If not for one major and a few less major problems, “Volume 4” would’ve been my GD 10 early Black Sabbath record. Even with these problems, this is one mother of a record, choke-full of classic HEAVYMETAL tunes, that finds Black Sabbath still expanding their already impressive arsenal of unfuckwithability and heavosity into progressive territories, while retaining the vicious, pulverizing power of past records. In all actuality, “Volume 4” displays a band that has its totally unique –for its time- sound down to pat and, at the same time, tries and generally succeeds in doing incremental but considerable changes to this sound. This is the record that sees the band poised for total domination… and fails, just because these fuckers were outta their minds for the most part of the recording process, due to them going to L.A., discovering the pleasures of snorting blow and supposedly spending half the recording budget on it!!!
The major flaw I’m talking about is, of course, “Changes”, the syrupy ballad that follows prog opener “Wheels of confusion” and the vicious exercise in song dynamics “Tomorrow’s dream”. The most lame ballad the Sabs –or, for that matter, any heavy band- has ever recorded, “Changes” overpasses every limit of good taste, hugs corniness in a BIG way and probably drove Karen Carpenter into depression, when she listened to it and realized that she would never be able to write something so… dripping-corny. This fucker makes me want to break the record into small pieces and reject it from the hallowed Black Sabbath canon of kickassedness. Thankfully, the proper songs of “Volume 4” are a nasty bunch, full of barbs, viciousness, heaviness and great ideas, so I’ll try to forgive them for the “Changes” sin against humanity.
9. Some people consider the songwriting here uneven. Of course, they’re talking shit. The songwriting here is even better that on “Master of Reality” or “Paranoid”. Why? Because the band seems ready and able to do anyfuckingthing it likes and do it perfectly, that’s why. You wants your doomy heavier-than-shit trudgers? You got ‘em. You wants your prog-rock-meets-the-heavy anthems? You gots them, also. You wants your hard rock to rock yer socks off? Here ‘tis, matey. You wants your exploratory heavy songs that combine the ugly with the melodic? Look no further, hoss. You wants yer heartbroken, corny ballad (BLEAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!)? It’s here, too. You wants the slow? Got it. You wants the fast? Got it, too. You wants the mid-paced? You got it, all comfy-cozy, right here. You want Ozzy wailing outta his little mind? You gots that in fucking heaps, man. You wants to hear what influenced your Iron Maidens, your Judas Priests, your Pentagrams et al? Well, then, fucking listen to this record and you’ll find out.
Every fucking song in here –admittedly, even “Changes”- adds something new to the Sabbath canon. The two-million-different-parts epics get a great make-over with “Wheels of Confusion”. The stoner-doomers get even more interesting with great dynamic explorations like “Tomorrow’s Dream”, “Cornucopia” and “Under the Sun”. “Supernaut” is one of the best metal songs ever written by any band, vicious, smart and stomping at the same time. The blow-anthem, “Snowblind”, manages to be super-heavy AND melodic AND hook-laden. The intro track “Laguna Sunrise” is smartly-orchestrated, beautiful and it’s the first instrumental Sabs track that doesn’t sound like complete filler. Even “FX”, although pretty insignificant, has a bizarre psychedelic vibe that surprisingly works nicely as a bridge from the hideous “Changes” to the greatness that is “Supernaut”. And “St. Vitus Dance” is one hard rocker that blows the competition outta the water as easily as the Sabs blew the marching powder. So, variation’s the name of the game here and it generally works, even if “Volume 4” sounds more disjoined, especially when compared with its monolithic predecessor, “Master of Reality”.
7. This is where the less major flaw of this record lies. Really, it’s beyond my comprehension why the band decided to forfeit Rodger Bain’s services, move to L.A. and work with people who obviously didn’t know jack-shit about what Black Sabbath was and how to deal with their sound. So, the sound here lacks seriously in punch. The guitars sound more noisy and murky, than bulldozer-heavy and saturated. The bass seems to lack the serious bottom end of past efforts, the drums are pretty low in the mix, while Ozzy’s voice is quite upfront, especially when it shouldn’t be (i.e. “Changes”). Of course, even inept production cannot suck life out of such great songs, but, hell, it’s a fucking nuisance.
9. Tony must have discovered guitar overdubbing here, ‘cause his rhythm parts don’t disappear when his solos, but remain under the squeals of his SG. His guitar-playing is still god-like, his riffs shoulda been trademarked long ago, his solos are still expressive, concise and impressive and when he goes all “wall-of-sound” heavy, the San Andreas fault might have groaned and quivered sympathetically.
8. Ozzer here uses, probably for the first time, his helium voice. It’s not a disaster. Actually, I think that your Rob Halfords might have taken a cue from Ozzy’s performances and, them being better singers, created what we in the metal trade call the “falsetto”. Generally, Ozzy tries to expand his palette here and, again generally, succeeds.
9. Even though less apparent than in its predecessors, Geezer’s bass here is as forceful, powerful, tasteful and backbone-creating as ever. I won’t repeat myself, for Geezer’s importance, please refer to my other reviews of Sab’s earlier records, there now, good lads.
9. The same goes for Bill’s work here. Either slow, or fast, or in between, Bill adds serious backbone and heavosity to the music, while his jazz schooling is pretty apparent when things get a bit more complicated than playing four-on-the-floor. His work in “Supernaut” is amazing and a standard for many a metal drummer.
8. Love songs (puking sounds), escapism, drug anthems, rants against religion –and Satanism-, plus the kitchen sink. Ozzer went the whole hawg here and its shows. Not poetry, by any means, but effective, all the same. Best line: “Crystal world with winter flowers/Turns my days to frozen hours”. Whoooeeee!
8. Ozzer live in one of his favourite poses, distorted and orange, in a black background. It’s iconic, alrighty.
5. No logo, just the band name in a ‘70s font.
8. Comments, info, pix, lyrix, the works. ‘S okay by me.
“Volume 4” is the most diverse Black Sabbath Mk. I album. It’s heavy, it’s proggy, it’s pounding and grinding, it’s silly (“Changes”), it’s majestic. Too bad, then, that the vomit-inducing ballad and the uneven production mar it enough to make me think twice to give it the perfect ten. But if you have the three previous records and not this one, you seriously miss one great metal record. So buy it A.S.A.P. and enjoy it in all its flawed glory.