Throughout the entire month of ‘Sabb’tember I will be serving up songs from significant releases by Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Dio, Black Label Society and others off the Sabbath Family Tree!
Vol. 4 is the fourth studio album by Black Sabbath, released 25 September 1972. It was the first record by the band not produced by Rodger Bain as guitarist Tony Iommi assumed the production duties. Sabbath reached beyond their own musical roots during the recording process, coming up with a mixture of classic heavy riffing, a growing sense of melody and even some touches of progressive rock. The end result was nothing short of awesome! The album endures as a classic today – even though it was almost derailed by the band’s growing substance abuse.
Supernaut” featuring drummer Bill Ward’s soul-inspired breakdown, is the fifth song on Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4. It features an Iommi riff so classic that artists as diverse as Frank Zappa and Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham would later name it as a favorite. The fact that Zappa called it his favorite Sabbath song is funny because in a 1994 interview bassist/lyricist Geezer Butler revealed, “I loved Zappa’s lyric approach. That influenced me lyrically, definitely when writing the song.
The Vol. 4 album’s cover art that features a monochrome photograph of Ozzy with hands raised throwing peace signs (taken during a Black Sabbath concert) has proved iconic, as it has been imitated and parodied on numerous occasions, such as on the 1992 Volume Two EP by the band Sleep, and the ’94 Planet Caravan EP by Pantera. Many of the album’s lyrics see to derive from the paranoid delusions of cocaine abuse, so much so that Sabbath wrote a one of their classic tracks in open celebration! It was almost the album title until the record company intervened.
Musically, the song “Snowblind” is the band’s most obvious reference to cocaine, their drug of choice during this period. Snowblind was also the album’s original working title, but Vertigo Records was reluctant to release an album with 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 Ozzy said, “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.”
Ozzy also delivered some of the best vocal performances of his career on Vol. 4, singing with a range and clarity throughout that surpassed everything he had previously done. But some tracks suffered from mixing issues, with both the band members and their technical support team dealing with drug issues.
Released in September 1972, Vol. 4 went gold in less than a month and was later certified platinum. Critics were typically dismissive of the album, though the critical community would later reverse itself dramatically and hail Black Sabbath as the musical pioneers they really were! The Forefathers of Heavy Metal!