Tony Iommi - Iommi (2000)

Credits:

  • Tony Iommi - guitars
  • Bass: Laurence Cottle, Peter Steele, Ben Shepherd, Terry Phillips, Bob Marlette
  • Drums: Matt Cameron, Bill Ward, Kenny Aronoff, Jimmy Copley, Dave Grohl, John Tempesta
  • Additional guitars: Brian May, Ace, Billy Corgan
  • Produced, engineered & mixed by Bob Marlette. Recorded at A&M Studios (and other, about 7 or 8 other studios)


Background

If you don't already know who Tony Iommi is, get the heck out of here and go find out. The man needs no introduction from me. But I'll give you a little history on this album. Back in the mid 80s, after Ian Gillan left Black Sabbath, Bill Ward went into rehab, and Geezer Butler dropped out of site for a while, Tony Iommi figured it was a good opportunity to do a solo album. He called his pal, Glenn Hughes, and asked him to sing on it. Though Hughes was at a real low point in his life, overweight, and terribly addicted to cocaine and booze, he agreed to sing on Tony's solo album. And as Hughes stated in later interviews, his interest in the project lay in the fact that it wasn't going to be called Black Sabbath. So they recorded what became 7th Star. But when Tony went to release his solo album, the money men had other ideas. The record company said: "We'll put it out, but you have to call it Black Sabbath." And some clever bugger even came up with the all-appeasing, albeit redundant moniker: Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi (so as not to confuse it will all those Black Sabbath albums Tony didn't play on). So a record company decision doomed 7th Star to be (mis)judged as a Black Sabbath album — something it was never intended to be. And Tony still never got his solo album!

Years passed, and in 1996, Tony again began the work on what was supposed to be a solo album. Again, the project was to have featured Glenn Hughes on vocals, plus Dave Holland on drums, and Don Airey on keys. But once again, the project was derailed. Officially, two events conspired against the project. 1) Someone got a copy of the the basic tracks and produced a bootleg CD (called 8th Star *). This act seemed to take the enthusiasm out of the project for both Iommi and Hughes. And 2), the original Black Sabbath lineup reunited, and the subsequent tour and live album occupied Tony for most of 1998 and 99.

When the Sabbath reunion finished, Tony finally decided to revisit his solo album. Only this time around, the lineup turned out to be vastly different. Much more modern names were brought in. Maybe Tony actually wanted it that way, however, I unofficially suspect that Tony's record company didn't like the idea of old Dinosaur Rockers getting the gig. My bet is that when the record company guys heard the names Hughes, Holland, and Airey, their eyes didn't turn to dollar-signs. So instead, Iommi worked with more current artists like Philip Anselmo (Pantera), Billy Corgan (ex Smashing Pumpkins), Skin (Skunk Anansie), and Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) — the latter of whom was also forced down Ozzy's throat by his record company as a songwriter for the Down To Earth album.

Fortunately, Tony was able to make the most of it. And while the vocalists on Iommi certainly bring different moods and elements to the songs, I think it's also safe to say that these are weakest vocalists Tony has ever worked with. None of these singers can deliver the kind of power or add the melodic sense you'd get from any of the post Ozzy-era Sabbath vocalists. Indeed, Ozzy is one of the best singers featured on this album. The good news is that Tony's riffs and songs here are so bulletproof, even weak vocal performances can't dent them. So let's listen.

Track By Track (vocal cues in parentheses)

Laughing Man (In The Devil Mask) (3:39) Henry Rollins on vocals. This is an uncharacteristically uptempo track, built on faster riffs than we typically think of from Tony. The song begins with the chorus (The laughing man in the devil mask) — a fast riff with a repetitive hook. Guitar part in verse part one (You ripped yourself to shreds) leaves some room for the vocals. Rollins tries to vary the vocal attitude and delivery, but he still mostly grunts and shouts his vocals — 'cause that's what he does! Good lyrics, though. Verse part two (As the needle finds the vein) is an eerie-sounding descending figure with a purposely disturbing tonality. Then back into the chorus. At the end of the second chorus, there are some dischordant guitar notes that just add a dark, twisted mood to the whole song. Back into verse part two. Tony has at least one SG with a trem on it, and the solo sounds like he used little bar on this. Particularly evident in its opening phrases and a slow dip on a trill. The track just tramples you.

