Volume 4

Black Sabbath

Warner Brothers Records, 1972


REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


I will freely cop to the following statement: I had no idea Black Sabbath could rock like they do on Vol. 4. But Jeff, you say, how is that possible? Have you not heard “War Pigs?” “Iron Man?” “Paranoid?” The answer to that question, dear reader, is that it’s hard to grow up as a classic rock fan and not be exposed to those tracks. So yes, I most certainly had listened and appreciated those classics. But (and here’s why you don’t assume), I always viewed those songs as brief interludes of energy from what was most assuredly the early stages of doom and gloom heavy metal.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you; Black Sabbath practically invented the sound of heavy metal, legendarily due to an accident involving Tony Iommi’s loss of his fingertips. I do love me some metal, so there’s always been an underlying respect for Black Sabbath. Yet the vast bulk of their discography never received much attention from me; why, I honestly could not tell you. It wasn’t until after a reading of Steven Hyden’s outstanding work “Twilight Of The Gods: A Journey To The End Of Classic Rock” that his exuberance and promotion of Sabbath prompted me to listen to what he labeled as his favorite Sabbath album, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Vol. 4.

So imagine my surprise when I hit play and “Wheels Of Confusion” comes over the speakers. I’m expecting the slow-burning sense of impending death and desaturation inherent in a song like “War Pigs” or “God Is Dead” from Sabbath’s reunion album 13 (A very good record by the way). Instead, I’m hearing a seven-plus minute prog rock-infused jam, Mellotron and all! The last 90 seconds give Iommi a chance to show that he could deliver a blistering guitar solo with the best of them.

And furthermore, who would ever expect Black Sabbath to demonstrate and ability to go soft and tender as they do on the ballad “Changes?” Using the Mellotron give an esthereal type feel to the track, and Ozzy does do his best to soften the heavy metal edge the band normally puts out. I mean, sure, the lyrics are as cliched as they get, but if you can make it sound pretty, I’m more often than not willing to give a lack of lyrical imagination a pass. “Laguna Sunrise” is an acoustic/orchestral backed palate cleanser for the second half of the record; its placement reminds me of how Genesis used “Horizons” to lead into “Supper’s Ready” –hit ‘em with the pretty stuff before getting down to business.

But fear not metal heads, there is plenty of classic era Sabbath to go around on Vol. 4. The meat of the record comes right in the middle of the track listing. “Supernaut” and “Snowblind” hit the listener with heavy duty riffage from start to finish, with the subject material to boot. According to my research, Sabbath wanted to use the term “snowblind” as the title of the record, but the label gave a hard pass to that idea due to the connotations with cocaine usage. But in the label’s defense, the amount of money the members of Black Sabbath were spending on alcohol and cocaine at this probably made up about 32% of Vertigo’s budget.

Again, I have to give credit to Black Sabbath in that I was never really of the belief that they could show this much versatility in terms of performing and songwriting. The roots of the heavy metal genre are definitely there, but there is also a great deal of classic rock present as well. “Changes” alone gave me a whole new respect for the band, despite its flaws. Count me in as excited to really dig into the rest of the back catalogue!

Rating: B+

User Rating: A-



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