Master of Reality
By Raoul Hernandez, 1:41PM, Fri. Apr. 18, 2008
Lester Bangs’ critical brilliance thrashed for its all too doomed life with the post-Gonzo understanding that sometimes only unraveled psyches can express that which is essentially unexplainable. Mountain Goats herder John Darnielle took this to black heart in his treatise on Sabbath’s Master of Reality. Literally.
Over 50 titles now crowd the bookshelf of Continuum’s 33 1/3 series, the literary equivalent to Eagle Rock's Classic Album DVD issues. Novella-length booklets dedicated to aural Picasso’s including Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, MC5’s Kick Out the Jams, written by former Austin-American Statesman Don McCleese, and Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones, they’re appreciative by design, but more to the point, introductory. You thumb Prince’s Sign ‘O’ the Times on the one, but you read Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica to learn the by laws of his storied, avant-garde roots brotherhood. Darnielle’s Reality, meanwhile, straightjackets the essence of Black Sabbath where 40 years of music musings and cultural damnation have failed.
While 1970’s Black Sabbath amps the sound of rotting leaves, a gothic masterpiece of any artistic discipline, and follow-up Paranoid unleashes the UK quartet’s whole bat cave, from desert storm (“War Pigs”) to witches mass (“Fairies Wear Boots”), a Promethean lumber (“Iron Man”) leavened by its speeding Hearse title track, ‘71’s Master of Reality rules. Oat Willie's ringtone (“Sweet Leaf”), jackhammer salvation (“After Forever”), Iron Maiden template (“Children of the Grave”), Devil’s address (“Lord of this World”), and humanitarian manifesto (“In the Void”), third time’s the charm. Vol. 4 finally loosens the vehicle’s “Wheels of Confusion” and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath burns too much incense, but Darnielle’s right. Black Sabbath jelled on Master of Reality same as Geezer Butler’s “lime jello salad” bass lines on “Sweet Leaf.”
When “young and stoned and angry and cold” L.A. 16-year-old Roger Painter gets himself committed to the psyche ward of his parent’s choice, only a Master of Reality stain on his eardrums keeps him sane. Stealing back that same cassette from his backpack in the nurse’s station gets him sent up river to the State bughouse for two years, but it just might have been worth it. Painter’s mandated journal entries stop at that point, but a decade later, 1995, when he’s now a disaffected adult, his self-administered diary therapy resumes in an effort to sort out the strain. Only on the last screed, page 101, does Black Sabbath’s universal raison d’etre reveal itself. That’s also when the squirrelly folk dirges of Darnielle’s band the Mountain Goats start to make all the sense in the (under)world.