Black Sabbath - Vol. 4 Album Of The Week Club review

In which Black Sabbath decamp to LA to work on an album, and somehow make Vol. 4

Black Sabbath: Vol. 4
(Image: © Vertigo Records)

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Black Sabbath: Vol. 4

Black Sabbath: Vol. 4

(Image credit: Vertigo Records)

Wheels of Confusion
Tomorrow's Dream
Laguna Sunrise
St. Vitus Dance
Under the Sun

Master Of Reality was Black Sabbath’s stoner album. On the follow-up, cocaine was king. Recording Vol.4 in LA, the band did so much coke that it was delivered to them in soap powder boxes. And on Snowblind, this album’s Sweet Leaf, they eulogised their new favourite drug. “This is where I feel I belong,” Ozzy Osbourne sang. 

"That coke was the whitest, purest, strongest stuff you could ever imagine," said the singer. "One sniff, and you were king of the universe." But if cocaine would hasten Sabbath’s descent into personal chaos, it also emboldened them to further expand their musical remit. 

Supernaut, the hardest hitting track on Vol.4, turned funky halfway through. Wheels Of Confusion has the complexity of progressive rock. And on piano ballad Changes, Ozzy wailed like a wounded Elton John. More than just a great album, Vol.4 is a monument to excess.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in September 1972

  • Close to the Edge - Yes
  • Phoenix - Grand Funk Railroad
  • Live Full House - The J. Geils Band
  • Glorified Magnified - Manfred Mann's Earth Band
  • Below the Salt - Steeleye Span
  • Give It Up - Bonnie Raitt
  • Nervous on the Road - Brinsley Schwarz
  • Sandy - Sandy Denny
  • Solomon's Seal - Pentangle
  • Squawk - Budgie

What they said...

"The Sabs pour it on, man, it’s right near the end of the record now and here’s a great three-second drum solo by a polar bear, no shit! Put mud in my ears if I lie! I can dig it! Great buncha chords there too, I couldna chose better myself, whew, we’re thudding down toward the ultimate rip chord now. Gotcha. Over and out. Molten rocks hurtling across space imitating the origin of the universe, you dig? Ah, lay those chord slabs on my grave … whew. The Sabs are genius." (Rolling Stone

"From the opening notes of Wheels Of Confusion that begin the album with the most deeply mind-rotting, drugged-out and nowhere riff ever, total mental oblivion is guaranteed. The gears and cogs of Sabbath churn ever slower and slower on this ear-splitting grind-out as Ozzy is singing lyrics liberated from reason, proclaiming innocence as illusion as the circular trudge does nothing but continue. Will it ever end?" (Head Heritage)

"The drug fuelled madness of Vol. 4 is a joy to behold. The opening, lonesome riff to Supernaut is a blood pumping delight as Ozzy shrieks about reaching out and touching the sky. Said to be one of Frank Zappa’s favourite Black Sabbath songs, and a blatant blueprint for Down’s Losing All off their eponymous debut record, Supernaut is a supercharged highlight of a stunning album choc full of highlights." (Louder Than War)

What you said...

Philip Qvist: I borrowed this album from a schoolmate in the 1981 - and on first hearing I remember how heavy that album was.

The highlight? Opening track Wheels of Confusion/The Straightening. Then you have the hard stuff like Snowblind and Supernaut, the absurd in FX and the lighter moments with Laguna Sunrise and Changes - neither which I mind, as it adds some balance to Vol 4.

Do I have the album? Of course I do. In my opinion, the best Black Sabbath album recorded during the Ozzy era. 9/10 classic.

Arthur Comix: 10/10. First Sabbath LP I bought. The riffs are super-heavy, the other stuff adds texture - makes the heavy even heavier. First and last on each side are as good as it gets. (My old band used to play Under The Sun. Very very badly)

Randy Banner: I don't even have to go back and listen to this to write my review of it. This, along with Sabotage and Paranoid, is my Holy Trinity of Sabbath. It dips its toes into the waters of experimentation that would come on later albums with Wheels Of Confusion/The Straightener, St. Vitus' Dance, FX, and Supernaut while keeping a foot firmly planted in their heavy roots with Snowblind and the monolithic Under The Sun/Every Day Comes And Goes. It's rare for me to rate anything over 8-9, but this album is so perfect that I'm breaking my rule. 10/10

John Edgar: Black Sabbath freakin' Vol. 4. It was released in September of 1972. I was 12 years old and just going into the 7th grade, here in the United States. I was primarily a radio kid at that point, but I had some older friends that were into music, so I definitely had the Sabbath exposure. 

