Black Sabbath - 1972 - Black Sabbath Vol. 4
Vertigo 6360-071 LP
I'd never listened to this album before, and for that reason I was a little displeased about having to write about two Black Sabbath albums in a row. That is, I hoped either I or they have enough that's new to say between the two albums. My worries were unfounded.
Black Sabbath Vol. 4's first track "Wheels of Confusion" displays a breadth of feeling, opening in an slow, near-psychedelic six before droning on a single, nasal chord, over which Ozzy almost croons. But when the tempo picks up periodically throughout the song, the band becomes more melodic, and they'll later open up for Iommi to solo. At eight minutes in length, this feels like Sabbath stretching their legs.
Indeed, Vol. 4 as a whole covers a good bit of ground. The galloping "Tomorrow's Dream," is followed by the piano ballad, "Changes," whose inclusion is rather jarring. It, in turn, is followed by the aptly-titled "Fx," about two minutes of percussive echoes and radar-like tones. Of course, things snap back to normal for "Supernaut," a standout on the record. It opens with one of the best riffs I've heard in a while, drums crashing along. When the guitars switch over to a de-tuned riff, Ozzy puts on some of the best vocals I've heard from, perhaps in part to breaking his tendency to sing the same melody as the guitars. Iommi's solo pans back in forth in the stereo, reminding me of Hendrix's studio tricks on Electric Ladyland, but in keeping things adventurous the band dubs in a section that sounds like an excerpt from a Richie Havens track.
"Snowblind," feels a little bit like a repackaging of "Wheels" (though I don't actually know which was written first), and the group almost comically decides to add in a whispered "cocaine" at the end of the first verse, in case you didn't get it was about the drug. "Cornucopia" opens with the heaviest I've heard Sabbath, and I wish they'd have explored that more, but instead step back into the blues-focused work from their self-titled record.
In another exploration, "Laguna Sunrise" nothing but a pair of acoustic guitars and a string arrangement. It's not great, and sounds more fitting for the ending credits of a romance, but I have to give credit for successfully capturing the imagery of the title, something I might not have expected a band like this to pull off. Like "Cornucopia," "St. Vitus Dance" is essentially another blues-rock tune, but the closer, "Under the Sun," is more what I thought "Cornucopia" was going to be. Even Iommi takes a few more chromatic lines, so uncharacteristic of his playing.
Black Sabbath is pushing the envelope for themselves a lot on Vol. 4, sometimes working within their established sound and taking it to the next level, and sometimes abandoning it entirely. Worked in, however, are a few revisits to their blues roots that feel a little safe on an otherwise pretty experimental record. The record overall comes across as a little uneven, but there's a lot of good work here.