Black Sabbath – Vol 4
Black Sabbath: Vol 4. Because we could all use a little subtlty in album titles. While I could easily compress and define the first three Black Sabbath masterpieces, (Half Blues/Half Terror, followed by an all terror onslaught with an edge of psychedelia, followed by sluuuuuuudge), Vol 4 is decidedly difficult to classify. To paint a picture of side 1: you go from the typical Sabbath non-standard wizardry that sounds like a more developed Paranoid track (“Wheels Of Confusion”); to something that is perhaps more broad than the Master Of Reality approach (“Tomorrow’s Dream”); to Ozzy singing about the pains of loss over a somber piano ballad (“Changes”); and finally to an honest-to-God recording of the band hopped up on cocaine, dancing around the studio half naked and hitting Tony Iommi’s guitar with a metal cross, all the while running the whole thing through a series of reverb effects (“FX”).
It is quite a surprise then that side 2 starts off with the most unholy of riff trios in “Supernaut”, “Snowblind”, and “Cornucopia”. The lattermost holding a very special place in my heart as among the first songs I ever learned to play all the way through on guitar. “Laguna Sunrise” continues Iommi’s acoustic interlude tradition, as well as a song called “Saint Vitus Dance” (which I’d refer to as strange, but as said above, I’ve already listened to a recording of cocaine-induced guitar bashing, so we’re just going to file this track [which for having all the typical Sabbath elements, is oddly upbeat and happy) as creative license]. The album ends on “Under the Sun”, which is so appropriate and fitting to the album that it seems rather out of place.
So what exactly are we looking at as a whole here? Progressive metal Sabbath? How did this happen? I’d like to give an answer other than “cocaine”, but having read Iommi’s autobiography, I can’t offer any other legitimate explanation. The result however, is positively stunning, pending your opinion on tracks like “Changes” and “FX” (Which, even with the aforementioned cocaine, still don’t make a whole lot of sense). Vol 4 contains Sabbath’s meanest recordings to date, the triad of songs that start side 2 (“Supernaut”, “Snowblind”, and “Cornucopia”) are among the best riffs of the early Sabbath career, and having taken about a year off since the completion of Master Of Reality, there’s certainly an amount of freshness to the music.
For those who have been listening in order, this is the biggest jump between two albums thus far. Particularly on songs like “Supernaut” and “Cornucopia”, we see the first real technically demanding elements of the band. Whereas the song “Paranoid” was composed in less than an hour, and the entire first album was recorded in about a single day’s time, the drums on “Cornucopia” were so demanding that Bill Ward feared he might be fired for not being able to play them. As far as the development of Black Sabbath and the development of heavy metal music as a whole are concerned, this is an album that you really can’t do without.
Dagg’s Rating: 4.0 out of 5