A friend's house had a pool table in a family room where the Junior High cretins gathered to shoot pool, smoke cigs and listen to the 8-track tapes that belonged to older siblings. This is where I regularly absorbed bands like Black Sabbath, Trapeze and Alice Cooper. This is where Vol. 4 came to life. We played it regularly, along with Paranoid and Master Of Reality

When I got my own stereo it was one of the first albums I bought. When I got my first car it was one of the first tapes I bought. To this day, it's the Sabbath CD that I'm most likely to pull off of the shelf and put in the truck for a few days. It's got a flow that just can't be beat and the production is fantastic. As an older listener it always seemed that Black Sabbath experienced some 'growth' with this release. It just seems a little more powerful than its predecessors. Then, there's that one song. That song that just 'does it' for you. Feeling a little down? Need a pick me up? Taking a road trip? Need to drive fast? One word: Supernaut! This album makes the desert island list, that's for sure!

Mykhaylo Bayla: I prefer better Paranoid and Sabotage. This one isn't the best one, but has very good, heavy songs like Wheels of Confusion, Tomorrow's Dream, melodic ballad like Changes, great instrumental songs like FX (reminds me early Pink Floyd sound) and folky Laguna Sunrise. Such sound as in Cornucopia and St. Vitus Dance you can hear in early doom metal and NWOBHM bands. Snowblind most important song on this album in musical implementation. Also Snowblind inspired lots of bands to write songs about drugs, one of them was Styx's Snowblind. Frank Zappa also liked this song. As for me, Vol. 4 is a good classic album with heavy riffs that blows my mind every time when I'm listening to it. My point 8/10.

Andrew Williams: Where do you start? It's a gold-plated classic and my favourite Sabbath album, just pipping Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Wheels of Confusion opens the album and what a totally mind blowing start. Progtastic but heavy as fuck... and what an outro. Jesus. Where do you go from there? Tomorrow's Dream, Snowblind, Supernaut, Cornucopia and the best tail end Charlie Sabbath song the Doom-tastic Under The Sun. The songs are awesome. Any complaints? Well purely from a sound quality perspective it sounds like my speakers have wet blankets over them which is disappointing as Master of Reality – the album before – has the best sound quality of any Sabbath album. 10/10

Graham Tarry: Having a listen again I'd forgotten how many great songs there are on this album. Definitely their gloomiest offering (similar to when Dream Theater later did Train of Thought), and no fillers; unless you count FX! I remember when Fluff had a daytime show on Radio 1 that he used Laguna Sunrise as background music!

Adam Ranger: A good album, but not a great album. but does have some filler and feels a little disjointed in places, however it was a joy to listen to this again. It was the album they recorded before my all time favourite the following year Sabbath Bloody Sabbath so a precursor to that it deserves praise.

Roy Bish: A brilliant album, not a bad track on it. Shows a band that is maturing and becoming more confident in their own abilities. It kicks arse from the start (Wheels Of Confusion), to the end (Under The Sun). Changes is a complete change in direction and wowed me when I first listened to the album back in the 70s and haven't stopped playing this album since.

Mauricio Telles: Timeless album, defined a genre, with parts trippy, parts aggressive, instrumentally better than its predecessors. I’ve never stopped to listen to it since the first time. Score 10/10.

Wade Babineau: Great album. Tomorrow’s Dream and Supernaut have to be some of Iommi’s greasiest riffs. Who doesn't love Supernaut and Snowblind as a huge one-two punch right in the middle? FX is clearly filler, but no real complaints with this one. The rot from the coke abuse clearly not set in yet.

John Davidson: Sabbath produced some of rock's most enduring and beloved music, arguably inventing most of the Heavy Metal tropes that have kept the genre going for the last 50 years along the way.

Vol. 4 comes after the heavy, cosmic rock of Masters Of Reality and before (arguably) their flawless masterpiece Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. It contains some monster tracks in Wheels of Confusion, Supernaut and Snowblind and beautiful quieter moments like Changes and Laguna Sunrise. Although the rest of the album doesn't quite hit these peaks, other than FX there's no obvious filler.

The only thing that lets it down is the mix/production which is absolutely ghastly in places. The cymbals splash like a bad Metallica album across most of the songs, the bass guitar overwhelms the drums (particularly on Tomorrow's Dream) and there is generally a lack of consistency on most tracks.

Thank the heavens (or other directions of inspiration) that the songs are strong enough to survive such mistreatment.

A solid 8/10 (I'll reserve my 10 for Sabbath Bloody Sabbath if it ever comes around and a couple of 9s for MOR and Sabotage).

Fred Varcoe: I love Sabbath but always viewed this as one of their weaker efforts. Iommi changed his guitar sound, the production was trying to be too clever and it didn't have that hit-you-in-the-gut feeling of the previous albums. It's a 7 for me.

