Black Sabbath, Vol. 4: Cocaine is a helluva drug

Black Sabbath, Vol. 4: Cocaine is a helluva drug
Cocaine is a helluva drug, or at least it was in the 1970s.

If you’re steeped in Black Sabbath lore, you know that 1972’s Vol. 4 (Rhino/Warner) was the Sabs’ ode to dancing with the white lady — the band spent half of their recording budget shovelling the Peruvian marching party up their snoots in a lush Bel Aire mansion. Seventies cocaine also produced genius in the grooves from Fleetwood Mac (Rumors) to at least half of Rick James’s oeuvre (before he picked up the pipe — and even that wasn’t half bad). Post ’70s cocaine? Phil Collins, Rick Astley, Culture Club etc. I rest my case. While the jury was still out on gak in 1972, Ozzy and co pressed to actually call the record Snowblind (!) after the track of the same name that wrapped every chorus with Ozzy merrily screaming “Cocaine!” into the mic like a rallying cry. Despite Warner Brothers refusing to “get on the rails” with the title, the band did manage to thank “the great COKE-cola” in the liner notes. 

Recently released is the mammoth box set dedicated to Sabbath’s greatest moment with a remastering of the original LP, a huge amount of outtakes remixed by master Steven Wilson (Yes, King Crimson, XTC), which takes up a half of this package, as well as assorted live tracks culled from their ’73 tour. Also included to sweeten the deal is some box candy, a rejected period-correct promo poster and a 60-page hardcore book that goes over the history of Vol. 4 in great detail. 

On Sabbath’s third blaster, ’71’s Master of Reality, the band truly came into their own, brimming with confidence, tuning down to Z and just punishing at every turn. A year later, the four Brummies would take their newly forged signature sound and perfect it on their fourth outing. While doom and dread continues to move in Sab’s shadows with Iommi’s ultimate riff fest, it’s Geezer Butler’s lyrics that give the songs a sense of depth and dimension while Sabbath’s secret weapon Bill Ward gets perfectly in sync and gives the songs true heft and a sense of destination.

So let’s get to the goods. If you’ve read this far, you’re obviously more than well versed in one of heavy metal’s truly innovative moments, one that almost five decades later still provides the ultimate blast of ballast and inspiration. First off, don’t be a pedestrian like I was and get the CD box version as the digital sheen is indeed evident when compared to my first-press U.S. vinyl copy. Also, with box sets, size does matter as the included book and poster aren’t nearly as impressive as their far larger vinyl box set counterparts. 

Having said that, the six versions of “Wheels of Confusion” is a cornucopia of treats for completists like me as it’s nothing short of thrilling to witness these songs being carved out, as well as instrumental and guide vocal versions of “Supernaut” and “Under the Sun” — true revelations that are sure to make you love this record all over again.

For the true Black Sabbath fan, there is more than enough to go around here to numb your gums and get yer gab on. Call the guy!!! ■

This column was originally published in the March issue of Cult MTL. For more about the Black Sabbath Vol. 4 box set, please visit the Rhino Records website.

See previous editions of Hammer of the Mods here.
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