Black Sabbath's Master of Reality

By John Darnielle
(Bloomsbury Academic, Paperback, 9780826428998, 112pp.)

Publication Date: April 2008

Other Editions of This Title: DVD-Video, Paperback, Hardcover

Shop Local
Enter your zip code below to find indies closest to you.



Black Sabbath's Master of Reality has maintained remarkable historical status over several generations; it's  a touchstone for the directionless, and common coin for young men and women who've felt excluded from the  broader cultural economy. John Darnielle hears it through the ears of Roger Painter, a young adult locked in a southern California adolescent psychiatric center in 1985; deprived of his Walkman and hungry for comfort, he explains Black Sabbath as one might describe air to a fish, or love to an android, hoping to convince his captors to give him back his tapes.

About the Author

John Darnielle is the singer and songwriter otherwise known as the Mountain Goats.

Praise For Black Sabbath's Master of Reality

Mention in Harp Magazine  Grayson Currin
[T]he focus of Darnielle's fans has always been on his  lyrics and the stories contained within them. Now he's stepped off the stage and sat down at is typewriter to deliver  Master of Reality, his first novel and a stunning piece of rock criticism and  appreciation.    Readers are likely to come to Master of Reality from a  variety of backgrounds. Some will come  as Mountain Goats fans wanting to see Darnielle tackle a novel, others as Black  Sabbath fans wanting to read about a favorite album. Some will simply be fans of the cult-popular  33 1/3 series, which has now grown to dozens of books, yet kept its level of  quality very high. Hopefully, there will  be others who will pick it up as novel first, because it truly is a first-rate  story, full of moments that will pluck at your heartstrings as you're brought  back to the moment you first fell in love with a piece of music, when an album  provided not just the soundtrack to your life but also the meaning behind  it. If, by some strange chance, none of  this happens, well, you're probably going to at least dust off your old Sabbath  vinyl, and there's nothing wrong with that either. -
 [Darnielle] straightjackets the essence of Black Sabbath  where 40 years of music musings and cultural damnation have failed. - Raoul Hernandez, Austin Chronicle
 Total affection for, and strong identification with, music  is a cross-generational experience, and though the motivation behind the 33 1/3  series meshes nicely with a post-Generation X obsession with the minutiae of  personal experience, it's also immediately accessible to anyone who's ever  written favorite lyrics on her algebra notebook. While nostalgia runs thick in  Darnielle's book (the nature of the series essentially demands this), there's a  greater point about music and memory to be found in Roger's story. Indulgence  in the memory of intense feelings can be strangely comforting, and perhaps even  necessary. Or, as Roger puts it: 'It doesn't have to mean that to everybody, and  it means more no matter what... - Thea Brown, The L Magazine
 Darnielle, singer and songwriter for the much-loved band  The Mountain Goats, cuts right to the chase in his short novel, the blunt,  direct tone of his adolescent protagonist Richard Painter perfectly  encapsulating the enduring appeal of metal's great progenitors. It's all about  the Mighty Riff when it comes to Sabbath; everything else is secondary, and  while one could easily make a case for at least half a dozen albums that  deserve the 33 1/3 treatment, the riffs that define this particular album are,  to echo young Roger's sentiment, unfuckwithable. - Adrien Begrand,
 Mountain Goat John Darnielle's off-stage literary  proclivities are no secret, which makes us all the more excited for his first  novel, a paean to Black Sabbath's Master of Reality. The book is the latest in Continuum's 33 1/3  series ultrasmart series of elegant, pocket-size appreciations of rock albums  as diverse as the Beatles' Let it Be and My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. Darnielle unpacks the classic, riff-erific  album as a scrabrous series of diary entries written by a teenager in a Southern California mental institution. Those curious to  see the budding rock critic off-stage or who are simply bonkers for Sabbath are  advised to check out this reading. - Tayt Harlin, New York Magazine Written keenly and with great generosity. - Idolator , 24 december 2008
 Darnielle-- who worked as a nurse in a mental hospital and presumably met quite a few smart, lost kids like Roger-- speaks to the soul-damaging aspects of locking up problem teens and offers a piece of music criticism that illuminates the edifying qualities of heavy metal. - Pitchfork feature "Our 60 Favorite Music Books"
