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Black Sabbath, Vol.4

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★★★★½
(148 Reviews)

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  • 1972 was a watershed year for hard rock and Black Sabbath both. Luckily, the maturing group was able to spearhead the next part of the Proto-metal Revolution they’d founded with ‘Master of Reality’ in the form of this, their best work. ‘Volume Four’ was a functional, utilitarian name that was used to try and capture something whose essence could not be described with any adjective except, perhaps, ’shifting’. Unlike any of their previous three albums, the Sabs were able to keep their distance from a formula [more or less homogenous doom rock with the occasional 'let up' (although their first LP is a mish-mash of blues and the beginnings of their 'doom rock')] and make this effort become an entire soundscape filled with moving atmospheres – the ultimate in a heterogeneous texture. ‘Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener’ – THE STORYTELLER. The whining guitar notes, basic chord structures and past tense narrative lyrics find an experimental-minded band. The shifts in tempo were something they’d become very familiar with by this time but it never had sounded this good. Instrumental ‘The Straightener’ kicks in to round out the epic. Geezer’s bass text is used as a canvas by Iommi here as he spatters riff spirals and twists all over the place. ‘Laguna Sunrise’ – THE MIND CREATES A FANTASY. Pretty number written for the beachfront where the Sabs were staying during their work on ‘Volume Four’. A very haunting superimposition of Spanish guitar over a strings backing.’F.X.’ – THE UNKNOWN REALM. 1 3/4 minutes of sound effects, particularly picking noises. Probably very useful if you’re doped up but much better when sober. ‘Snowblind’ – ROCK REFLECTION ON LIFESTYLE. The ‘best’ rock track of the album, ‘Snowblind’ was a single. It accurately depicts the group’s concerns at the time. Money and fame had allotted them nicer cars and nicer drugs to fool with. ‘Cornucopia’ – ROCK REFLECTION ON SOCIETY. ‘Take a life, it’s going cheap; Kill someone, no-one will weep.’ A thundering bass-driven track that’s almost uglier in structure than the post industrial nightmare described by Osbourne’s frenetic lyrics. ‘Tomorrow’s Dream’ – LOVE DISCARDED. A short rocker that scored as a greatest hit. The whole feel here is of turning away from the woes of the Present and starting a whole new existence. ‘Supernaut’ – THE SELF TRIUMPHS. ‘I’ve seen the future and I’ve left it behind.’ Ward’s frantic cymbal-bashing and Iommi’s smokingly fast riffs and overdubs augment Osbourne’s grandiose lyrical delivery perfectly. A hard, spiralling anthem. ‘Changes’ – LOVE REMOVED. A long piano/synth bit with Ozzy half-lamenting the joy of love taken away, half-asserting his understanding of the adjustment he’s making to compensate. ‘Under The Sun’ – THE MIND REACTS AGAINST REALITY. Very heavy guitar and bass work drones with the strength of the nihilistic, sometimes self-contradicting lyrics. Soon the tempo changes and both the guitars and voice become more desperate to convey their point. The songs ends on a helter-skelter of doomy rhythm and amorphous riffs. ‘St. Vitus’ Dance’ – ANTI-COMMUNICATION. This short, fast rocker bounces Osbounre’s lyrics back and forth. It’s about problems with understanding the female mind. Altogether and in a sequence, these make up what is termed ‘Volume Four’. There is but one other ingredient necessary to facilitate a successful listening – a mind of any type and in any condition. None of the songs will grow on you; you will see them ever after in the same light under which you orginally found them. The shade of that light depends on your perceptions and no two shades will ever be alike. This is an album saturated in an ebbing, ethereal fluid, one of the consequences being that the sounds recorded on ‘Volume Four’ make it quite impossible to place the whole in any single genre. This is a work that declares there are an infinite number of idiosyncratic interpretations of it available. I have given mine here: to find your own, you need to get this CD.

    Posted on December 12, 2009