The first 2 albums may be seminal but quality-wise, Master of Reality is the band's first true classic. Whereas Black Sabbath was a heavy blues album and Paranoid was a psychedelic blues album, Master of Reality is the first real statement from the band that earned their coined 'heavy metal' tag. From the very onset, it's all chugging, down-tuned, fuzzy, big sounding riffs that are synonymous with what heavy metal is today. It is also really their only true heavy metal album, strangely as blues and rock and roll pervades most of their Ozzy catalogue. Later on Dehumanizer came close but not with the same bravado and simple genius that was found on this gem. Hearing it 25 years ago, in the midst of Metallica'a Black Album and the end of Iron Maiden's first triumphant reign, it did not seem out of place. In fact it towered over some of the greats that they influenced. In short, it is Metallica's Master of Puppets, Maiden's Number of the Beast and Slayer's Reign in Blood years before they had been written. That's how astounding it is.
'Sweet Leaf' explodes into life after the 'coughing' and displays one of the killerest riffs ever. From the very first note it is infectious. It's almost sexy it's that good. And the best part is that, as with the rest of the album, they do not mess with the formula. On later albums and even on the 2 preceding this tangents were gone off to and songs became lots of songs, which ruined the perfect innocence of just a simple, catchy riff. There are 2 riffs and that's it. And that's all you need. Classic. 'After Forever' is faster and not as perfect but is still an excellent, rumbling song that is 5 plus mins long but doesn't feel like it. A near perfect 2nd track. 'Embryo' lasts merely 20 seconds and is acoustic. It is slight but needed. Then 'Children of the Grave' does a 'Sweet Leaf'. It's a heavy metal, chug-festeroony, has a great title and is simple but better because of it.
'Orchid' is a nice minute and a half of acoustic niceties before 'Lord of this World' is unleashed. It is probably my least favourite of the bunch but it is still a presence to be reckoned with. It is slightly more tangential but is still true to the ethos of the album and chugs like a monster. 'Solitude' is a great song that, again, sticks to a melody and continues it. It's a ballad of sorts, has no crushing guitars, but it is sufficiently dark to be included. Not perfect but still great. 'Into the Void' is as classic as 'Sweet Leaf'. It's a storming way to end.
Possibly the best Sabbath album ever. Certainly my pick. It still sounds great today and would even hold its own against some of the metalcore that's so popular. Sabbath did it first. They veered off on a different course album by album, but their influence is felt in many of the now classic metal and heavy rock bands today; and this album is the reason.