This is the first of a very large batch. . .
Black Sabbath — Master of Reality (1971)
Super nice vinyl reissue on Rhino that even replicates the embossed cover and includes a print of the original poster that came with the album. Never really been into these guys for a lot of the same reasons I've struggled in the past with the Police and u2 — I only knew what they became, not what they initially were. And, just like with u2 and the Police, I've found that I've unfairly judged Black Sabbath mostly based on Ozzy's solo shenanigans. This is heavy, sludgy riffing stuff. I know they were initially a heavy blues rock outfit, but by the time of this album (their third), all of the blues had been stripped away in favor of a low end, throbbing buzz. Check 'Children of the Grave' for an example of just how anthemic they get here. Tony Iommi's C# guitar tuning only seems to magnify the lowness of these songs, but there's also a sense to this album that it's the band's most diverse to date. The short classical guitar instrumental 'Orchid' is arguably the prettiest thing the band did in those early years, while the spooky ballad 'Solitude' hits a surprisingly introspective note. For the most part though, they stick to the slow and heavy riffs and the way they do so with such dynamics is what's really impressive. The labyrinthine, nearly mathematical shapes that their riffs conjure on the closer 'Into the Void' are just pure dork candy (which is obviously why I like it).
Black Sabbath — self-titled (1970)
The first, eponymously titled track on this album is such a classic of rock music, I can't even begin to convey how important it is — nevermind how genuinely affecting it is, approaching downright disturbing by the time Ozzy pathetically flails away, "Please god, help me!!!" The band still has a bit of a blues stomp in them at this point, and even though they were probably the heaviest thing going then, they were still sticking to those 1-4-5 changes sometimes. But still, some of the riffs here are absolutely definitive and completely unique. If this was the only album the band ever made, it'd be considered a landmark. Instead, they got better.
Black Sabbath — Paranoid (1970)
Seems like a cliche to say this album is probably the band's most likeable because it has a song on it that you may have heard before. But, there you have it. I took to it most easily because of that and the relentlessly heavy title track. But, there's also a lot more diversity happening here. 'Planet Caravan' is easily the calmest thing the band did in the early days and 'Electric Funeral' is a darkly psychedelic trip. 'Rat Salad' is the infamous odd man out, while the closer 'Jack the Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots' is an ambitious pro-drug anthem. Hard to recommend anything except this one for anybody looking to understand why Black Sabbath is so revered.
Black Sabbath — Vol. 4 (1972)
Sprawling and druggy, there's no way you can tell me that this is anything other than Black Sabbath's magnum opus. Recorded in LA and containing a special thank you to the "COKE-Cola" (seriously, that's how it's written in the liners) company there, you can just see the disillusionment and cynicism kicking in like the most cathartic hangover. 'Changes' was a hit I guess, but it's easily the least representative thing here. It's the band doing an all keyboards ballad (doesn't that Mellotron just sound fucking excellent, by the way?) and the big thing here is that it establishes the power ballad as a thing. Later on, 'Laguna Sunrise' reprises that mellower mood and it's a surprising moment of genuine beauty. Otherwise, this thing is relentless. Just manically slow tempos, crunchy guitar tones and cynical lyrics. Dark dark dark. The way things melt into 'Every Day Comes and Goes' on the last track is just about one of the heaviest moments I can right now recall. I would be remiss if I didn't say just how much Tony Iommi's guitar sounds like Neil Young's at certain points on this album. Boy oh boy, it's all over the place and very much a lovely dark rock album. Very good. Check it out.
Syd Barrett — Barrett (1970)
Not very Pink Floyd-ish, but who cares. It's a decidedly nice album of gentle folksy songs that sometimes get psychedelic because of what they imply through the lyrics. It's got a very nice sheen to it (some have embarrassingly called this one overproduced over the years; for shame). I love how the multi tracks mingle and converse with one another, sometimes mid-song (thinking of 'Dominoes' here mostly, but the same can be said of the whole album, in varying shades). It's definitely a grower of an album. The polite, non-imposing presentation of the songs makes it so. But darned if it isn't really affecting music after you've sat with it for a while. This particular version features seven bonus tracks that are all alternate takes of proper album tracks. No big revelations, but nice to have, in any case. The long run has revealed this to be completely unique, idiosyncratic music. But masked under the veil of being harmless soft rock. It's no wonder that a band that was so influenced by this album dedicated a song to Syd.
Kronos Quartet — Pieces of Africa (1992)
This is the Kronos group augmented by a lot of hand percussion on some tracks, basically. Fantastic, otherwise unplayed compositions though. They touched on it briefly a couple years before this, but on this album they play the entirety of Kevin Volans' brilliant 'White Man Sleeps' suite. The fourth part is such an emotional and significant apex in the music, I have a hard time rating the rest of the album by comparison. The whole thing's good though. It's Kronos doing their non-conventional thing and it really does work well with this stuff. But, wow: that part four. Are things that are that beautiful, generally speaking, so aching as well? Wowza.
It's entirely too hot these days.