The Importance of Being Metal: Black Sabbath-Volume 4
1972; Vertigo; Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles, California
1. Is it any good?
Not as well known as Paranoid, not as heavy as Master of Reality, not as musically complex as Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and not as crushingly dark as the self-titled debut, Volume 4 can only be referred to simply as "a Black Sabbath album". In many ways, this is probably it's best quality.
4 is the most dense of the original lineup's records next to Master of Reality. It's tempting to refer to this album as being "no frills", as nonsensical as that might sound-with the exception of the odd little piano ballad "Changes" and the filler piece "Laguna Sunrise", this is all pretty standard nose to the grindstone style heavy rock. This isn't an insult, mind you-Sabbath's workmanlike approach to song crafting has created some of the greatest songs of all time, heavy metal or no, and this album is by and large no exception. Volume 4 takes the bowel-rumbling heaviness of Reality, picks up the tempo a little bit and expands it. Ozzy's voice isn't quite like it is on any other album, either-it always had a somewhat ghostlike quality to it during the '70s(which reminds me-doesn't he look like such a fucking goblin on the album artwork? Jesus Christ!), but here it's more confrontational than it's ever been. Black Sabbath's lyrics have a theme of being somewhat above the listener; they're astral spirits, telling you that things are sure to go wrong if humanity doesn't change it's sinful ways. For Volume 4, every one of them is right down in the dirt with us-"Snowblind" is about cocaine addiction and, although it's never explicitly stated, one glance at the lyrics to "Supernaut" makes it fairly obvious that it's being sung from the perspective of someone who's high on LSD(Ozzy Osbourne, in other words). The band does drift away from the "war, violence and hate" themes from previous albums, and by the time Sabbath Bloody Sabbath rolled around these ideas would be almost completely absent from the band's music.
As I stated earlier, this is one of the only Black Sabbath works where nothing really stands out about the album as a whole. You'll get a few classics in the form of "Tomorrow's Dream", "Snowblind", "Supernaut" and "Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener", but as a whole the album coalesces into an incredibly solid but ultimately somewhat forgettable effort. That said, it's still absolutely worth listening to, as even a middling Black Sabbath album kicks the shit out of about 90% of other metal bands on a good day.
2. Is it "influential"?
Along with Master of Reality, Volume 4 helped pioneer what's come to be known as "stoner metal", which is a term that I hope explains itself. Plus, Frank Zappa referred to "Supernaut" as the greatest rock and roll song of all time. I'm not sure that anything anywhere has ever received higher praise than that.
3. Is it a good entry point for beginners?
Pretty much every Black Sabbath album is a good entry point for beginners, and this is probably as good a place to start as any, maybe even an exceptional place to begin: If the listener enjoys the style of this album overall, it'll probably be easier to introduce them to other Black Sabbath albums and even get them started on doom metal. Plus, once again-"Supernaut". I can't imagine any listener with a heavy bone in their body, first time or no, not absolutely falling in love with that song.
Are you calling Frank Zappa a liar?