Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath Vol 4 (1972)

AllMusic Review: Debatably, Black Sabbath laid the groundwork for various subgenres of metal with individual songs from their early catalog, exploring cosmic psychedelia on one track, symphonic accompaniment on the next, and sludgy, downtuned riffing on the song after that. If the theory that Sabbath forecast a great deal of metal to come, Vol. 4 represents the earliest ancestry of doom metal as one of the band’s darkest and most confused early documents. The three albums that came before 1972’s Vol. 4 weren’t short on dread and doominess, but the band’s increasingly heavy mutations of blues-rock were kept from the brink of collapse by relatively streamlined production and aspirations for pop accessibility. By the time of Vol. 4, the band were certified rock stars, indulging in drugs and partying on an accelerated level. These excesses are reflected in the overall murky sound of the album, lyrical themes of a slippery grasp on reality, and weird stylistic curveballs that range from an out-of-nowhere soul breakdown in the middle of “Supernaut” (otherwise one of the most intense songs in the band’s catalog) to stoned twiddling with delay effects on “FX” to the beautifully placid instrumental “Laguna Sunrise,” consisting of Tony Iommi’s classical guitar and full orchestral backing. This was the first album where Iommi and the band acted as producers, and their boundless experimentation went hand in hand with consuming ungodly amounts of cocaine, to the point where they originally wanted the album to share a title with its centerpiece “Snowblind,” a plodding and bewildered ode to the drug. The record company ultimately vetoed the idea and the band acquiesced. Paradoxically, the scattered mindset and muddy atmosphere of Vol. 4 became its defining factors and resulted in some of the heaviest material the band would create. Ozzy Osbourne’s patented wraith-like wails begin to come into their own on anguished rockers like “Tomorrow’s Dream” and “Cornucopia,” and take on a tenderness that Sabbath had never attempted before on the piano/Mellotron ballad “Changes.” It’s a somewhat awkward jerk from the tearful sentimentality of “Changes” to the paranoid proto-sludge of “Under the Sun,” and many songs have similarly strange quick turns in composition, fumbling mixing choices, or different overall textural quality from track to track. Black Sabbath’s collective mental state would further devolve on their next two albums, and by the late ’70s they were virtually a different band. Though clouded by substance abuse, Vol. 4 found Sabbath at a creative peak that teetered on the edge of going off the rails completely. It’s messy and bewildered, but stands as one of the band’s most captivating and influential documents in all of its bizarre, damaged brilliance. — Fred Thomas

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Wheels of Confusion” 8:02
2. “Tomorrow’s Dream” 3:12
3. “Changes” 4:45
4. “FX” (instrumental) 1:44
5. “Supernaut” 4:50
Side two
No. Title Length
6. “Snowblind” 5:33
7. “Cornucopia” 3:55 
8. “Laguna Sunrise” (instrumental) 2:56
9. “St. Vitus Dance” 2:30
10. “Under the Sun” 5:53

 

Schill Score:  6.5/10

 

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Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)

All Music Review: Paranoid was not only Black Sabbath’s most popular record (it was a number one smash in the U.K., and “Paranoid” and “Iron Man” both scraped the U.S. charts despite virtually nonexistent radio play), it also stands as one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal albums of all time. Paranoid refined Black Sabbath’s signature sound — crushingly loud, minor-key dirges loosely based on heavy blues-rock — and applied it to a newly consistent set of songs with utterly memorable riffs, most of which now rank as all-time metal classics. Where the extended, multi-sectioned songs on the debut sometimes felt like aimless jams, their counterparts on Paranoid have been given focus and direction, lending an epic drama to now-standards like “War Pigs” and “Iron Man” (which sports one of the most immediately identifiable riffs in metal history). The subject matter is unrelentingly, obsessively dark, covering both supernatural/sci-fi horrors and the real-life traumas of death, war, nuclear annihilation, mental illness, drug hallucinations, and narcotic abuse. Yet Sabbath make it totally convincing, thanks to the crawling, muddled bleakness and bad-trip depression evoked so frighteningly well by their music. Even the qualities that made critics deplore the album (and the group) for years increase the overall effect — the technical simplicity of Ozzy Osbourne’s vocals and Tony Iommi’s lead guitar vocabulary, the spots when the lyrics sink into melodrama or awkwardness, the lack of subtlety, and the infrequent dynamic contrast. Everything adds up to more than the sum of its parts, as though the anxieties behind the music simply demanded that the band achieve catharsis by steamrolling everything in their path, including their own limitations. Monolithic and primally powerful, Paranoid defined the sound and style of heavy metal more than any other record in rock history. — Steve Huey

