BLACK SABBATH — Vol 4 (review)

BLACK SABBATH — Vol 4 album cover Album · 1972 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Warthur
Just as their first two albums defined the parameters of doom metal, and Tony Iommi's downtuned guitar sound on Master of Reality yielded the seeds of sludge metal, Black Sabbath's fourth album sees them redefining heavy rock yet again. This time, though the sludge sound is still present here and there (as on Tomorrow's Dream) and there's the occasional slow, doomy section (as on Snowblind), the sound of the album is a bit more commercial. It'd be easy to mistake this as Sabbath selling out and moving to the mainstream - except at this point in time heavy metal didn't have a mainstream.

Instead, with up-tempo, feel-good songs like Tomorrow's Dream or Supernaut, Sabbath define a new, accessible style of metal which would become a touchstone of middle-of-the-road bands for years afterwards, but in 1972 came like a bolt from the blue and still stands up to its imitators even today. It's by far from perfect; in particular, the first half of the album is marred by Changes and FX. Changes is a sappy piano ballad to which the band apply amateurish mellotron in an apparent attempt to justify their presence on the Vertigo label (which was supposedly a progressive rock label rather than being a home of hard rock). Even if you set aside the horrible Kelly Osbourne rendition from a few years back, the fact is that the song stinks - the musical backing is simplistic and repetitive, the lyrics are laughable, and in general it simply isn't the sort of music you want to hear when you're listening to a Black Sabbath album. FX is even worse, a laughable stab at musique concrete clearly thrown on as filler - needlessly, since if FX and Changes had been taken off the album would have been around 37 minutes long, which at the time was a perfectly acceptable length.

It's marred by two really lousy songs, and it isn't quite as interesting or groundbreaking as the three albums that preceded it, but on balance Volume Four is another great Black Sabbath album which deserves to be in your collection if you loved what came before it. But I'd still recommend any of the previous three over this one.
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