The iconic album cover depicting Ozzy Osbourne in monochrome.
|Studio album by Black Sabbath|
|Released||September 25 1972|
|Recorded||May 1972 at Record Plant in Los Angeles, California, USA|
|Genre||Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Doom Metal, Soul|
|Producer||Patrick Meehan, Black Sabbath (Specifically Tony Iommi)|
|Black Sabbath chronology|
| Master of Reality |
| Vol. 4 |
| Sabbath Bloody Sabbath |
Vol. 4 (Sometimes called Black Sabbath Vol. 4 and intended to be called Snowblind.) is the fourth studio album by English heavy metal band Black Sabbath, released in September 1972. It was the first album by Black Sabbath not produced by Rodger Bain; guitarist Tony Iommi assumed production duties. Patrick Meehan, the band's then-manager, was listed as co-producer, though his actual involvement in the album's production was minimal at best.
In June 1972, Black Sabbath began work on their fourth album at the Record Plant studios in Los Angeles. The recording process was plagued with problems, many due to substance abuse. In the studio, the band regularly had large speaker boxes full of cocaine delivered. According to Sharon Osbourne's memoirs, there was also a Doberman at the mansion that had gotten into a part of the band's cocaine supply that was laced with the baby laxative mannitol and soon became ill from the effects of the altered drug. While struggling to record the song "Cornucopia" after "sitting in the middle of the room, just doing drugs", Bill Ward feared that he was about to be fired from the band. "I hated the song, there were some patterns that were just horrible", Ward said. "I nailed it in the end, but the reaction I got was the cold shoulder from everybody. It was like 'Well, just go home, you're not being of any use right now.' I felt like I'd blown it, I was about to get fired". According to the book How Black Was Our Sabbath, Bill Ward "was always a drinker, but rarely appeared drunk. Retrospectively, that might have been a danger sign. Now, his self-control was clearly slipping." Iommi claims in his autobiography that Ward almost died after a prank-gone-wrong during recording of the album. The Bel Air mansion the band was renting belonged to John DuPont of the DuPont chemical company and the band found several spray cans of gold DuPont paint in a room of the house; finding Ward naked and unconscious after drinking heavily, they proceeded to cover the drummer in gold paint from head to toe.
The Vol. 4 sessions could be viewed as the point in time when the seeds were planted for what would eventually be the demise of the classic Sabbath line-up. As bassist Geezer Butler told Guitar World in 2001: "Yeah, the cocaine had set in. We went out to L.A. and got into a totally different lifestyle. Half the budget went on the coke and the other half went to seeing how long we could stay in the studio ... We rented a house in Bel-Air and the debauchery up there was just unbelievable." In the same interview, Ward said: "Yes, Vol. 4 is a great album, but listening to it now, I can see it as a turning point for me, where the alcohol and drugs stopped being fun." Speaking to Guitar World in 1992 Iommi admitted, "LA was a real distraction for us, and that album ended up sounding a bit strange. The people who were involved with the record really didn't have a clue. They were all learning with us, and we didn’t know what we were doing either. The experimental stage we began with Master of Reality continued with Vol. 4, and we were trying to widen our sound and break out of the bag everyone had put us into." In the liner notes to the 1998 live album Reunion Iommi reflected, "By the time we got to Bel Air we were totally gone. It really was a case of wine, women and song, and we were doing more drugs than ever before."
In his autobiography I Am Ozzy, singer Ozzy Osbourne speaks at length about the drugged out atmosphere surrounding the sessions, stating, "In spite of all the arsing around, musically those few weeks in Bel Air were the strongest we'd ever been" but admitted "Eventually we started to wonder where the fuck all the coke was coming from ... I'm telling you: that coke was the whitest, purest, strongest stuff you could ever imagine. One sniff, and you were king of the universe." Osbourne also recounts the band's ongoing anxiety over the possibility of being busted, which only worsened after they went to the cinema to see The French Connection, a film about two undercover New York City cops busting an international heroin-smuggling ring. "By the time the credits rolled," Osbourne recalled, "I was hyperventilating." Iommi describes the scene in his memoir Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath, "like Tony Montana in the movie Scarface: we'd put a big pile (of cocaine) on the table, carve it all up and then we'd all have a bit, well, quite a lot." In 2013, Butler admitted to Mojo magazine that heroin, too, had entered the picture, although he claimed "We sniffed it, we never shot up ... I didn't realize how nuts things had gotten until I went home and the girl I was with didn't recognize me."
Vol. 4 sees Black Sabbath beginning to experiment with the heavy sound they had become known for. In June 2013 Mojo declared, "If booze and dope had helped fuel Sabbath's earlier albums, Vol. 4 is their cocaine ... Despite their spiraling addictions, musically Vol. 4 is another ambitious outing. The band's heavy side remains intact on the likes of 'Tomorrow's Dream', 'Cornucopia' and the seismic 'Supernaut' (a firm favorite of Frank Zappa's, featuring Bill Ward's soul-inspired breakdown), but the guitar intro on 'St. Vitus Dance' possesses a jaunty, Led Zeppelin-flavored quality, while 'Laguna Sunrise' is an evocative neo-classical Iommi instrumental." After being up all night and watching the sunrise at Laguna Beach, Iommi composed the song. In the studio, an orchestra was brought in to accompany Iommi's guitar, although the orchestra refused to perform until their parts were properly written out. The same orchestra also performed on the track "Snowblind".
