Monday, April 3, 2017

Black Sabbath Vol. 4

Originally titled Snowblind, Black Sabbath's fourth album, Black Sabbath Vol. 4, reveals the lords of gloom and doom beginning a progressive streak that would continue through their next few albums while simultaneously crafting one of music's heaviest albums. It's something of an unfocused album with the band seemingly trying their hand at everything that interests them. Don't look now, but the boys from Birmingham are expanding their minds and experimenting with their sound.

Sabbath's first three albums (their eponymous debut, Paranoid, and Master of Reality) sounded like they could be the soundtracks for a gothic horror movie and were filled with spooky, eerie, and downright apocalyptic lyrics and instrumentation. Vol. 4 proves heavier than that trio but not as dark.

Tony Iommi's guitar and Geezer Butler's bass still pack a sludgy, moody punch, but Ozzy Osbourne sings not of devils, nuclear war, or damnation, but instead, the songs are about ... actually, I'm not always sure. The lyrics are more abstract and surreal, like in the opener "Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener."

"Long ago I wandered through my mind
In the land of fairy tales and stories
Lost in happiness I had no fears
Innocence and love was all I knew
Was it illusion?"

It's no secret the members of Black Sabbath were strung out on drugs during recording, specifically cocaine (note the original album title), and in fact, "Snowblind" finds the band celebrating the magic powder. The ascending guitar riff of "Snowblind" is one of the best and heaviest in Sabbath's canon, and Ozzy sings about the freedom of his mind the drug has brought him and feeling bad when it wears off.

"Let the winter sun shine on
Let me feel the frost of dawn
Fill my dreams with flakes of snow
Soon I'll feel the chilling glow."

In retrospect, maybe this album should have been called Master of Reality. The songs are more about perception, the vastness of the mind, and dreams. These guys are trying to break out of the limits of reality and transcend. As Ozzy sings on "Supernaut," "I want to reach out and touch the sky. I want to touch the sun but I don't need to fly."

This holds true musically. While still based on the sludgy, heavy sound that defines Sabbath, the songs find the group expanding outward. "Changes," a sappy lost love ballad, uses a soft piano, and "Laguna Sunrise" incorporates a classic guitar piece with a backing orchestra. Even "Supernaut," which is massive and crushing, has a funk-inspired breakdown toward the end. "Wheels of Confusion" is a complex, multi-part song, as is "Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes," the album closer.

"So believe what I tell you, it's the only way you'll find in the end
Just believe in yourself, you know you really shouldn't have to pretend
don't let those empty people try to interfere with your mind
Just live your life and leave them all behind."

Vol. 4 finds Black Sabbath pushing their sludgy heavy sound into new and interesting directions. The result is an album that's at various times, beautiful, tender, strange, powerful, heavy, massive, and transcendent. 

Standout Songs
Supernaut - Heavy and psychedelic, the song includes a funky, almost Caribbean drum solo that somehow fits perfectly.
Snowblind - A glorious ode to cocaine, it contains one of Tony Iommi's best riffs.

Favorite Moment
The opening riff of "Snowblind." It was one of my favorite pieces to learn on guitar.

Album Cover

In white block letters, the band's name and the album title wrap around an orange imprint of Ozzy with his arms raised to the sky. Maybe not the flashiest but an indication that this album will stretch out a bit but remain true to the band's core

Track Order

1) Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener
2) Tomorrow's Dream
3) Changes
4) FX
5) Supernaut
6) Snowblind
7) Cornucopia
8) Laguna Sunrise
9) St. Vitus Dance
10) Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes


Ozzy Osbourne - Vocals
Tony Iommi - Guitar
Geezer Butler - Bass
Bill Ward - Drums

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