I’m no metal fanatic, but I can appreciate a good, loud, heavy song. I grew up with metal being personified by bands like Metallica and Slayer, and that’s the brand of metal I’m generally drawn to when I want things a little louder and heavier than usual. But I realised something recently, I’ve never really gone back to the genre’s roots. I’ve never actively listened to bands like Iron Maiden, or Black Sabbath. So today, I corrected one of those mistakes by cranking up some Sabbath with Master of Reality.
While the metal of the 80s was all about explosions of speed and aggression, Black Sabbath offer a much sludgier, measured and grinding approach with album opener Sweet Leaf. There’s a brief relief of blistering guitar and drum work in the middle, but for the most part, it’s more ominous and foreboding than it is assaultive. With a little more energy and what would become a more common style of metal riffage, After Forever also brings in a hint of trippy psychedelia with its dancing bass guitar and Ozzy Osborne’s comically “spooky” vocal delivery.
Sometimes with classic albums that I’m discovering long after the fact, it can be hard to hear what made them stand out so long ago, and still stand out today. But when the opening quartet of Master of Reality was rounded out with the drivingly infectious Children of the Grave, I totally understood why Sabbath were embraced then, and revered now. It’s just good, camp, fun. It also makes me realise that while metal of the 80s was made by meat headed speed freaks, its 70s origins sound more like it was made by dudes who would otherwise be playing Dungeons and Dragons.
After the surprisingly tender instrumental of Orchid, the Sabbath boys find room for a bit of swing and groove in their patented sludge on Lord of This World. Then it’s time to bust out the panpipes on the floating Solitude. But it’s back to the more common durge to close things out on the nightmarish Into the Void.
Less metal album and more soundtrack to a nerdy and cheesily violent movie about warlocks, magic totems and fights with goblins, Master of Reality was in no way the record I expected, but in every way a record I really enjoyed. Either they weren’t taking themselves seriously at all, or they were taking themselves way too seriously. Either way, the end result is charmingly corny, while rocking hard at the same time.