Friday, August 31, 2012

Black Sabbath: Black Sabbath Vol. 4 (1972)

Motion for Reconsideration
40th Anniversary

The first four Black Sabbath albums are considered by most metalheads to be some of the best records ever recorded. Few groups have ever had a run of quality releases that are even arguably comparable—Metallica’s first four and Death’s last four; Judas Priest and Iron Maiden have both had such runs. Within metal fandom, either Paranoid or Master of Reality is the most beloved of Sabbath's, but for many critics (myself included) Black Sabbath Vol. 4 is the pinnacle of the original metal band’s career. The 40th anniversary of its release is tomorrow, Sepember 1.

Iommi’s riffs are the main reason for its excellence. The riff from the fantastic “Supernaut” is widely considered his best. Contrasting with the slow-rolling doom riffs he’s better known for, “Supernaut” is exciting, and that is perhaps the reason the song looms so large in their discography. But he still writes some of his best doom as well: opener “Wheels of Confusion” is typically excellent, “Cornucopia” has an intensely heavy opener, while “Under the Sun” is the heaviest Sabbath song of all. “Snowblind,” as well, is one of the most iconic (and heaviest) songs of the band’s career.

The rest of the band is also as brilliant as ever. The aforementioned heaviness is due in large part to Geezer Butler’s bass. Drummer Bill Ward has never been in finer form, and the drum solo on “Supernaut” is absolutely entertaining and fits the song perfectly. Finally, Ozzy is at his best (pre-solo career). His default mode of suffering/fear/paranoia has never been on better display than on “Snowblind.” Piano/synth ballad “Changes” may be maligned by most metalheads and many others, but it reveals a side of Ozzy that had never before been seen. His energy elevates “Supernaut” from “great” to “classic” and makes “Tomorrow’s Dream” the underrated burner that it is.

So why is Vol. 4 held in lower regard among metalheads? Paranoid and Master of Reality are flawless records. They each have one curveball, but it’s an acceptable curveball that doesn’t do much to distract from the overall experience. Vol. 4, on the other hand, has weird experimental track “FX,” relatively long acoustic instrumental “Laguna Sunrise,” and the aforementioned “Changes.” As I’ve maintained before, “it's those imperfect, quirky albums that seem to be remembered a decade later. They grow on you.” Vol. 4 is one of those imperfect, quirky albums. It reveals a band with a command of what they’ve already proven they can do while confidently exploring new terrain, for good or ill.

When reviewing a new album, we critics (pro and amateur alike) tend to focus in on an album’s imperfections and penalize it for them. It’s only in retrospect that we can appreciate them for what they add to the experience. Black Sabbath Vol. 4 is the band’s greatest record in part because of its phenomenal successes, but also because of its sometimes-failed experiments.

The Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars

Buy Black Sabbath, Vol.4


  1. Vol. 4 is definitely up there for me as one of Black Sabbath's finest moments. Excellent write-up.

  2. Vol. 4 is Sabbath's heaviest, weirdest record and I love it to death.

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  4. I have a hard time really picking a favorite of their early albums, but I love the song "Black Sabbath" so much that I'm inclined to go with their debut. I don't really think there's a bad choice to be made from amongst those records, though.