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Master Of Reality

Vertigo (1971)
Rating: 9.5/10

Album number three from Black Sabbath and boy, these guys just don’t let up. Suddenly the sound is darker, dirtier, the instruments down-tuned to create some type of cosmic sludge as ‘Sweet Leaf’ bludgeons the senses like some drug-induced dragon.

Master Of Reality is suddenly the heaviest album on the planet; stoned on doom and lost love it writhes like the greatest concrete serpent that ever lived – and still does – crushing towns in its wake.

The muscular coils here are once again created by Tony Iommi’s monolithic riffs, Geezer Butler’s bellowing bass, Bill Ward’s drums of doom and Ozzy Osbourne’s foghorn yowl. Just when you thought the band couldn’t come up with more classics ‘Sweet Leaf’ jerks the system, hitting the ears with what can best be described as music’s most endearing and known “cough” before the slug-like riff enters the arena. Once again Black Sabbath are infectious, accessible and yet so darn brooding.

‘After Forever’ lightens the mood. It’s a pacey, spaced-out blues affair featuring some of Geezer Butler’s best lyrics; this time around he muses over religious themes as the drums and bass clank along. As a track it’s one of Black Sabbath’s most direct, lacking the ominous weight of others yet still as potent. However, those of you who thought that Sabbath had wimped out would’ve no doubt been surprised by the medieval style brief jig of ‘Embryo’, but the smiles are soon wiped from the faces as ‘Children Of The Grave’ chugs in with sinister aplomb.

Three albums in and we’re wondering where Tony Iommi plucks all those riffs from, while lyrically it’s further war-torn commentary, condemning friction and yet still sounding like the sort of track that soldiers would march to war with. Ward’s drums are once again pummelling, as is Butler’s bass, and a few seconds before the three-minute mark we’re treated to one of Sabbath’s darkest ever episodes – a brief stint into the underworld of black riffage.

By the time we’ve flipped over to side two for a breath we’re treated to the folky and serene nature of ‘Orchid’, a brief instrumental that leads us into the gloom of ‘Lord Of This World’. Once again it’s a multi-levelled kingdom of doom, a track which trudges at mid-pace, Ozzy’s vocal laced with a mesmeric effect as Ward trundles along with bone-splintering effect.

Moments later the danger seems to have passed as ‘Solitude’ drifts in on a summer breeze, a mere whisper on the wind as flute accompanies a strumming guitar. “Sunshine is far away, clouds linger on”, Ozzy sighs, Sabbath once again hypnotizing us with their moody magic, this time around providing wistful structures and folky dynamics until the yawning ‘Into The Void’ blocks out the sun. It’s another slow motion chugger that typifies that Black Sabbath sound, drawing to a close what is without doubt the band’s weightiest album – even with those dreamy folk-inspired moments.

Neil Arnold

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