Musically, the song "Snowblind" is the band's most blatant ode to cocaine, their drug of choice during this period. Snowblind was also the album's working title, but Vertigo Records executives were reluctant to release an album with such an obvious drug reference as its title. The album's liner notes also thank "the great COKE-cola", another blatant ode to the band's cocaine use. In his autobiography Osbourne notes, "For me, Snowblind was one of Black Sabbath's best-ever albums – although the record company wouldn't let us keep the title, 'cos in those days cocaine was a big deal, and they didn't want the hassle of a controversy. We didn't argue."
Although most of the album's songs are in the band's trademark heavy style, others demonstrate a more sensitive approach which the band had never attempted before. Perhaps the best example of this experimentation can be heard in the song "Changes". Written by Iommi with lyrics composed by Butler, it is entirely in the form of a piano ballad with mellotron. Iommi taught himself to play the piano after finding one in the ballroom of the Bel-Air mansion they were renting. It was on this piano that the song "Changes" was composed. "With 'Changes', Tony just sat down at the piano and came up with this beautiful riff", Osbourne writes in his memoir. "I hummed a melody over the top, and Geezer wrote these heartbreaking lyrics about the break-up Bill was going through with his wife. I thought that was brilliant from the moment we recorded it."
The track "FX" came about unexpectedly in the studio. After smoking hashish, the crucifix hanging from Iommi's neck accidentally struck the strings of his guitar and the band took an interest in the odd sound produced, taking turns letting the cross strike the guitar. An echo effect was added and the rest of the band proceeded to hit the guitar with various objects to generate odd sound effects. Iommi calls the song "a total joke". The album, Tony Iommi told Circus's sister magazine Circus Raves, "was such a complete change – we felt we had jumped an album, really ... We had tried to go too far."
The album cover features a monochrome photograph of Ozzy Osbourne with hands raised throwing the peace sign, taken during a Black Sabbath concert. The album's original release (on Vertigo in the UK, on Warner Bros. in the US and on Nippon Phonogram in Japan) features a gatefold sleeve with a page glued into the middle. Each band member is given his own photo page, with the band on-stage at the Birmingham Town Hall (and photographed from behind) at the very centre.
The album's original cover art has proved iconic, and has been imitated and parodied on numerous occasions, such as on the 1992 Peaceville Volume 4 compilation album, the 1992 Volume Two (Sleep) by the band Sleep, Vol. 1 (Church of Misery) by Church of Misery, The Born Too Late split between Church of Misery and Sheavy and the 1994 Planet Caravan EP by Pantera.
Vol. 4 was released in September 1972, and while most critics of the era were dismissive of the album, it achieved gold status in less than a month, and was the band's fourth consecutive release to sell one million copies in the United States. It reached number 13 on Billboard's pop album chart and number 8 on the UK Albums Chart. The song "Tomorrow's Dream" was released as a single but failed to chart. Following an extensive tour of the US, the band toured Australia for the first time in 1973, and later Europe.
Rock critic Lester Bangs, who had derided the band's first two albums, applauded Vol. 4, writing in Creem, "We have seen the Stooges take on the night ferociously and go tumbling into the maw, and Alice Cooper is currently exploiting it for all it's worth, turning it into a circus. But there is only one band that has dealt with it honestly on terms meaningful to vast portions of the audience, not only grappling with it in a mythic structure that's both personal and powerful but actually managing to prosper as well. And that band is Black Sabbath." Bangs also compared the band's lyrics to those of Bob Dylan and William S. Burroughs. In June 2000, Q placed Vol. 4 at number 60 in its list of The 100 Greatest British Albums Ever and described the album as "the sound of drug-taking, beer-guzzling hooligans from Britain's oft-pilloried cultural armpit let loose in LA." In his 2013 biography on the band Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe, Mick Wall insists that "Under The Sun" would become the "sonic signpost" for the bands that would follow Sabbath in years to come like Iron Maiden and Metallica. Frank Zappa has identified the song "Supernaut" as one of his all time favourites. (In a 1994 interview with Guitar for the Practicing Musician, Butler revealed, "I loved Zappa's lyric approach. That influenced me lyrically, definitely".) "Supernaut" was also one of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham's favorite songs by Black Sabbath.
Kerrang! magazine listed the album at No. 48 among the "100 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums of All Time".
Thomas Gabriel Fischer of Triptykon and formerly Hellhammer and Celtic Frost cited Vol.4 as highly influential on his musical formation and stated he "learned to play guitar from that album". Al Cisneros has also gone on record to cite Vol. 4 as a huge influence.
All music written by Black Sabbath (Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward); all lyrics by Geezer Butler.
- 1. Wheels of Confusion / The Straightener - 8:02
- 2. Tomorrow's Dream - 3:12
- 3. Changes - 4:45
- 4. FX - 1:44
- 5. Supernaut - 4:50
- 6. Snowblind - 5:33
- 7. Cornucopia - 3:55
- 8. Laguna Sunrise - 2:56
- 9. St. Vitus Dance - 2:30
- 10. Under The Sun / Every Day Comes and Goes - 5:53
- Ozzy Osbourne - Vocals
- Tony Iommi - Guitar, Piano, Mellotron, Producer
- Geezer Butler - bass, Mellotron
- Bill Ward - Drums, Percussion
- Colin Caldwell - Engineer
- Vic Smith - Engineer
- Patrick Meehan - Producer