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.