Black Sabbath
Vol. 4


4.0
excellent

Review

by Matthijs van der Lee USER (219 Reviews)
February 16th, 2010 | 34 replies


Release Date: 1972 | Tracklist

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, Paranoid 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 and FX. 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 (Paranoid). 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. Both 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


Sabbath classics:

Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener
Supernaut
Snowblind
Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes


TO BE CONTINUED…



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user ratings (1387)
Chart.
4
excellent
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Nagrarok
February 16th 2010


8315 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Nag tried something different here with the quotes from the members themselves backing up the review. Hope you like it.

Meatplow
February 16th 2010


5524 Comments


Hey cool, Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener just came on my playlist at random the same time I opened this.

It's good this finally got a decent review, I feel it's strongly underrated on here. I'll check out those other reviews of yours, I guess I missed them. ;]

FadeToBlack
February 16th 2010


11034 Comments


great review, really like the quotes

Nagrarok
February 16th 2010


8315 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Thanks both. I decided to do away with these episodic titles though, they were getting a bit silly.

WhiteNoise
February 16th 2010


3253 Comments


I really want to hear this, however I should probably listen to the s/t first since i've only got paranoid and master.

LepreCon
February 16th 2010


4156 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Missed your Master of Reality review there Nag, sorry. But anyway, good review(s). This isn't my favourite Sabbath album but its still pretty awesome. I'll be interested in what you say about Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

BigHans
February 16th 2010


26454 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I like the format change, adds well to the history. I disagree with you on Changes, its a guilty pleasure of mine. Tomorrow's Dream rules as well.

Nagrarok
February 16th 2010


8315 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

I posted Master of Reality around the same time as this, I think. There was a lot of posting yesterday though, so it quickly went down the page.

Ponton
Emeritus
February 16th 2010


5819 Comments


Very nice review Nag, agree with fadetoblack that the quotes are a great touch

Digging: Gates - Bloom and Breathe

Nagrarok
February 16th 2010


8315 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Thanks Jared. I'll be using the quotes when I can find them throughout this discography.

Ponton
Emeritus
February 16th 2010


5819 Comments


It puts everything into context in anice way. These discography reviews that you do play out really well like a story or band biography-type thing. Very nice.

any14doomsday
February 16th 2010


679 Comments


Very well put together review! I love 'Changes' though. Its so simple that I think it works, everyone goes through changes man.

EyesWideShut
February 16th 2010


3208 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

the only sabbath album i didnt really like and just seemed boring an long. Kick ass review and hope to see one for Sabotage.

Nagrarok
February 16th 2010


8315 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

It puts everything into context in anice way. These discography reviews that you do play out really well like a story or band biography-type thing. Very nice.


That's exactly why I use them. My personal take on reviewing is based on that there is so much more to an album than just the music on itself. It takes understanding of the background and environment to fully comprehend what the music is all about. Not everyone can appreciate the extra info, but it's how I like to write. The power of progress has always appealed to me.

Very well put together review! I love 'Changes' though. Its so simple that I think it works, everyone goes through changes man.


It could have been pretty acceptable even despite the repetitiveness, but Ozzy's performance is completely unfit for the song.

the only sabbath album i didnt really like and just seemed boring an long. Kick ass review and hope to see one for Sabotage.


Will be there in two days. Not one of my favourites from their classic era though.



XulOnerom
February 16th 2010


1818 Comments


I hate Changes

EVedder27
February 16th 2010


6088 Comments


I'll jump on the quotes bandwagon and say they added to the review. pos.

kygermo
February 17th 2010


996 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Awesome review. While I agree to an extent about some of the negatives, the good certainly outweighs the bad. Supernauts riff may be the heaviest riff of Iommis career. Great record and I too am anticipating sabbath bloody sabbaths review and the subsequent writers block he had gotten at the time and overcame it. Also looking forward to never say die as well. Keep
up the good work sir!

TheNotrap
August 15th 2011


8132 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

In my opinion Volume 4 is the worst record of their classic era (from the debut to Sabotage) however still a great album with very cool songs like Tomorrow's Dream, Changes, Supernaut or Cornucopia.

Digging: Funebrarum - The Sleep of Morbid Dreams

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
October 23rd 2012


16124 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

flag this

Chortles
October 23rd 2012


18094 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

yeah 1.5 review is crazy

Digging: Cocteau Twins - Treasure



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