Meat (4:53) Skin on vocals (Skin is a "she," right?) Dark, moody, unsettling guitar intro made even more disturbing by Skin's disquieting, helium-soaked vocal warblings. Weird guitar effects — there's a lot of strange little background noises throughout this song. Everything about this song would make it a great soundtrack for a movie about insane asylum horrors. Ominous melodic line in the background playing a figure with the flatted 5th interval which is so characteristic of Iommi. Quiet electronic drum kit on the verse keeps the drums subtle and helps set you up for . . . the BIG RIFF — which hits like a ton of bricks on the chorus (you can't hide) and just flattens you. This is classic Tony. Dinosaur driving a steamroller. Huge, slow, heavy, tuned down, dragging behind the beat (real drums here). Note that the third note in the riff is subtlety bent, then released into the fourth note. This is a trademark Iommi device used to add tension. Verse two brings it right back down to the quiet unsettling part creating a big dynamic contrast between quiet verses and the thunderous choruses. Bridge (just before the solo) switches the feel — everything drops out except the guitar which plays a more uptempo riff. Then Tony rips into a totally badass wah solo that is both raunchy and melodic. Great stuff. Back into the verse. Use of real drums on the verse for the first time ups the ante for the final verse. Skin does her best to hammer the song home on the outro choruses, but Bruce Dickinson, she's not. Hear it!

Goodbye Lament (4:50) Dave Grohl on vocals and drums. Song begins with a looped part — again, a very modern device used throughout this album — combining noise and odd melodic devices with a scratchy, electronic hip-hop drum kit. Tony plays a quiet, phased dark melodic line on guitar. The effect creates more moody stuff before the song explodes into full power with big guitars and real drums. Ever wonder what Nirvana would have sounded like without bullshit guitar? This track is it! It sound more like Nirvana than Sabbath or Foo. Grohl does a first-rate Cobain impression, and delivers a vocal performance that is extremely reminiscent of Cobain's treatment of tracks like Teen Spirit, Heart Shaped Box, and others. To wit, a breathy, almost semiconscious feel over the quiet verse part (Say a prayer for me, in my memory), contrasted against the louder second verse part (Hello misery, your the best of me) and the chorus (Goodbye Lament) — both of which are shouted in a gravely voice complete with a sneering, Cobain-like drawl. [See the chapter on dynamics in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Lead Vocals]. The song bounces back and forth between these soft and loud parts throughout. Tony must have picked up on the Nirvana vibe — right down to the skipping of the guitar solo. This is one of the weaker songs on this CD, and by Tony's standards, this is a weak guitar riff.

Time Is Mine (4:55) Philip Anselmo on vocals. Ahh, this is better. A return to a more Tony-like riff. Again, notice the subtle bends used between notes in the riff. Verse is a variation on the main riff played with the volume rolled back to provide dynamic contrast. A few harmonics tossed in for interest. Anselmo, like Grohl on the last track, sings softly on the verses (Lift me up) and uses what he has of his limited melodic range before slamming into louder verse parts the chorus with the vocal chord-shredding rasp he's known for in Pantera (Undress me from these rags). Even if this vocal style isn't your thing, Tony's guitar riffing is top notch here. Dark, heavy, and quite characteristic of his style. Bridge (Deplete the eyes) is effective and features drum hits with some unison bends used to create tension. If you do like these vocals, your in luck, as Anselmo is supposedly quite involved in the next Iommi solo album.

Patterns (4:20) Serj Tankian on vocals. Moody, electronic loop, leading into another huge dino riff. Verse one (Life is a story . . .) begins with a rhythmic, machine-like riff over another drum loop. As Tony has done a lot on this album, he changes the dynamic by going to a real drum kit — this time, behind more melodic riff for verse part two (but to live means to be here). Another nasal, whiny lead vocalist with little range. Doesn't matter at all. Tony just levels everything in his path. Bridge changes the feel and breaks the tension. Serj is yelling out: (What is it that makes us lose sight. True sight, of what is real and essential. I'll take organized patterns of chaos, Over the chaotic organizations of man, any day). Yeah, whatever. Shut the hell up, you vocal hack. Back into the rhythmic verse and out. No guitar solo. I've had this album a few years and didn't even notice that until just now. No loss when the riffs are this good.

