Black Sabbath Vol. 4
Review by Rosh on October 13, 2022.
I'll maintain two key points throughout this review (for an album I did not think would be my first coverage of the band who invented the genre this site is dedicated to). First, each of the heavy songs on Black Sabbath Vol. 4 are expansions upon the style heard in the five heavy songs on Master of Reality, where Iommi focused more than ever before on the emphatic, driving riffing that would set the metal genre apart from other rock that uses guitar distortion, for lack of a more eloquent description. It's a simple style albeit more involved and concentrated than the bluesier approach of the first two Sabbath albums, so it makes sense that it doesn't end with classics (as in greatest songs ever written) like "Sweet Leaf" and "Lord of this World", and before a new metal listener checks out Pentagram or Saint Vitus, Vol. 4 is what they need next to get perfectly acquainted with this genuinely heavy playing style - a crunchier, more bashing style that is not as commonly heard in traditional heavy metal post-1983. Gallops, yes, melodic leads, yes, but not a lot of low-end "DUN, DUN DUN, DA, DA-DUN..." I want to emphasize that observation because it brings me to my next point - the seven heavy songs on this album are just skull-splittingly heavy for their time and still rely more on distortion and crunch than most extreme metal. Dying Fetus is heavier than Black Sabbath, I think we can all agree on that, but what really NEEDS distortion more? What emphasizes the growling tone originally produced by overdriving your amp settings until it fucked with your pickups more? John Gallagher's hyper-speed chugs broken up by tapping down a dissonant scale, or fucking "Wheels of Confusion" 20-some seconds in? Yeah, "DUN, DUN DUN, DA, DA-DUN..." all the way!
And this is why Vol. 4 is the perfect sequel to a relatively consice classic like Master, especially before releasing brilliant masterworks of early progressive metal in '73 and '75. This would be Sabbath's last "doom" album for a while, I guess, and it's a damn fine note for Iommi to leave off with for a while, before eventually returning to his signature chunkiness (in my opinion, he did that on Mob Rules which I think sounds bigger than the first Dio-fronted album). This 1972 effort has been called inconsistent due to tracks like "FX" and "Laguna Sunrise", but honestly, sequencing matters very little by today's standards - Sabbath have so many classic metal songs so just throw ANY of the seven heavy metal songs here in a playlist with all your favorites from albums before and after this one, and you're set - there is actually a larger portion of metal to be heard here than on Master, and I'll say that despite that one being my preferred Sabbath outing. Even if you're reviewing this from a vinyl standpoint, there's still 11 minutes worth of the signature Sabbathian heaviness before a piano ballad (not as good as "Planet Caravan" and "Solitude" I'll admit) and a filler track enter the fold. Plus, the groovy-as-hell "Supernaut" closes out the A-Side, so there's no point complaining. "Tomorrow's Dream" is a classic shorter song as well that balances nicely between the chunkier heaviness mentioned from the previous track and a truly unforgettable momentum, with a cool pull-off riff in between the verses that emphasizes the lower C standard tuning. You can do a lot with that sort of power-chord progression and Bill Ward's drumming makes it extremely catchy in this case, as well as brighter sounding than it should be due to his use of cymbals. Ozzy also displays a little more range here and you get a sense of the charisma he's known for as a frontman.
On the low-end side of things though, I will say this is not an album that comes to mind for the Geezer-sucker in me. He's there alright, and of course his tracks are very necessary for sounding this heavy in '72, but that's kind of just it. Less of his jammy basswork circa 1970 and more just following Iommi, but it sounds superb all the same. "Snowblind" isn't overrated at all either, Iommi hadn't played heavy riffs accented by the chord strumming heard there very much up to this point, and eventually bands did catch on, like The Gates of Slumber with "Suffer No Guilt" (random example that came to mind, there's better ones). At those chord strumming moments (the sound of which did not initially appeal to the Indian kid with no background in western music, feeling drawn specifically to heavy metal who was me), the fine bassist that Geezer really is does in fact come through, then it picks up in much the same way "Under the Sun" is remembered for after its DOOMED intro. In Snowblind though, the final groove is more approachable in a hard-rocking sense, whereas in Under the Sun it's kind of hypnotic what Iommi is playing. That closing track on this album also makes for a break that is very similar to that of "Into the Void" from the previous album, but firstly, Ward plays something noticeably different this time, and self-plagiarism does not apply when you're this ahead of your time and creating a new, really daring style of music.
If it seems like I'm reviewing this music from simply a "well how about that guitar distortion!" standpoint by saying things like "the heavy songs" and "crunchy", that's because I absolutely am - like I said, this style emphasizes why the genre was actually dubbed "heavy metal" to begin with. The use of distortion (and a better tone than most of what today comprises metal anyhow) is consistent to the point where the songs that do not feature it are noticeable deviations from the essential sound, the guitar sound which is now obligatory and taken for granted in metal - hence why it's so nice returning to the roots, roots that do it better than any other band heavily abusing drugs could today. Well, Iommi wasn't to such an outrageous extent, and you know he's the mastermind.
Rating: 9.7 out of 10319