This box set comprises the first eight albums from the original (and untouchable) line-up of Sabbath before Ozzy's departure. Listening to it now its hard to believe how old some of these records are. One can only imagine the impact of the bands debut when unleashed early in 1970, sharing the charts as it did with The Beatles last release 'Let It Be' and Simon & Garfunkels all-conquering 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' (both great albums in their own right by the way!).
Indeed, the first album has lost of its dark, brooding power. Colossal riffs, rumbling bass, huge drums and Ozzy wailing over the top, it set the template for all heavy music to follow. Recorded in just two quick sessions for only 600 quid (!) the band were on a ferry to Europe the day after to play some gigs, not even hanging around for the mixing. As various band members have commented, they were so new to studio protocol they just thought thats how things were done.
'Paranoid' followed later in the year, the title track giving the band an unexpected Top 5 hit. Its a stunning album, and established a Sabbath tradition of including a quieter number to give the listener a break from the bludgeoning riffs. In this case, 'Planet Caravan', a gorgeous piece of spaced-out mellowness and for me the ultimate chill-out song (it was played 9 times in a row during a house party I was at. No one complained.)
This particular box set is completely vanilla. No bonus tracks. No booklets or inlay cards, just the albums in single cardboard sleeves (no gatefold replicas as per the original albums, so 'Paranoid' doesn't have the iconic picture of Ozzy standing apart from the rest of the band, staring down at the camera looking like the hardest man on Earth). Disappointing but if you're just after the music its slim and compact and does the job.
Soundwise, this uses the same Remastering as the US only 'Black Box' release from 2004 (now hard to find and very expensive.) Certainly, its the highest-quality mastering of any Black Sabbath re-issue. Very loud - as it should be - and with improved clarity. Indeed, listening to the sparkling sound of 'Paranoid' it could have been recorded yesterday. Elsewhere, 'Vol. 4' shows a big improvement on the tracks 'Cornucopia' and 'Under The Sun'. Both songs are remarkable for the number of riffs they contain, enough for a whole albums worth and cement Tony Iommi as the King of the Heavy Riff. However, the opening track 'Wheels Of Confusion' is missing the little bit of guitar that popped up after the song has faded out, an error that also occured on the 'Black Box' release so I'm assuming this was a mastering error that wasn't spotted at the time. Only a small thing but worth mentioning if you're familiar with the song.
Price-wise you can pick this up quite reasonably if you shop around and its worth every penny. Especially if you're coming to Sabbath for the first time. Turn it up and enjoy.