Black Oblivion (8:18) Billy Corgan on sneers and whines. Lots of parts to this song. Many twists and turns. The guitar sound here kind of harks back to some of Tony's earlier tones in Sabbath. Uptempo intro starts with an ascending riff over a straight beat. Verse part (You ask me why, I'll tell you die) is a different riff — more of a stop-start kind of feel. Verse part two (You don't know just what I'm waiting for) is the same riff as the intro. Corgan's nasal whine is so thin he makes Ozzy sound like a vocal god. Song breaks down to a eerie, quiet half-time feel (Voices tell me strike the match and burn it all to hell). Back to the main riff, once, but then an unexpected left turn into a typically Tony-like break — nasty riff over drum hits. Back to the half-time feel, but the progression ascends, increasing the tension (Drive slow motion firewall). Then another transition riff (is it a bridge?). Then everything grids to a halt at 2:47 and the song takes off again on a completely different path. Once again, Tony makes these transitions all seem so natural, yet they're anything but. The new part is a different riff with a completely new rhythmic feel (Family spins the circle. Nerves are growing cold). A quick, ascending turnaround (No more lines to cross) raises, then releases the tension. The part repeats and Tony tears into a lead. Nice, simple and effective. Another transition starts bringing us back to the original parts of the song with a subtle variation of the intro riff (You don't know just where I want to go). Then a tuned-down rumbling riff into something else we remember from before and Tony takes another (wah) solo. Back to the half-time breakdown, but with no vocals. Just a moody interlude for the fade out, with Tony peeling off a few bluesy licks. Most cool! A complicated composition, and very interesting — it works quite well.

Flame On (4:28) Ian Astbury on vocals. Finally, a song with someone who has a semblance of a real voice. Heartbeat-like electronic drum loop intro, with a purposely odd guitar sounds, used to set the mood. Uptempo. Riff plows in like thunder and Tony bludgeons you with it. Things get quiet for the verse part one making room for the vocals (I am one, one that shines). Tony just "creates moods" in the background — he's a master of that. Band kicks in and hits heavy again after the verse, establishing the song's pattern — quiet under the vocals, thunderous when the vocals stop. Astbury takes very Cult-like approach on the chorus (Flame on. I used to bleed like a suicide mother) which is an ascending progression. Tension is released with the big verse riff. Verse and chorus repeat, followed by a quiet interlude with more electronic sounds and on into the guitar solo. Nice tasty melodic lead by Tony. Back to chorus which repeats as an outro. Hear it!

Just Say No To Love (4:27) Peter Steele on vocals. I find this one of the most interesting tracks on the album because I like the vocal dynamics here. Real moody and creepy. Dark lyrics. While Steele doesn't have great range, he has more than most of these singers, and has an extremely low, throaty voice that he can use melodically. It's very effective for setting the mood on the verse part one (Jealous black and envy green. No one died and left you queen), a descending minor progression. I sound like a broken record, but just another huge, killer riff from Tony for the chorus (Just Say No to Love). Verse part one repeats. Verse part two (Left is right and right is wrong. None for all and all for none) increases the volume and the tension. Quick solo by Tony. Verse one and two repeat followed by another brief, electronic drum interlude. Verse part two and chorus repeat and the quiet interlude part ends the song.