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “War Pigs” 7:57
2. “Paranoid” 2:48
3. “Planet Caravan” 4:32
4. “Iron Man” 5:56
Side two
No. Title Length
5. “Electric Funeral” 4:53
6. “Hand of Doom” 7:08
7. “Rat Salad” (instrumental) 2:30
8. “Fairies Wear Boots” 6:15

 

 

Schill Score: 9/10

 

 

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Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)

AllMusic Review: Black Sabbath’s debut album is the birth of heavy metal as we now know it. Compatriots like Blue Cheer, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple were already setting new standards for volume and heaviness in the realms of psychedelia, blues-rock, and prog rock. Yet of these metal pioneers, Sabbath are the only one whose sound today remains instantly recognizable as heavy metal, even after decades of evolution in the genre. Circumstance certainly played some role in the birth of this musical revolution — the sonic ugliness reflecting the bleak industrial nightmare of Birmingham; guitarist Tony Iommi’s loss of two fingertips, which required him to play slower and to slacken the strings by tuning his guitar down, thus creating Sabbath’s signature style. These qualities set the band apart, but they weren’t wholly why this debut album transcends its clear roots in blues-rock and psychedelia to become something more. Sabbath’s genius was finding the hidden malevolence in the blues, and then bludgeoning the listener over the head with it. Take the legendary album-opening title cut. The standard pentatonic blues scale always added the tritone, or flatted fifth, as the so-called “blues note”; Sabbath simply extracted it and came up with one of the simplest yet most definitive heavy metal riffs of all time. Thematically, most of heavy metal’s great lyrical obsessions are not only here, they’re all crammed onto side one. “Black Sabbath,” “The Wizard,” “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” and “N.I.B.” evoke visions of evil, paganism, and the occult as filtered through horror films and the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and Dennis Wheatley. Even if the album ended here, it would still be essential listening. Unfortunately, much of side two is given over to loose blues-rock jamming learned through Cream, which plays squarely into the band’s limitations. For all his stylistic innovations and strengths as a composer, Iommi isn’t a hugely accomplished soloist. By the end of the murky, meandering, ten-minute cover of the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation’s “Warning,” you can already hear him recycling some of the same simple blues licks he used on side one (plus, the word “warn” never even appears in the song, because Ozzy Osbourne misheard the original lyrics). (The British release included another cover, a version of Crow’s “Evil Woman” that doesn’t quite pack the muscle of the band’s originals; the American version substituted “Wicked World,” which is much preferred by fans.) But even if the seams are still showing on this quickly recorded document, Black Sabbath is nonetheless a revolutionary debut whose distinctive ideas merely await a bit more focus and development. Henceforth Black Sabbath would forge ahead with a vision that was wholly theirs. — Steve Huey

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Black Sabbath” 6:20
2. “The Wizard” 4:22
3. “Wasp / Behind the Wall of Sleep / Bassically / N.I.B.” 9:44
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
4. “Wicked World” 4:47
5. “A Bit of Finger / Sleeping Village / Warning”
  • Iommi
  • Butler
  • Ward
  • Osbourne / Dunbar
  • Dmochowski
  • Hickling
  • Moorshead
14:15

 

 

Schill Score: 7.5/10

 

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