BLACK SABBATH — Vol 4 (review)

BLACK SABBATH — Vol 4 album cover Album · 1972 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
voila_la_scorie
"Volume 4" was the second Black Sabbath album to join my cassette collection, back in 1983, and it happened as a matter of economy. I was 12, had recently become hooked on heavy metal, and had only a weekly paper route supplying me with $25 a month, most of which my mother insisted I save in a bank account. Cassettes in those days were on average $8.99, and "Volume 4" was priced at only $6.99. My first Black Sabbath album was "Mob Rules" and so for me this album had a very different sound to it, especially in the vocals (chronologically speaking, it should be the other way around). I was used to Ronnie Dio singing and had only heard from a friend that Ozzy had started the band, which I took to mean that he had gotten the guys together and said, "You guys will make a great band". I was 12, remember.

This album was a big step for Black Sabbath. They had been making each album heavier than the last and now found themselves at a very important point in popular music history. The heavy guitar sound that grew into popularity in 69/70 was starting to undergo a transformation. Many bands were going more commercial, or more funky, or more in a roots rock direction and meanwhile hard rock was really coming to the fore. Still others were catching the prog wave as progressive rock had reached its zenith. Black Sabbath approached their fourth album with new directions in mind. Though the signature heavy riffs were in place for songs like "Wheels of Confusion" and "Under the Sun", there were other ideas that made it to the vinyl. Ozzy had a piano ballad with Mellotron (or were they real strings?), Iommi had a classical guitar instrumental piece with strings, too. In fact, no fewer than three tracks include strings or Mellotron. Then there was the effects piece called simply and aptly "FX". On another personal note, "Born Again" was my third Black Sabbath album, so with "FX", "E5150" and "Stonehenge" I was under the impression that every Sabbath album had such a track. "Supernaut" features a (is that calypso?) percussion solo, and "St. Vitus' Dance" sounds like country metal. Those last two songs are also danceable, unlike the serious tones of "Snowblind", a song about cocaine.

The cocaine factor played a heavy role in the making of the album. The band had gone off to California and landed in a veritable river of the stuff. They had it delivered by the soapbox according to one member in an old interview, and Iommi once reflected that the band just lied around crashed out and waiting for Iommi to get them motivated with a musical idea. It's hard to imagine these accomplished and talented musicians lying about like junkies trying to find a new way to butter toast, but the resulting music shows that the band was very willing to move into new territory. Many of the tracks feature songs or instrumental sections within songs. After the first or second chorus, a new riff, rhythm, and melody will come in before going back to the original musical theme of the song. Bill Ward's drumming still had its jazz roots showing through in places, but he also contributed some trickier, non-standard beats and maintained his usual fills.

What makes this album so interesting for me is mostly the slightly more complex song structuring and variations in a single track. "Under the Sun" is heavy and ponderous at first but the middle section called "Every Day Comes and Goes" is a hurried song with some short and speedy drum solos to connect the gaps in the rest of the music. I've always loved "Wheels of Confusion" with its mellow rock introduction and slow simple riff which then gives way to a slightly spacey instrumental section that leads to a very heavy riff, a frantically busy part that then drops back to the simple heavy riff again. The song wraps up with an instrumental entitled "The Straightener", which has a nice melody accompanied by heavy riffs and a lead guitar duet thanks to overdubbing. "Tomorrow's Dream" and "Snowblind" also feature additional parts in the middle of the song.

Though this album's singles don't stand up to those from the other first five albums, I've always enjoyed "Volume 4". Perhaps the band learned from their adventures which ways were the best to pursue. I feel "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" and "Sabotage" didn't pack as much variety as "Vol. 4" though that might be a good thing for most Sabbath fans. And while I'm okay to skip "Changes" and "FX", I usually enjoy listening to the rest of the album.
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more than 2 years ago
Unitron, I'm glad to know someone else likes it enough to listen to most of it too. Thanks for reading!
Unitron wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Good review, I agree that this is one of Sabbath's most varied albums. I usually do listen through the whole album minus FX.

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