been given the opportunity to buy souvenirs or something and instead I used the chance to buy some music north of the border.
I snagged the cassette version of “Master of Reality” which quickly made its way into my ever-present Walkman. I remember thinking it was weird because the cassette casing was black with white text rather than the white or beige case with black text that I was used to. At the time the album didn’t do much for me; I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it yet. That would come later. Sure, I liked the songs that I already knew from the “We Sold Our Soul For Rock and Roll” compilation (“Sweet Leaf” and “Children of the Grave”) but the rest of the songs, not so much.
It wasn’t until my late teens or early twenties that the true greatness of “Master of Reality” became clear. I mean, hello, “Lord of this World” is a killer track and one of my all time favorites. You hear it on the radio once in awhile, and Corrosion of Conformity did a killer cover of it for the “Nativity in Black” compilation.
Part of my initial discontent with the album may have been the two instrumental tracks, “Embryo” and “Orchid.” I had no patience for tracks like those at 13-14. Now I think they are cool little classically influenced baroque-like interludes that refresh the palette between tracks of monster riffage.
Whenever anyone would go on a rant about how Black Sabbath or Ozzy were purveyors of devil music I would just shake my head and point to “After Forever.” Maybe this song was a response to the people who were giving them a hard time, I don’t know, but this song basically smacks you in the face and tells you what a fool you are if you haven’t seen the light. They actually say the words “God is the only way to love.” I’m not a religious person but this is about the most anti-devil worship song I know this side of Stryper. I think it’s more of a layman’s perspective of God, which is cool, I can relate to that.
This leaves the last two songs on the album, “Into the Void” and “Solitude.” I’ve never been all that excited by “Into the Void”, but it does have some really cool guitar work. I tend to skip over it in my haste to get to “Solitude.” There’s nothing particularly metal about this song and it really surprised me when I heard it. This is the prettiest thing I’ve ever heard Ozzy sing. It’s slow and peaceful and practically New Age spa music. But it’s also one of my all time favorite Sab tunes. I can only think of maybe one or two other songs that I have ever heard that come close to touching the pure melancholy of this song. I don’t know what they wrote it about, but it touches on the loss of someone, probably a lover but it’s vague enough to be used with anyone, and how achingly alone they are in the resulting solitude. I break out this song when I’m at my lowest moments, which is probably why I have such a sentimental feeling towards it. Back in the day when I played I attempted my own recording of this song, but I couldn’t even hint at the greatness of the original.
So there you have it, my two cents on what I consider the greatest Black Sabbath album. Though that’s really like saying which of your children is your favorite. As soon as I name “Master of Reality” my favorite album I think of songs like “Snow Blind” and “Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath” and feel guilt over not including those related albums as well. It’s tough, because Black Sabbath has given us such a wealth of classic heavy metal music. I’m looking forward to the currently-in-the-works Sabbath album as one more jewel in their crown.