Joe Cogan: The fourth masterpiece in a row from the mighty Sabbath. FX is a pointless throwaway, but otherwise, this is all killer, no filler. Yes, there are surprises that you wouldn't expect from Sabbath (Changes, Laguna Sunrise), but they were always about confounding expectations, whether Ozzy's frantic harmonica playing on The Wizard from their debut, or the ultra-cool Planet Caravan from Paranoid that sounds like they should be playing it to a coffeehouse full of beatniks at 4AM, wearing shades and passing a joint. 

That said, this is mostly one of Sabbath's heaviest offerings: tracks like Wheels of Confusion and Supernaut still rank among the greatest headbanging anthems, not just of their era, but of all time. 9.5/10.

Jonathan Novajosky: A great, rockin' album. I'm not the craziest Sabbath fan, but it doesn't take much to get into Vol. 4. It starts with one of the better tracks on the album, Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener that features some bluesy riffs and melodic vocals by Ozzy. I always appreciate albums with a lot of variety, and Vol. 4 delivers with its balance of heavy and softer songs (with even a sprinkle of instrumentals throughout).

My two favourite tracks are Cornucopia and Changes. I love the lyrics and use of piano in Changes, but what makes it great is the eerie background feel it gives off (though I'm not quite sure what instrument is being played). Cornucopia is classic Sabbath with dark guitar tones and powerful, foot-stomping drumming. And right after arguably the hardest song on the album is a light instrumental Laguna Sunrise. Again, great balance and mix of songs here. There's something for just about anyone to enjoy here. 8/10

Mike Knoop: Vol. 4 is my least favourite Ozzy-era Sabbath album. A big part of the problem is Changes, the "Beth" of the Black Sabbath catalog. It seems like a shallow cash-grab on what is otherwise Sabbath's raunchiest sounding album. The album also has the laziest filler ever in FX: even Tony Iommi called the song "a total joke," according to their Wikipedia entry. Maybe it's funnier if stoned on hashish like they were when they recorded it. Laguna Sunrise, while it has an actual melody, isn't much more engaging. It's no Orchid or Fluff.

The rest of the album has grown on me over the past few years. Iommi's guitar tone here could curdle milk, but I've started to see that as a plus because it adds to the general heaviness and dark vibe of the album, dark by even Sabbath standards. I certainly get how influential Vol. 4 is. I can hear strains of doom (Cornucopia, Under the Sun/Everyday Comes and Goes), stoner metal (St. Vitus Dance, Wheel of Confusion), even industrial (Supernaut). And, for better or worse, Changes might be the first power ballad.

Ultimately, it's not like you can really go wrong with any of the eight Ozzy-era albums. I just cherry pick from this one more than listening to the full album, like I do most of the others.

Carl Black: The first half an hour of this album is near heavy metal perfection as you can get. The last 12-15 minutes or so would be standout tracks on most albums by any other bands or even Black Sabbath themselves. Each members plays a blinder on here. You could listen to each instrument on an isolated track and you'd know instantly which song it is. Not so easy on some albums by other bands. Have to give it a nine only because Paranoid is heavy metal perfection.

Shane Reho: This was my first time hearing this (somehow). Other than FX, which accomplished nothing, I can't find a flaw on this. Sabbath keeps up to standard when it comes to the heavy stuff, plus the two uncharacteristically mellow songs work quite well also. 9/10.

Bill Griffin: An excellent album, the product of a more mature Sabbath and even getting a little proggy (a direction that would be further explored and developed on the next two albums) but the guitar is too low in the mix, making it sound bass-heavy.

Chris Downie: While it's a written rule in the annals of heavy metal history that the first six Ozzy-era and first two Dio-fronted albums are all undisputed genre classics, it is also true that Vol. 4 (like the equally under-appreciated Mob Rules) is often overlooked when fans are pushed to nominate their first pick of them all.

Upon closer inspection, it's more a reflection of the timeless quality of the others that Vol. 4 is on the periphery of their classic period. Witness the masterful opener Wheels Of Confusion, which once again reminds us that Tony Iommi is as much a great lead player as a riff master. Not to mention the immortal Snowblind.

Where Vol. 4 really excels though, is in deeper cuts like Under The Sun, Cornucopia and Tomorrow's Dream, which stand up well alongside their live staples. The misstep of the Cat Stevens-and-Elton John-on-a-bad-acid-trip of Changes aside, this is another essential album, not only for Sabbath devotees, but for anyone charting the early evolution of our genre. While it doesn't quite match its two predecessors, it paved the way for the more experimental turns they would take on the next two albums, which further cemented their status as legends.

Final Score: 8.94 ⁄10 (354 votes cast, with a total score of 3168)

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