Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)

Chapter 25. Number 3, Master of Reality

Paranoid went to No. 1 in the UK album charts and, although it hadn’t even been released in America yet, we did feel pressure when we had to come up with our next album, Master of Reality. Because once you’ve had a No. 1 album, where do you go? If you don’t go to No. 1 again, you’re not doing as good, so you’ve got to come up with songs that are going to make the next album at least equally as popular.

Management had us out on the road all the time, with weird schedules. Sometimes we did two shows a day, in different cities. We hardly had any breaks at all. Because of this, and because we didn’t have any songs lying around from previous studio sessions, we went into a rehearsal room and started writing them. I’d come up with riffs and once we got started we came up with songs quite easily. Sometimes it was a bit of a struggle to get enough for an album, because you needed some time to think about them and live with them. And we didn’t have that time. Especially after Paranoid. If we didn’t have enough songs for an album, we’d have to write an extra song in the studio. We’d add little guitar bits to songs as well, to extend them a bit. I also liked to come up with some instrumental guitar tracks, like ‘Embryo’, which serves as an intro to ‘Children Of The Grave’ on the Master of Reality album. It’s a little classical thing to give it all a little space and create some light and shade. If you listen to an album or even a song from start to finish and it’s all pounding away, you don’t notice the heaviness of it because there is no light in between it. And that’s why, sometimes in the middle of songs as well, I put a light part in, to make the riff sound heavy when it comes back in. ‘Orchid’ served a similar purpose, leading into ‘Lord Of This World’. It was just me on acoustic guitar, a nice little bit of calm before the storm to make the dynamics pop out. At first everybody thought, hmm, that’s a bit odd. But we liked doing stuff outside the box. We wouldn’t think, you can’t do that, you can’t do acoustic stuff, you can’t use orchestras, so we did much more than heavy stuff.

When we recorded Master of Reality in February and March 1971, I got quite involved in it and really started coming up with ideas. We did some stuff that we had never done before. On ‘Children Of The Grave’, ‘Lord Of This World’ and ‘Into The Void’ we tuned down three semitones. It was part of an experiment: tuning down together for a bigger, heavier sound. Back then all the other bands had rhythm guitarists or keyboards, but we made do with guitar, bass guitar and drums, so we tried to make them sound as fat as possible. Tuning down just seemed to give more depth to it. I think I was the first one to do that.

We just weren’t afraid to do something unexpected. Like ‘Solitude’, maybe the first love song we ever recorded. Ozzy had a delay on his voice, and he sang that quite nice. He has a really good voice for ballads. I’m playing the flute on that song as well. I tried all sorts of things in the course of doing albums, even though I couldn’t play them, and after being with Jethro Tull for that short stint, I thought I might try the flute. I did it only to a very amateurish extent, I must admit. But I’ve still got that flute.

We all played ‘Sweet Leaf ’ while stoned, as at that time we were doing a lot of dope. While I was recording an acoustic guitar bit for one of the other songs, Ozzy brought me a bloody big joint. He said: ‘Just have a toke on this one.’

I went: ‘No, no.’

But I did, and it bloody choked me. I coughed my head off, they taped that and we used it on the beginning of ‘Sweet Leaf’. How appropriate: coughing your way into a song about marijuana . . . and the finest vocal performance of my entire career!

‘Into The Void’ is one of my favourite songs from that line-up; ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ is my other one. The structure of those songs is really good, because they have lots of different colours, there’s lots of different stuff happening in them. ‘Into The Void’ has this initial riff that changes tempos in the song. I like that. I like something with interesting parts in it.

For Ozzy getting Geezer’s lyrics right wouldn’t always be easy. He certainly struggled on ‘Into The Void’. It has this slow bit, but then the riff where Ozzy comes in is very fast. Ozzy had to sing really rapidly: ‘Rocket engines burning fuel so fast, up into the night sky they blast’, quick words like that. Geezer had written all the words out for him.

‘Rocket wuhtuputtipuh, what the fuck, I can’t sing this!’

Seeing him try, it was hilarious.

Just like our previous albums Master of Reality had some controversial moments. ‘Sweet Leaf ’ upset some people because of the reference to drugs, and so did ‘After Forever’, thanks to Geezer’s tongue-in-cheek line ‘would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope’. The cover was unusual again as well: this time it just had words in purple and black on a black background. Slightly Spinal Tap-ish, only well before Spinal Tap. Although this time we were allowed two weeks to record the album, what with Rodger Bain producing and Tom Allom engineering again, musically Master of Reality was a continuation of Paranoid. At the time I thought the sound could’ve been a bit better. That’s the thing when you’re a musician: you like things to be a certain way, to sound a certain way, and therefore it’s difficult to leave it up to other people. When it goes into somebody else’s hands you’ve got no control over it, and when you hear it it’s not like you expected it to be. That’s why I got involved more and more after those first albums.