That’s My Jam is a feature where one person from the Selective Hearing staff goes to wax poetic about music that is pivotal to their musical tastes. Whether that would be an album, a song, or anything in-between. We all had to start somewhere.
Released: July 21st, 1971
- Sweet Leaf
- After Forever
- Embryo (Instrumental)
- Children of the Grave
- Orchid (Instrumental)
- Lord of This World
- Into the Void
Let’s take a trip back to 1971, when The Beatles had just broken up, the flower power and psychedelic rock movements were starting to fizzle out and disco or punk hadn’t taken hold or been created yet. Music was in a creative and transitionary period, and while Black Sabbath had already released their first two albums in 1970, signaling a new, much heavier direction for rock using the basis of hard blues/psychedelic rock, no one could expect the leap forward in atmosphere and musicality that would come with their third album, Master of Reality.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I wasn’t alive back when the album was released, so the story for me starts in about 1992 or 1993, when I first acquired an art-less and case-less copy of this album on a cassette tape for a few dollars from a flea market and threw it into my Walkman one weekend traveling out of town with my parents, after hearing stories from various places about how Black Sabbath was heavier and darker than all this other music I had been exposed to at this point.
By this point, I had heard mostly mainstream music from my parents or radio, including 1980s pop/glam and 1950s-1960s oldies, though I had started to listen to some music of my own by the early 90s, with early alternative and grunge, which lightly prepared my ears for the harsher, more aggressive sounds of heavier rock and metal, by this point, but had never ventured into hearing Sabbath’s music myself yet, and I wasn’t quite prepared.
The sounds that started flowing through my headphones when I played this tape were like nothing I had heard before. The opening notes of “Sweet Leaf” had such a rough and heavy sound without the clean, modern production of grunge and 90s rock, punctuated by groovy, heavy, attacking bass lines and some of the heaviest drum production I had ever heard, plodding the music forward with heavy snare hits, piercing cymbal hits, and a thudding bass drum sound that hit you like a punch in the chest.
Besides the insanely heavy music production for the time, including the gain-heavy distorted and de-tuned guitars (which was rare for the time,) and dark overtone, I also noticed that the vocal melodies and some of the lead guitar melodies were almost fun or playful, but also haunting at times, making an interesting contrast and juxtaposition in the music that threw me for a loop and opened my mind to the idea that music could transcend multiple different styles or emotions, even within the same song.
This trend continued with every track that followed on the album, with “After Forever” bringing more of this crushing heaviness with almost playful melodies and lyrics encouraging questioning the world and society around us. The next track, “Embryo” is a short, 30-second instrumental transition track with a life of its own, featuring only guitar tracks layered over each other with a jumpy, playful melody with just a slight dark sound to some of its progressions.
The song that “Embryo” leads into is one of the band’s most famous tracks and one that is often attributed to being the birth of what came to be called Heavy Metal music, and that is “Children of the Grave.” The song features a very strong, driving rhythm that rides on an open low-E string of the heavy gain-distorted guitar with a galloping rhythm, which soon came to be the guitar technique that led to some of the most iconic metal riffs of the next 50 years, and it all traces back to “Children.” To say the least, this song undoubtedly left its mark on the future of heavy music, in the same way it left a pretty strong impact on me when I first heard it.
After “Children” finishes out with around one minute of strange noises and voices that sound straight out of a horror movie, it flows right into the next song, “Orchid,” which is a beautiful, 90-second instrumental track with all acoustic guitars playing a sweet and somber melody until its conclusion, which also flows right into the next track, “Lord of this World.”
“Lord” is a track which is often attributed, along with the song “Black Sabbath” from their first album, to spawning a whole sub-genre of their own, and that would be called Doom Metal. Its slow, dark, groovy, blues-based heavy riffing became the sound that started a whole movement of slow, massive-sounding bands from the 1980s until today, and this song still holds up just as strong as the first day I heard it.
Afterward, we get the next song, “Solitude” which is a very slow, quiet, and somber track featuring non-distorted guitars, heavy bass, piano, and flute, along with vocalist Ozzy Osbourne’s sweet and sad-sounding vocal performance, providing another nice interlude in between the pounding, heavy tracks that the album features.
I’ve always loved the flow of this album and how each song fits right in with the others, and has this sort of concept in its structure, with the loud/quiet alternation between each song, making it feel like a rollercoaster of sound. The next song follows this very pattern perfectly, with the closing track of the album, “Into the Void,” coming right after the quiet calm of “Solitude.”
“Void” starts with a crawling, slow riff, full of heaviness that plods its way forward with the signature groove set up by “Lord of this World,” but quickly picks up the speed a few notches with the next riff for the verses, with a chunky, palm-muted riff before the vocals kick in.
After a few verses, the song completely switches gears and picks up for one of the fastest and most chaotic riffs ever recorded at the time of its release, taking off like a rocket, and also featuring an appearance of what would become another staple of heavy metal music, and that is extremely fast bass drum patterns that help power this riff forward. The insane lyrics about launching ships into black holes in space seem oddly appropriate here.
At the end of “Void,” the tempo slows down again back to one of the early riffs, almost like the landing of a space ship, coming down for a debrief, before launching into another up-tempo groove riff and guitar solo, closing out this monumental album.
Over the 20+ years since I first heard Master of Reality, I’ve revisited this album on CD and Vinyl and in many different iterations, including versions with many outtakes and alternate versions from the studio that were cut from the album, which also help gain an understanding of the process of how these legendary songs were crafted over time. To say the album was revolutionary and ahead of its time is a gross understatement, and it has held up in its nearly 50 years since its release extraordinarily well.
Seeing the massive amounts of music and bands this album inspired is almost merely a side-note to how good the album itself actually is to listen to, even after all these years, instead of failing to hold up with time, like many older works of music or film. Hearing this in the 90s definitely opened my mind to many ideas and sounds in music that influenced me as a musician and music listener going forward, and I’ve never looked back, so it only seems fitting to mention it as one of my jams, despite its very old age and possible irrelevance to many of our site readers.
If you have any interest in heavier rock of any kind, you’d do well to hear this for yourself if you never have, and you’ll also be experiencing a piece of rock/metal history at its origins, so you might learn a thing or two and recognize some of the styles and sounds that you’ve heard in more modern music, and never knew that Black Sabbath were the originators of. Until next time, keep your musical horizons open and follow what you enjoy.