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Black Sabbath - Volume Four CD (album) cover


Black Sabbath


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3.88 | 679 ratings

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3 stars This is a dirty little album; beautiful in its soil and stains and grease-covered patina, wallowing in the squalor of real rock 'n roll and never even looking in the direction of anything other than pure hard blues. In retrospect, this is the legacy Sabbath would give us and though at the time they just seemed like a talented hardrock ensemble, in hindsight we see how devoted to the real article Iommi, Osbourne, Butler and Ward really were. No compromise, no question-- mercurial heavy rock with strong melodies and no bullsh*t. Add a tasteful use of the Devil's Interval (two notes that seem to be made for them), a gifted guitarist/composer and a brilliant singer who was just beginning to hit his vocal & lyrical stride, and you had a recipe for greatness rarely seen.

After working harder than almost anyone in rock and releasing two phenomenal LPs in 1970 followed by the more internal Master of Reality with Tony Iommi's C-sharp downtune (and their invention of yet another new sound later to be termed 'stoner rock'), the quartet seemed to retreat from the trappings of success and instinctively avert themselves from the beckoning goodness and light of something "more appealing" or "better sounding". No, they'd have none of that, as evidenced by the near lack of proper intonation in some parts. Plus they were in L.A. and enjoying life. Vol. 4 is a stiff middle finger to almost everyone, even their fans, and you gotta love 'em for having the balls to do it long before punk rock made it cool. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath with its keyboards and orchestration would come next and they never really let their hair down quite like this again, making these '72 Snowblind sessions a real example of what rock was supposed to be.

Not every track is necessarily of the highest caliber or as carefully finished as the first three records, and the set has a surprising and unaccountable live feel that could be considered a fifth member, lingering quietly but darkly, helping to cast a shadow over a mostly flower-covered year in music. Yes, yes, the record is clearly devoted to everything white & powdery that eats at your sinuses and induces delusions of grandeur (it was 1972, look into it), but speedy and wide-eyed the music is not. In fact a lot was going down within the band, and that is undoubtedly heard in these recordings. Misplaced opener 'Wheels of Confusion' hits a nice beat, warm and not overly dense, showing signs of Barrett-era Floyd as well as The Nice and shifting to folk-blues 'The Straightener'. Classic and beautiful is 'Tomorrows Dream' showing Ozzy's range and musicality, and it is at this point we begin to really like the muffle of what sounds like a small pillow placed firmly over the recording mics. 'Changes' is fine if you like a gospel piano in your Black Sabbath (and who doesn't, am I right ?) and I'm afraid 'FX' is no more than someone forgetting to leave off the late night LSD-induced fun and the wonders of an Echoplex. Good classic Sabs for 'Supernaut' is followed by the tremendous if completely out-of-tune 'Snowblind' and, well, you get the picture. Debauchery and rock, it's like chocolate and peanut butter. At least it's supposed to be, and this long-player is evidence of that, a testament to it, a shrine built for its long-lamented memory. 'Cornucopia' gets lost in itself, unexpected acoustic bit 'Laguna Sunrise', back to bare knuckles in 'St. Vitus Dance' and glorious sludge of 'Under the Sun..' .

A beguiling record, at once ugly and powerful, Black Sabbath Vol. 4 will either seduce or repel you. Either way you'll be back. They all come back, eventually.

Atavachron | 3/5 |


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