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The Vol. 4 Redux Compilation: Better Than the Black Sabbath Original?

The Vol. 4 album is where Black Sabbath started to go to hell. That was where Sabbath first ventured out of the doom metal they’d singlehandedly invented, toward a bludgeoning take on art-rock and FM radio-oriented heavy pop tunesmithing, with uneven results.

Maybe it was the demands of the record label, a new album every year becoming an impossible task as far as maintaining the insanely high creativity of their first three records. That job proved to be too much for just about every band from the radio-and-records era, so it’s probably not fair to fault the godfathers of heavy metal for dropping off the fourth time around.

So if you’re going to cover a Sabbath album, it makes sense to do this one.

Seriously – does anybody really want to hear somebody like Zakk Wylde put the bite on, and tap, and divebomb his way through a cartoon copy of the iconic first Sabbath record?

That’s why the new vinyl compilation Vol. 4 Redux – streaming at Bandcamp – is worth owning if metal or heavy psychedelia is your thing. it’s better than the original. Ten different bands take turns, some of them completely reinventing these songs, others just adding their own inspired and often amusing touches. Interestingly, pretty much all the vocalists seem to be shooting for Ozzy impersonations, and pretty much every band’s drummer rises to the challenge of nailing the great, underrated Bill Ward’s nimbly swinging attack.

Wheels of Confusion, by Thou  begins as brittle death metal that warms up with the long fuzztone jam at the end. Tomorrow’s Dream, by the Obsessed, is both fuzzier and more haphazard than the original – and closer to the way Sabbath would play it live. On one hand, the sonics of Vol. 4 are luscious: on the other hand, it’s more dense and, let’s admit it, slickly produced than the first three records.

The track that no band in their right mind would want to have to cover, obviously, is Changes. Yet High Reeper defy the odds, reinventing it as gritty doom metal: no keyboards on this one. FX, the dissociative free jazz-scape, gets a wry, quote-filled riff-fest of a remake by Sleep guitar icon Matt Pike.

The closest thing to the original here is Spirit Adrift‘s inspired, straight-up cover of Supernaut, complete with space-bubble sonics before the last verse. Green Lung‘s version of Snowblind takes the original to the next level, thanks to John Wright’s smoky roto organ and guitarist Tom Templar’s lighter, twin lead-fueled touch.

Whores blend sludgy menace and loopy whippit guitar in a slow, tarpit take of Cornucopia: let’s face it, the original was little more than a hodgepodge of riffs. The big surprise here is Mos Generator mastermind Tony Reed’s starkly elegant, baroquely orchestral version of Laguna Sunrise.

Haunt‘s St. Vitus Dance, for what it’s worth, gets a machinegunning attack that sounds a lot like Molly Hatchet. After all this, the macabre chromatics, funereal gallop and surgically unhinged guitars of Zakk Sabbath‘s Under the Sun is a surprisingly serious and mighty payoff.

Searing, Fuzzy Doom Metal From Swedish Band Lowrider

Swedish band Lowrider do not play Los Angeleno funk. Hard-riffing stoner metal in a Kyuss/Sleep vein is more their thing. Their album Refractions is streaming at Bandcamp. Strong hum-along hooks and interesting psychedelic textures pervade this – they’re a rare metal band who don’t waste notes.

The first track, Red River has a fat fuzztone riffage from the band’s two guitarists – frontman Ola Hellquist on lead and Niclas Stalfors on rhythm – over drummer Andreas Eriksson’s ba-bump beat, tantalizingly brief wah-wah guitar and a weird, echoey bridge. They do the ba-bump thing a little more artfully in Ode to Ganymede – the funeral-parlor organ, atmospherics and a wry guitar solo that sounds like a talkbox but is probably just Hellquist fiddling with his wah are unexpected touches amid the crunch and sludge.

In the hypnotic, almost nine-minute Semanders Krog, the band shift in and out of a tricky beat, indulge in some minimalist atmospherics and finally rise to a long, sputtering trails of sparks from Hellquist’s wah-wah. Mule Pepe is just as trippy but a lot more straightforward, beatwise and riffwise; finally, three tracks in, we get a few seconds of solo bass and drums, and a classic devil’s-horns salute for an outro.

The instrumental Sun Devil is based around a simple, classic series of variations playing off a low E; Peder Bergstrand’s bass is tuned a whole octave lower. The closing epic, Pipe Rider, has growling guitars in tandem with the organ and unexpectely new wave-tinged synth over Eriksson’s shamanistic drums. On one hand, this sound has been done to death over the years – because every year, another generation of alienated kids discover Black Sabbath and the thousands of bands they influenced. Long may they play this stuff.

Tuneful Heavy Psych Epics from River Cult

River Cult is the latest project of guitarist Sean Forlenza, late of epically intense, cinematic heavy rockers Eidetic Seeing. That band really liked long songs, a trait that Forlenza has carried even further on his new band’s debut ep, streaming at Bandcamp.The power trio builds a roaring, enveloping, psychedelic envelope of sound that’s a lot more propulsive than your typical stoner metal or postrock band.

The opening track,. Temps Perdu is a pounding mashup of the early Dream Syndicate, Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. As long as this song is – just a tad under ten minutes – it’s awfully catchy. Forlenza’s reverb-cloud solo slowly works toward a frantic shriek over Anthony Mendolia’s growling bass and drummer Tav Palumbo’s matter-of-fact, hard-hitting sway. From there they segue through a hypnotically looping outro to Shadow Out Of Time, Forlenza using his slide, again with a ton of reverb over a slow, loping beat. Tempos shift, they hit a headless horseman gallop, riffs echoing Sleep or vintage Sabbath, then finally take it out in a morass of bleeding amps and a twisted kaleidoscope of sound, like scanning the radio dial but not pulling a single clear signal.

The final cut is A Drop In The Ocean – gee, wonder what THAT one is about, huh? Interestingly, it’s the most straightforward number here: at its molten core, it’s an Abbey Road Beatles dirge as a vintage 70s stoner group like Poobah might have done it. Good music for slipping away from reality on a gloomy Sunday.