[Review] Black Sabbath: Vol. 4 (1972)

Lousy title, lousy cover, lousy album.

Kronomyth 4.0: I wish they all could be California ghouls.

This is the part in the story where I’m supposed to tell you that Black Sabbath grew more ambitious, more mature or warmed to the welcoming California sun, but that’s a load of crap. The band was coked up, messed up and showed up without a producer. Vol. 4 is the worst Sabbath album so far. Ozzy Osborne is unintelligible half the time, the crushing riffs never arrive and the mix is miserable. I have really tried to like this album because of a general dearth of awesomeness in the world, but come away disappointed every time. It’s a sad state of affairs when the best song on a Black Sabbath album is a two-minute instrumental with strings.

The opening eight-minute epic, Wheels of Confusion, is definitely ambitious; it’s just not very good. You can’t bang your head to it, can’t even understand what Ozzy is singing, and the sulfuric smoke dissipates leaving nothing of substance. Tomorrow’s Dream is much better and checks off all the boxes: crunching riff, good vocals, nihilistic lyrics. None of that prepares you for what follows, however, as Sabbath presents their first (and mercifully last) ballad, Changes. I love the mellotron in just about anything, and it’s hands-down the coolest thing about this song, but a wimpy Sabbath song has no place in the world. Rather than return to their dark brand of rock and roll, the band screws around with sound effects for two minutes (FX), before returning to what they do best with the classic Supernaut, which would get my vote for best Black Sabbath song title.

While a lot of people like “Supernaut,” I’d give Snowblind the nod as the best heavy metal track on Vol. 4, even with the strings at the end. Cornucopia follows in Snowblind’s heavy footsteps with a deep, sinister riff. In the midst of the album’s darkest passages, a ray of light appears: Laguna Sunrise. Tony Iommi’s instrumental breaks had offered respite in the past, but this is no mere break but a vacation, audible evidence of the influence that California (where the album was recorded) had on the band. The album ends as it began, in confusion, with a metal song fused with bits of country-rock, St. Vitus’ Dance, and an ambitious two-part closer, Under the Sun.

I totally get that there are people who will grind their teeth while reading this, appalled at my inability to grasp the greatness of Vol. 4. I listen to a lot of classical music and jazz, so I’m sure you don’t want to take your heavy metal advice from me. And a lot of the fault rests with the mixes I’ve heard; if a decent remix of this exists, I’m sure it helps immensely. But this is my least favorite of the classic Sabbath albums; Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was better, Sabotage much better. Blame the coke, Iommi’s unsteady production hand or the band’s inability to channel gothic despair in sunny California. Or blame me for getting it all wrong. Either way.

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Original elpee version

A1. Wheels of Confusion (8:00)
A2. Tomorrow’s Dream (3:08)
A3. Changes (4:41)
A4. FX (1:41)
A5. Supernaut (4:43)
B1. Snowblind (5:28)
B2. Cornucopia (4:52)
B3. Laguna Sunrise (2:50)
B4. St. Vitus’ Dance (2:25)
B5. Under the Sun (including: Every Day Comes and Goes) (5:52)

All tracks composed by Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, Geezer Butler and Ozzy Osborne. All arrangements by Black Sabbath.

CD reissue bonus track
11. Children of the Grave (live) (4:35)

Original 8-track version
A1. Wheels of Confusion
A2. Laguna Sunrise
B1. FX
B2. Snowblind
B3. Cornucopia
C1. Changes
C2. Under the Sun
D1. Tomorrow’s Dream
D2. Supernaut
D3. St. Vitus’ Dance

The Players

Geeze Butler, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osborne, Bill Ward. Produced by Patrick Meehan & Black Sabbath; engineered by Colin Caldwell, Vic Smith.

The Pictures

Cover design by Bloomsbury Group. Photography by Keith McMillan.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track on September 25, 1972 in the UK, Australia, Germany and Israel (Vertigo, 6360 071), the US and Canada (Warner Bros., BS/M8 2602), Japan (Vertigo, RJ-5049)  and Malaysia (Rex, NEW-12-364) with gatefold cover/booklet; reached #8 on the UK charts and #13 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in the US (Warner Bros., BS 2602) [burbank label].
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1976 in the UK and the Netherlands (NEMS, NEL 6005) [black label].
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1986 in W. Germany (NEMS, NEL 6005) [silver label].
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in 1988 in the US (Warner Bros., 2602-2).
  5. Re-issued on elpee in 1990 in Korea (Vertigo, 832 703-1) and Russia (SNC, C90 31091 007).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in 1992 (Castle, CLA-199).
  7. Re-issued on expanded compact disc in the UK and France (Castle, NELCD 6005) with one bonus track.
  8. Re-released on remastered compact disc in February 1996 in the UK and Germany (Essential, ESMCD-304).
  9. Re-issued on compact disc in 2000 in the UK (Castle, CMTCD-006).
  10. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 2001 in the UK (Castle, CMHLP179).
  11. Re-released on clear vinyl and picture disc elpee in 2003 in the UK (Earmark, 641011/41011-P).
  12. Re-released on 150g vinyl elpee in 2015 in the Europe (Sanctuary/BMG, BMGRM056LP) with gatefold cover.
  13. Re-released on remastered 180g orange vinyl elpee in 2o16 in the US (Warner Bros./Rhino, RR1 2602).

1 thought on “[Review] Black Sabbath: Vol. 4 (1972)

  1. I knew there was something I didn’t like about this album that made me not want to add it to my iTunes library.

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