Master of Reality was a turning point for Black Sabbath. While Ozzy Osbourne was still at the top of his game as a vocalist, the band’s arrangements began to shift permanently away from their bluesier roots and towards what we now recognise as heavy metal.
“On the first album, we had two days to do everything, and not much more time for Paranoid,” Bill Ward observed in 2016. “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.”
Most of that came courtesy of Tony Iommi. The guitarist had already been experimenting with detuning his guitar strings, largely to lighten the load on his metallically chopped-off fingertips, and took things to the extreme on Master of Reality. Songs like ‘Into the Void’ and ‘Lord of This World’ featured guitars and basses tuned three full semitones down to create a muddy and heavy thud of notes.
Another song that featured the extreme detuned guitars was ‘Children of the Grave’. A harrowing tale of war and death, ‘Children of the Grave’ features a death march of a riff as its intro and only gets heavier from there. Over the top of the booming backing track, Osbourne lays down one of his most iconic vocal tracks.
In his autobiography I Am Ozzy, Osbourne unsurprisingly couldn’t remember much from the recording of Master of Reality. Osbourne’s memories were admittedly blurry, “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.”
Master of Reality would prove to be the start of a new era for Black Sabbath, even though Iommi found that it also represented the band getting too comfortable in the studio. “During Master of Reality, we started getting more experimental and began taking too much time to record,” Iommi said in 1992. “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.”