Black Sabbath - Vol. 4 LP

(Vertigo, 1972 - Rhino/Warner, 2016)

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“Black Sabbath were reaching beyond their own musical roots by the time they recorded their fourth album in 1972, coming up with an amalgam of classic heavy riffing, a growing sense of melody and even some touches of progressive rock. The album endures as a classic today – even though it was almost derailed by the band’s growing substance abuse.

Sabbath’s previous album, Master of Reality, had seen the band begin to experiment musically with tracks like “Embryo,” “Orchid” and “Solitude,” and that approach had succeeded, resulting in a double platinum album. The band were keen to continue in that vein with their next outing, but as the musicians settled in Los Angeles to work at the Record Plant, the project rapidly began to run into trouble as the group’s growing reliance on narcotics found its way into the recording sessions.

Black Sabbath had never been shy about advertising their fondness for drugs, even recording an homage to marijuana titled “Sweet Leaf” on the previous LP. But the musicians had taken a turn into cocaine by 1972, and the effects of the drug informed many aspects of the new album, especially in the lyrics. Many of the album’s lyrics seemingly derive from the paranoid delusions of cocaine abuse, while the Sabbath classic “Snowblind” is an open celebration of the drug that the group intended as the title song of the album until their nervous record company intervened.

Even so, the group succeeded at expanding their musical parameters, intermingling classic riffage like “Snowblind” and “St. Vitus Dance” with longer, more complicated songs like “Tomorrow’s Dream” and “Cornucopia.” “FX” was little more than an abstract soundscape, while the acoustic “Laguna Sunrise” showcased a gentler side of Iommi that wouldn’t have been out of place as a B-side from In the Court of the Crimson King.” - Sterling Whitaker for Ultimate Classic Rock