Coming hot on the heels of last year’s ‘Paranoid' Super Deluxe Edition, Sabbath’s 1972 forth opus is next in line for similar treatment. An expansive deluxe package featuring the original album, a whole disc of outtakes and one of alternative takes, false starts and studio dialogue as well as a live set from 1973, it really is the ultimate version of this classic release.
Oddly leapfrogging ‘Master of Reality’ in terms of chronology in the same way that the debut album was skipped over in favour of their sophomore effort, 'Vol 4' is in some ways a surprising follow-up release to ‘Paranoid’. But as any metalhead will tell you, the first four Black Sabbath sets are truly indispensable, making 'Vol 4' more than worthy to come after that colossal career-defining set.
One listen back to its crackling grooves through fresh ears in its’ newly remastered form confirms exactly why. Kicking off with the tuneful sludgefest of ‘Wheels of Confusion’, it’s followed by the grooving ‘Tomorrow’s Dream’, and the at the time, uncharacteristic mournsome balladry of ‘Changes’ – perhaps the most unlikely track in the whole of the Sabbath catalogue.
‘FX’ may be a bit of throwaway nonsense, but with ‘Supernaut’, and ‘Snowblind’ – the original title for the album - following in quick succession, it’s easily forgotten. With its dreamy, hazy acoustic picking meanwhile, ‘Laguna Sunrise’ is aptly titled, offering a welcome pause before the final pairing of the underrated ‘St. Vitus Dance’ and classic dirge of ‘Under the Sun’.
Coming across discs two and three, the outtakes offer a fascinating glimpse into the recording process of the album, and the between song chatter puts you right there in the studio, as Tony Iommi feels his way through 'Laguna Sunrise', and Ozzy exclaims "Bollocks!", when asked what the title of the song is, ahead of a take of 'Wheels of Confusion"! It's this material that will excite completists the most.
The live material, originally slated for a shelved release, was recorded in March 1973 at various stops along the band’s U.K. tour. Although some of these performances have been previously available - most notably on the 'Live at Last' / 'Past Lives' albums - this is the first time that a full 1973 live Sabbath show has been recreated. Oddly showcasing only a brace of 'Vol 4' tunes in 'Tomorrow’s Dream' and 'Cornucopia', its rounded out by classics from the Sabbath catalogue, including a particularly welcome 'Killing Yourself To Live'.
As a package, the set is simply stunning, with multiple sleeves, a hardback book with extensive notes, and a poster. In the original album credits, the band famously proclaimed; “We wish to thank the great COKE-Cola company of Los Angeles” for aiding the creative process, and coming in a box big enough to rival the Cornflakes packet that allegedly stored the stimulants, this version of 'Vol 4 'is a fantastic addition to the Sabbath catalogue. A word of warning though; the lid may be harder to remove, should you be forced to flush the contents down the toilet at haste.
Given that Geezer Butler recently told eonmusic; “there will definitely be no more Sabbath – it’s done”, and with Ozzy’s well-publicised health concerns, a song like ‘Changes’ perhaps takes on added poignancy in 2021. But with a legacy like theirs, Black Sabbath can rest assured that their place in music history is secured.
Black Sabbath 'Vol 4 - Super Deluxe Edition' is out now, via Warners. Click here to order.