Black Sabbath - Vol 4
Warner Bros. Records
Classic Rock, Heavy Metal
10 songs (42:23)
Release year: 1972
Black Sabbath, Warner Bros. Records
Reviewed by Goat

Many uninformed fans see Black Sabbath’s decision to name their fourth album Volume 4 as arrogant, big-headed mimicry of Led Zeppelin, who released their fourth album a year earlier. Truth be told, Black Sabbath at the time were probably on too many drugs to notice! Coming up to the zenith of the Ozzy-fronted years, the band were pumping albums out by this point – a little over two years had passed since the release of their debut – and whilst the band wanted to name their fourth album Snowblind, their label demurred due to the clear reference to cocaine. That drug’s presence runs throughout Vol 4, from the clear reference to it in Snowblind (the song had to be rerecorded after Ozzy initially shouted ‘cocaine!’ at the end of every verse – as it is, you can faintly hear it whispered after the first verse) to the beginning of a more experimental sound for the band, moving from the uber-heaviness of Master Of Reality towards the Progginess of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage.

In short, Black Sabbath were going through changes, and nowhere is that so apparent as the song by that name. The first song to use piano as a lead instrument rather than backing, it’s often hated by fans and yes, placed against the other songs Changes and the following bit of weirdness FX are pretty dreadful. Just listen to the rest of the album, however! Iommi’s guitar is truly heavy, a counterpart to Ozzy’s soaring voice, and the songs are amongst Sabbath’s best. Few would deny that Black Sabbath’s first five albums are classics like no other, and Vol 4 fits into that pantheon of early Metal easily.

From the moment that the opening meander of Wheels Of Confusion, Classic Rock soloing to perfection from Iommi, turns into the mechanical sludge that fans of early Sabbath know and love, you know you’re listening to something excellent, and the Proggy turn that the lengthy instrumental section takes soon after is gripping. Tomorrow’s Dream takes the style deeper and darker, Iommi cranking out the killer riffs with ease, and (skipping over Changes and FX) Supernaut is perhaps the album highlight, as well as being Frank Zappa’s pick for greatest Rock track ever. It’s hard to argue with the Zap; the central riff is amazing, and Bill Ward is, as ever, one of the most underrated Rock drummers out there. I’ll leave it to the forum to argue over which exactly the best track here is, but with choices including the epic Snowblind, Cornucopia, St Vitus’ Dance and Under The Sun, it’ll be a hard argument to win.

Of course, nothing about this album is as classic and iconic as the cover art. Ozzy has always looked distinctly creepy to me here, the effect doubtless an influence on future corpsepaint devotees, and although some have tried to reshape it in their own fashion, few can pull off the power and style of the original. Vol 4 is not Black Sabbath’s best album, as far as I’m concerned, but it is amongst their best; it may not be as experimental as later albums or as heavy as earlier ones, but it is still a vital part of the Sabbath journey and an important stage in the development of Doom Metal, as well as Metal as a whole. Black Sabbath are mandatory listening for any Metalhead, and whilst I wouldn’t recommend Vol 4 as a starting point for newcomers, it is compulsory a little along the line.

Killing Songs :
All but Changes and FX
Goat quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Black Sabbath that we have reviewed:
Black Sabbath - 13 reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
Black Sabbath - Classic Albums - Paranoid (DVD) reviewed by Marty and quoted no quote
Black Sabbath - Headless Cross reviewed by Adam and quoted 81 / 100
Black Sabbath - Forbidden reviewed by Khelek and quoted 65 / 100
Black Sabbath - Mob Rules reviewed by Khelek and quoted CLASSIC
To see all 22 reviews click here
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