Review Summary: Sabbath slowly getting Snowblind..."The band started to become very fatigued and very tired. We'd been on the road non-stop, year in and year out, constantly touring and recording. I think Master of Reality was kind of like the end of an era, the first three albums, and we decided to take our time with the next album."
~ Bill Ward
Indeed, producing a full three albums in merely two years while intensively touring for them must have undoubtedly put strain on Black Sabbath. After a short break, the question was whether they would be able to equal their two classics Paranoid
and Master of Reality
. Whilst in the recording process, however, a more important issue had emerged. The entire band had gotten so used to drugs, most notably cocaine, that they became increasingly distant to the music, as well as in their personal relationships. After a tiny break, there was more pressure on the quartet than ever. Nevertheless, their fourth album, the not-all-too-inventively-titled Volume 4
(a decision record label Vertigo made because original title Snowblind
was not to their liking) became yet another success, allowing the band to continue their legacy.
"Yeah, the cocaine had set in. We went out to L.A. and got into a totally different lifestyle. Half the budget went on the coke and the other half went to seeing how long we could stay in the studio...We rented a house in Bel-Air and the debauchery up there was just unbelievable."
~ Geezer Butler
"Yes, Vol. 4 is a great album but listening to it now, I can see it as a turning point for me, where the alcohol and drugs stopped being fun."
~ Bill Ward
What many fail to notice is how much of a turning point Vol. 4
really was. Apart from the drugs issues causing this change, the band was also at a point where more creativity had to be added in order to keep moving forward. Black Sabbath
and Master of Reality
had been a streak of classic albums, pioneering the entire heavy metal movement almost on their own, and it was difficult to decide where to go from there. Paranoid
had been considerably heavier than Black Sabbath
, and Master of Reality
had been considerably heavier than Paranoid
. Sabbath’s third was about as heavy as it got, so as creative leader, Iommi decided to start using the heavy/soft direction he had already slightly experimented with on the band’s previous record more thoroughly. What this means, is basically a more prominent appearance of piano and mellotron.
But as much as one can value Sabbath’s wish to keep on going despite ongoing troubles, the excessive drug use was not without effect. Some of the tracks on Vol. 4
feel rather half-baked, or even completely useless or out of place. Drugs used to help Sabbath, but in 1972, all they did was partly destroy the inspiring creativity in the band. Or at least, that is what is looks like. Either that, or Sabbath (read: Tony Iommi) had just hit a writer’s block. The album is a classic hit-or-miss affair. Many tracks feel like they’ve been played on auto-pilot and could have just as well been b-sides to Sabbath’s earlier work (if ever they were able to write any of those with the speed they went at, that is).
That, however, will just be your opinion after a single listen.
Because yes, even though Vol. 4
definitely has its share of shortcomings compared to the band’s earlier works, most of its moments can be found quite enjoyable. That Iommi had begun starting to run out of inventive riffs cannot be denied, as the likes of Cornucopia
and Tomorrow’s Dream
may not be his most original moments, but the droning feel they emit adds an interesting edge to the album, which, as a result, gains a clearly recognizable sound, like all of Sabbath’s so far. The faster-paced Supernaut
, the higher-pitched St. Vitus Dance
, or the greater flirt with melody , tempo changes, notable solo and best Osbourne performance on the album in the classic Snowblind
are all rewarding moments, and proof that Volume 4
is surely not without strength.
The most interesting cuts, then, come in both negative and positive packages. Early negative standouts are Changes
. The former is Iommi’s attempt at writing a heartfelt ballad, which consists solely of piano, mellotron and vocals. The result is rather poor, the same piano loop being repeated throughout the track and Osbourne’s vocals being at his ultimate annoying, whereas he had previously so well proven he could use his voice in a proper, even excellent way for ballads and softer tracks with the mournful Solitude
(Master of Reality
) and Planet Caravan
). The latter is an utterly pointless, psychedelic instrumental that has not even the purpose of leading into Supernaut
Falling in between the two categories is Laguna Sunrise
. It is a delicate, acoustic and indeed very tasteful instrumental, but then again, it somehow doesn’t entirely fit in with the rest of Vol. 4
. What to think of it is, more than any of the other material, entirely a matter of personal taste.
That leaves opener Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener
and closer Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes. B
oth feature differently styled sections and tempo changes, and are those moments we had been expecting: moments that take a fresh take on the Sabbath approach while still retaining their classic sound. Wheels
starts off with a misleading, traditional slow blues riff, only to lead into signature Sabbath sludge. It then transitions into a faster pace, leading into a frenzied part, and it continues to warp and form as it goes. Under the Sun
, as mentioned before, is quite similar, although shorter and with more heavier moments. Together, they form the perfect opening and closing chapters.
So yes, Sabbath’s fourth volume has disappointing moments, and is initially not the ‘another Sabbath classic’ it is made out to be. Take a few listens, though, and see how most of the pieces fit in just fine. With a better-written (and performed) Changes
, an omitted FX
and more moments with similar creativity to the album's opener and closer, Volume 4
could have had the potential to become a superb album. That, of course, it isn’t. But for those reading this and realizing they have only given in a couple of listens or so: give it another chance, because it is an ultimately satisfying addition into Sabbath’s legacy.
Volume 4’s Black Sabbath was:
- Frank Anthony ‘Tony’ Iommi ~ Lead Guitar, Piano, Mellotron
- John Michael ‘Ozzy’ Osbourne ~ Vocals
- Terrence Michael Joseph ‘Geezer’ Butler ~ Bass Guitar
- William Thomas ‘Bill’ Ward ~ Drums, Percussion
Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener
Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes
TO BE CONTINUED…