Black Sabbath, Vol. 4

Black Sabbath, Vol. 4

You can’t accuse Black Sabbath of false advertising. The group members wanted to call their fourth album Snowblind, after their cocaine-inspired song of the same name, only to be turned down by their record company. But really—all of Vol. 4 was inspired by cocaine. The bandmates were up to their eyeballs in the stuff at the Bel Air mansion where they wrote most of the songs (a mansion that happened to be owned by DuPont chemical heir—and future convicted murderer—John du Pont). They had speaker cabinets full of coke delivered to the recording studio, and guitarist Tony Iommi wrote the neo-classical interlude “Laguna Sunrise” after staying up all night on you-know-what. Sabbath even thank “the great COKE-cola company of Los Angeles” in the credits. Somehow, the band’s massive drug intake didn’t affect the quality of the songwriting. Released in 1972, and produced mostly by Iommi, Vol. 4 has some of the band’s most ferocious and memorable songs. It starts out with “Wheels of Confusion,” a mercurial meditation on alienation that segues into the bombastic instrumental “The Straightener”—a bit of a proggy throwback to Sabbath’s first two albums. The album then strips down to the rolling thunder kiss-off of “Tomorrow’s Dream”; killer and concise, it was the album’s sole single. The ballad “Changes,” meanwhile, is a unique collaboration among the four members: Self-taught pianist Iommi tickled the ivories; singer Ozzy Osbourne wrote the vocal melody; and bassist Geezer Butler wrote the lyrics, which were based on drummer Bill Ward’s crumbling marriage. It remains one of the most plaintive and melancholy songs in the band’s catalog. For a man who wrote so many of heavy metal’s all-time greatest riffs, the one Iommi carved off for “Supernaut” is a showstopper. Dizzying and circular, it propels one of the most infectious songs Sabbath ever wrote. A favorite of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham—as well of unlikely Sabbath fan Frank Zappa—the track also features a carnival-esque breakdown from Ward. Still, “Snowblind” is Vol. 4’s centerpiece. With lyrics by Butler, it also might be the most poetic and empathetic song about being high on the devil’s dandruff: “Something blowin’ in my head/Winds of ice that soon will spread,” Ozzy sings over a chilling Iommi riff, “Down to freeze my very soul/Makes me happy, makes me cold.” Elsewhere on Vol. 4,“Cornucopia” churns with ominous inevitability and offers a warning about the illusion of materialistic pleasures. “St. Vitus Dance” might seem like a reference to what we’d now call restless leg syndrome, but the lyrics detail a romantic relationship broken on the wheel of paranoia. And the closing track, “Under the Sun,” is an anti-religious, anti-authoritarian song with a deep, rumbling riff that helped plant the seed of modern doom metal. More importantly, it set the stage for what might be Sabbath’s crowning achievement: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.

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