Black Sabbath | Vol 4-Revisited | (Rhino)
Music: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Reissue package: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars
Heavy metal is all about the riff. And in guitarist Tony Iommi, Black Sabbath had the king of riffs. It was those inspired, repeated lines that pushed Sabbath to one of the first and surely most commercially successful heavy bands.
By the time of 1972’s blandly named Vol 4 (the original Snowblind title was nixed by the label due to its drug reference), Iommi and singer Ozzy Osbourne had gelled into a creative behemoth of licks, eerie vocals and ominous, occasionally incomprehensible lyrics reflecting the band’s substantial drug intake at the time. It also found Sabbath expanding out of its pure, pummeling three-piece core by pushing into slightly new territory while maintaining the basic melodic metal edge they so successfully staked out over three previous releases. It might not have the same luster in the Sabbath catalog as the legendary Paranoid, but Vol 4 with its shimmering acoustic instrumental “Laguna Sunrise” and reflective ballad “Changes” was a well-rounded effort. Even though the 10 tracks had been remastered as recently as 2014, this expanded edition gives it another go and adds three discs of extras.
The initial nine tracks (we’ll skip over “FX”’s extraneous audio effects) sound clearer, although with Sabbath’s thunderous attack, that may not be a welcome improvement. Iommi’s guitar takes center stage, more so in the new mix, but Geezer Butler’s nimble bass seems to be overshadowed. Tracks such as the roaring “Under the Sun,” bluesy opener “Wheels of Confusion” and the rousing “Supernaut” with its multiple tracked guitar lines and unusual, provocative percussive break, are some of the finest and most powerful items in Sabbath’s catalog.
Disc 2 is comprised of skimpy 27 minutes of six studio outtakes remixed by Steven Wilson. All are slightly interesting if not revelatory. The third platter provides a fly-on-the-wall view of the sessions with studio chatter, different takes, and four alternative performances of “Wheels of Confusion,” the latter comprising 20 minutes of an already short 40 minute playing time. It’s for the hardcore only. The fourth CD pieces together live tracks from various 1973 shows—four from Vol 4— to replicate what would have been a typical Sabbath set at the time. It’s a rugged performance but some of it has already been released and at 50 minutes, there was room for almost a half hour of additional music.
Surely disc two and three could have been combined, and there was probably more live material to make the fourth one longer. The alternate versions aren’t exciting enough to be of interest to any but the Sabbath collector. That leaves the remastered original album, which doesn’t sound substantially better than 2014’s remix, and a booklet with rare pictures, interviews and a poster to inflate the package to a wallet thinning $60 list price.
The thrilling Black Sabbath Vol 4 is essential listening for Brit rock enthusiasts since it captures the band gently prodding its established metal genre. Whether anyone but the most fervent fan needs to spring for this pricey and skimpy reissue though is debatable.