BLACK SABBATH — Vol 4 (review)

BLACK SABBATH — Vol 4 album cover Album · 1972 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
BLACK SABBATH had a phenomenal three year run with the first three albums “Black Sabbath,” “Paranoid” and “Master Of Reality” taking the world by storm and virtually single-handedly launching a new heavier form of gloomy doom fueled rock to the world. As the band became more famous and falling deeper and deeper into the trappings of rock stardom so too did the pressures take hold and it was precisely at the time when the band was entering the studio to record the fourth album unexcitingly titled VOL. 4 the drug addictions were starting to take their toll. As the good life became ever easier to grasp hold of, the temptations of too much of a good thing were starting to stifle the creative processes that had made BLACK SABBATH a household name in a very short time.

Lots of changes were in the works for SABBATH members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward. Firstly the band let go of producer Rodger Bain and Iommi took control over the production process citing that Bain wasn’t capturing the band’s true potential. And so the alternative fab four headed into the studio in Los Angeles with speaker boxes filled with cocaine and set out to take the band to the next level on its own terms and those terms would be a focus on the heavier guitar riff filled doom and stoner metal of the first three albums with a few experimental touches. Fueled with drugs and ambition the band members discovered a new life in the sin city of LA and Geezer Butler recounted in a Guitar World interview in 2001 that this was the point where the classic lineup began its inevitable slow burn to implosion.

VOL 4 comes off as a very uneven album after the sheer perfection of the band’s first three efforts. Apparently an outside producer was need to organize and babysit these kids in a candy store as VOL 4 comes off as a fairly by the books affair with a few random numbers thrown in for variety’s sake although Iommi’s producer plaudits aren’t too shabby in and of themselves. Of the album’s ten tracks, the opener “Wheels Of Confusion / The Straightener,” “Tomorrow’s Dream,” “Supernaut,” “Snowblind,” “Cornucopia” and the closing “Under The Sun / Every Day Comes And Goes” follow the same playbook rules that got the band noticed in the first place. Those being catchy heavy psych guitar hooks drenched in distortion with a bluesy bad boy boogie style of cyclical riffing that trades off energetic hooks with slow plodding doomy power chords. A few interesting upgrades occur. The opener displays an excellent melodic extended dual guitar solo effect that carries the track past the eight minute mark. The closer finds some extended compositional skills that flirt with progressive rock.

The other tracks all stand out as territories unexplored by SABBATH at this point. The first is the unexpected sappy ballad “Changes” which finds no heavy metal at all but is rather a piano accompanied by a symphonic backing with lyrics that lament about Bill Ward losing his wife. Clearly attempting to cash in on the maudlin crowds and possible commercial crossover, the track is widely deemed as one of the most out of place songs on any early SABBATH albums and was thankful jettisoned from live performances after the following tour. If the track wasn’t bad enough, it left an impression on Ozzy who would add similarly insipid ballads all throughout his future solo career and the song would eventually years later *gasp* be rerecorded by Ozzy’s daughter Kelly. Gag icon please. Another head scratcher arises from the electronic experimental piece “FX” which honestly goes nowhere and also seem like a drug induced decision to win over some of the emerging electronica crowds that were gathering steam around the same time.

The other two tracks “Laguna Sunrise” and “St. Vitus Dance” are much better but also sound a bit out of place on a SABBATH album. The former sounds a bit like something off of Led Zeppelin’s “Houses Of The Holy” with a bit of SABBATH grit but is only an acoustic guitar instrumental with more symphonic backing much like the short intermissions of “Master Of Reality” only more chilled and folky. “St. Vitus Dance” jumps back into heavy distorted rock but has a bit more of a groove to it but also seems to never gather the steam that it needs to really go where it hints at and a clear indicator if it hasn’t already proven obvious that SABBATH were very much on automatic pilot while the spent half of their budget on drug binges.

Out of the first six essential BLACK SABBATH albums i have always found VOL 4 to be the weakest of the bunch and despite the attempts to experiment in myriad directions, the least effective as well. It’s difficult to be too harsh on this classic album because it does deliver quality early heavy metal tunes in full regalia and as an attempt to take things into a more streamlined hard rock approach VOL 4 does deliver. The problem is that the album is sandwiched between several better albums before and after that sound more cohesive, more professional and infinitely more interesting from a musical standpoint. Personally i loathe the cheesy ballad “Changes” and the half-baked attempt at making an electronic instrumental that stood out with “FX” only displayed the bad judgement fueled by the incessant cocaine abuse. While the band were pleased with themselves, the critics and fans weren’t as much since the band had lost a bit of that dark and mysterious edge. The tracks presented here came off as rather tame in comparison. However despite the fumbles, VOL 4 still comes off as a doomy riff fueled early heavy metal classic.
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21 days ago
Supernaut is one of the best Sabbath songs ever
UMUR wrote:
26 days ago
Not my favorite Sabbath album. I´ll probably always prefer the first two.
siLLy puPPy wrote:
29 days ago
Reviews to come. I can't spoil the surprise now can i ? LOL
Tupan wrote:
29 days ago
Haha, but why I can see why you wrote this review. I would like to know your opinion about the Ozzy later albums, like Sabotage and Never Say Die!
siLLy puPPy wrote:
29 days ago
Seems like this one is divisive for sure. The songs themselves are killer which is why i gave it 4 stars but the album as a whole is not as interesting for my ears. I've definately met many who claim this is the best one. Go figure!
Tupan wrote:
30 days ago
Disagree with some points. This is still one of my favorite Sabbath albums, and all the songs are killer - except FX and Changes (this one belongs to Charles Bradley now).

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