The band experimented with their sound on this 1972 album with textured tunes like Wheels of Confusion; Tomorrow's Dream , and Changes , but still managed to stay true to the Sabbath sound with one of their heaviest tracks ever Supernaut . 10 tracks in all.
Working on the commercially astute basis of not fixing something that’s not broke, the Sabbs offer up yet more riffs of doom and associated heaviness. Hugely popular with the punters, particularly in America where their years of unrelenting touring were now paying top dividends, Vol.4 is careful not to tamper with what was now a successful formula and therein lays the problem.
Originally slated to be called Snowblind, this is the sound of Sabbath taking no chances with the music because they were famously too busy taking enormous quantities of marching powder. Whilst Sabbath albums have never been particular high on the subtlety stakes, none of their previous records sounded so lazy or dull, their recreational intake causing them to take their eye off the business in hand. Cranking the volume up can’t quite mask the shortcomings. The intro to “Wheels of Confusion” briefly alludes to a bluesy vibe before it slips into a grinding motif that represents guitarist Tony Iommi‘s comfort zone.
The difficulty with this approach is that producer Patrick Meehan occasionally relegates Osborne to bystander status. “Cornucopia” suffers largely from being two separate songs clumsily bolted together and a frankly ludicrous chorus that has Ozzie bleating 'You’re going insane/I’m trying to save your brain.' Yeah, right. Only the sprightly hard rock basher, “Supernaut” manages to reach escape velocity from concrete-set mould in which they’d encased themselves.
The only significant contrast to the wall of sound is Iommi’s superficial Library Music instrumental “Laguna Sunrise” and the obligatory ‘sensitive’ track, “Changes.” Who’d have thought that all these years later that it was destined to be covered as an amiable country-soaked amble by The Cardigans, a dance remix or even a saccharin-coated duet by Ozzie and daughter Kelly? Originally recorded long before she was a twinkle in his bleary, red-rimmed eye, with its ever-so-slight twinge of gospel piano and chilled Mellotron strings, it’s proved to one of their most durable songs.
After this, an itinerant Rick Wakeman would add some much needed texture on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but it’s Vol.4 where you can hear the rot setting in. --Sid Smith
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