Before I get into the “negatives” of “Vol. 4″, I want to weigh in on one MAJOR positive. This album has the BEST production of any Ozzy-era Black Sabbath album. They would not do an album that SOUNDED this good again until “Heaven and Hell.” This was the first album produced by Tony Iommi (credited to the band, but really Iommi) and also their first recorded outside the U.K. The guitars are upfront (as they should be!), Bill Ward gets probably his best drum sound ever (despite having documented major trouble getting the “feel” of some of the songs, which almost caused his departure from the band), and Ozzy’s voice, well…no comment. The only complaint I would make on the production front is that Geezer Butler’s bass is mixed too far down.
What is really amazing about this album being so good is that they were out of their heads on drugs (especially coke) during the recording. Indeed, the album was to have been titled “Snowblind” but Warner Brothers wouldn’t have it.
The songs are mostly good, with a couple approaching epic proportions.
“Wheels of Confusion/The Straightner”: Starts out with bluesy Iommi melodic guitar lines, then goes into the trademarked Sabbath tempo and time changes that only they can do. Excellent.
“Tomorrow’s Dream”: Shorter and snappier, indeed almost “hit single” material but still good and heavy.
“Changes”: UGGGHHHH. I know I’m in the minority on this among all those who worship anything Ozzy ever sneezed on but I absolutely HATE this song. The experimentation is laudable (Tony on piano, Geezer on Mellotron) but Ozzy’s monotone voice barely carries on Sabbath’s heavy numbers and he’s just not suited to singing a ballad (the same goes for “So Tired” on his “Bark At The Moon” album). This album would get four stars from me if it didn’t have this song.
“FX”: A pointless stab at neo-Floydian bleeps and blurps. I guess you had to be there and on drugs to “get it”. I was neither and I don’t. At least it doesn’t last very long.
“Supernaut”: PRIME SABBATH! One of Tony’s BEST guitar riffs and Geezer and Bill lock in as still the best rhythm section in heavy metal. Ward really shines here, both in propelling the song and some very good drum fills.
“Snowblind”: SNORT! Yes, that’s what this is about. A good song that Ozzy does sing well on, even if I don’t care for the subject matter. I think that keyboardist Gerald “Jezz” Woodroffe may be responsible for the synthesised strings in the outro underlying Tony’s excellent solo.
“Cornucopia”: Apparently this is one that Wardy had real trouble nailing down but I can’t tell it because his drumming is very good. This is one of Sabbath’s almost-orchestral “epics”.
“Laguna Sunrise”: Nice Iommi acoustic interlude over Jezz Woodroffe’s keyboards.
“St Vitus’ Dance”: Pop goes the Sabs! Really, this is one of the poppiest numbers they’ve ever done. Were they aiming for a hit single with this one? Not my favourite.
“Under The Sun/Every Day Comes And Goes”: The crushing powerchords opening this song really define the term “heavy metal”. This is another of the “epics” and almost symphonic in nature, with the song divided into “movements” by Ward’s drum patterns (including overdubbed gongs!). Ozzy sings Geezer’s agnostic-orientated lyrics quite well (even though I don’t care for the sentiments), but it’s really the instrumentation that elevates this track. Classic indeed.
This was the first Sabbath album where they started to sound less-than-unified (a trend that would continue throughout the remaining Ozzy years) but there’s still much here well worth checking out.