 John Darnielle is the single constant behind the group the  Mountain Goats and arguably the most rewarding lyricist working today. Taking  into account his prolific wordsmithery ("Laugh lines on our faces / scale  maps of the ocean floor") and affinity for horror both cinematic and  literary ("Heretic Pride," the most recent Mountain Goats album, has  song titles naming Fu Manchu creator Sax Rohmer and H.P. Lovecraft), it  shouldn't come as a surprise that he'd contribute to Continuum's "33  1/3" series of short books pegged to iconic albums. But "Master of  Reality" departs brilliantly from the typical "33 1/3" format,  not just by choosing fiction over criticism or recording history, but in its  structural gambits and unwavering sense of purpose. - Ed Parks, Los Angeles Times I'd like to give a special shout-out to John Darnielle's  book about Black Sabbath's Master of Reality, published as part of Continuum's  33 1/3 series of album-themed books...If you like the band,  you'll like this book. If you like intense young-adult takes like The Perks of  Being a Wallflower, you'll like this book. No matter what, by the end, you'll  be racing to purchase Master of Reality, which is a beautiful thing. - USA Today,  PopCandy
Forget the other 33 1/3s, this belongs next to The Catcher  in the Rye. - Decibel  Magazine
Darnielle's novella is not only a touchstone in the series,  it is a powerful and potent book in its own right. Utterly compelling. - David Hemingway, Community Care, UK
This is a masterly look at the corrosive emotion of youth, and the invaluable  solace that music gives. Read it, even if you'd rather stick knitting needles  in your ears than listen to the album in question. Because its about you. - James Mann, The Big Takeover magazine
This is not the first time Darnielle explores these dark waters.  In fact the text is a retelling, if not an extension of " The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton,"  the first track on the Mountain Goats' 2002 album, All Hail West Texas.  As both the text and the song are meditations on the redemptive aspects of heavy metal, the depravity of institutional authority and the refusal to forgive, the reader who is familiar with either Darnielle's musical work or Black Sabbath will find the text particularly rewarding. - Christian,
With his short stories masquerading as songs, John  Darnielle-founding member of the Mountain Goats-has crafted a wide range of  off-kilter characters. He continues this  tradition with Roger, a fifteen-year-old patient in a psychiatric hospital and  the protagonist of Darnielle's first book, a loving diary-style exploration of  Black Sabbath's Master of Reality, part of Continuum's 33 1/3 series...Inspired  by his real-life experiences as a psychiatric nurse (and love of all things  metal), Darnielle's literary debut is a fast, addictive read that also tugs on  the heartstrings of sensitive Ozzy fans. - Exclaim magazine
Interviewed in Philadelphia Weekly
The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle Is Good At Writing!    People love The Mountain Goats because all their songs  contain SAT vocab words and are like little stories. So it's unsurprising that John  Darnielle can also work up some music-free compositions, like his contribution  to Continuum's 33 1/3 series of books inspired by classic albums, a novel about  Black Sabbath's 'Master of Reality.' He also recently wrapped up a stint of guest blogging at  Powell's excellent blog, which is worth revisiting if you're curious about his  feelings about heavy metal (he likes it! and is very knowledgable about it!).  And if you live in New York,  you can come to a reading of the Black Sabbath book next Saturday at Housing  Works and witness his non-singing talents in person. - MediaBistro's Galleycat
Interviewed by Gothamist
Entry on Brooklyn Vegan about reading
Just like Black Sabbath throws big rocks at subtlety and  Roger's manifesto-journal channels anger towards the mental health  establishment, Darnielle's book obliterates the sterility of music criticism. I  imagine him reading reviews of his work and building up all of this disdain,  deciding finally that he's going to do it better. Ultimately, Master of Reality  critiques criticism itself, an institution that encourages us to thrash apart  the art of others - without offering any blood of our own. - Tiny Mix Tapes
 “Master of Reality” is no straightforward critical assessment of Black Sabbath’s album, a sludgy doom-rock classic. It’s fiction that peels thrillingly off into music writing. The book is written from the point of view of a teenage boy in a mental hospital who explains why Black Sabbath and its lead singer, Ozzy Osbourne, meant so much to isolated kids like himself. It’s about how rock music can express not only liberating joy but, conversely and perhaps more importantly, also speak to bottomless misery and pain. The book is funny, too. Its narrator observes that you never feel that you might hang out with Robert Plant, the Led Zeppelin singer, at a video arcade. But Mr. Osbourne, “he sounds like the guy who changes your quarters.-The New York Times

Indie Bookstore Finder

Update Profile