Who's Fooling Who (6:09). Ozzy Osbourne on vocals. After all these other vocalists, this track is like coming home. Featuring Ozzy and Bill Ward, this one even begins with the ominous church bell tolling reminiscent of the intro of song Black Sabbath the tune that introduced the band to the world. Song jumps right in with the riff loud and heavy. Drag-ass plodding Dinosaur riff. The riff is the same for verse part one, but the volume decreases to make room for Ozzy's vocal in his low voice (Is the end beginning. Apocalyptic thoughts of doom). Second time around, Ozzy's sneering in his high voice. Verse part two (Watch your mother die, and then tell us not to fight) changes the tempo. Like many Sabbath songs, there is no real chorus part. They go around again, and then there's a classic, Sabbath-like tempo change in the middle. The plodding riff gives way to an uptempo gallop again, as in the middle of the song, Black Sabbath. Another nice, purposeful solo builds to a crescendo. Back to the verse parts again. Despite Geezer's absence, everything here fits like an old pair of sneakers and is as familiar as the back of your hand. This song sounds like classic Black Sabbath period.

Into The Night (5:03) Billy Idol on vocals. Another one of the albums stronger vocal performances. Never been a big fan of Billy's voice, but it certainly has it's own character and it works here. It's particularly effective on the quiet parts where he can sing low and melodic as in verse one (And you say you wanna live forever). Again, a moody introduction preps you for yet another sledgehammer guitar riff. Tony just never runs dry of these riffs. The chorus (I wanna rule this world) finds Billy using his more familiar vocal sneer that's less melodic. Verse and chorus repeat. While this album is lyrically dark throughout, I don't think anyone but Idol would come up with the lyric: and all the undead souls who walk the night — they can suck my dick. Bridge (?) is descending progression (Oh yeah, you know it's true) that leads into a new fast part: (When people say I'm from the underworld). The descending part returns to transition back to the main riff, and Tony rips into another very satisfying solo rude and full of attitude. Song winds down and gets quiet like the intro. Tony trades off some bluesy licks with Idol as he wraps up the vocals. Hear it!

Summary

The songs on Iommi feature a very consistent and formulaic approach: Quiet, dark, moody passages set you up. Classic, heavy, Iommi guitar riffs knock you down. And in the hands of the master, the formula works over and over again. This isn't rocket science. It's Dinosaur primitive in all it's glory — but with a few effective nods to modern technology. The only new element at player here is the extensive use of electronic drum loops, percussion and sound effects to create interesting atmospherics and compositional dynamics. Tony's albums have always featured such parts. Now he's just using different technology to create them. This album is jam-packed with great heavy guitar riffs that will flatten you. But pay close attention to what is going on in between those riffs in the quieter parts. Note how Tony creates the many dark moods that are on this album. These parts are very inventive and are a big part of why his heavy riffs hit with such force. It is the combination of these dynamics that is so effective. And there is no one better at it than Tony Iommi.

I have mixed feelings about this album. On one hand, I really enjoy it a lot. It's really strong, very heavy, and features all the elements I love about Tony Iommi. And honestly, that is enough to get a lot of enjoyment out of it. On the other hand, it could have been so much more. The vocalists on Iommi are really weak. I'll always wonder how these songs would have sounded like with Glenn Hughes on vocals (as was planned)**, not to mention other heavyweights who probably would have come running had Tony called them. Can you imagine if guys like Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford, Ian Gillan, Ronnie Dio were each given a track here instead of the likes of Rollins, Grohl, Corgan, et al? It would have ruled! But then, no one under age 30 would have bought it. Did they anyway? Oh well.

Gibson interviewed Iommi about recording this album and he stated:

"I used the same setup for the whole album. I used my Laney amplifier and Laney cabinet. The amp is my Laney signature model, which is a 100-watt amp. It worked fine for everything. If I wanted a quiet passage, I'd just turn the amp down, as opposed to going into a different amp. Years ago, when I'd done other albums, I'd use all these different amplifiers for different sounds-one for the loud bits and one for the quiet bits. This time, I used the same amp and the same guitars, which were all Gibson guitars — two SGs and two Les Pauls.

"Gibson made me a one-off Les Paul from a special piece of mahogany. It's such a nice piece of wood! It's got a maple top and just the natural wood is fantastic. I used it on this album with a heavier set of strings than I usually use: .010-.046. I use .009-.042 on some guitars and .008-.032 on others, so the .010s are quite heavier. I used the Les Pauls on certain tracks. I'd do a track with the SG and then do a track with the Les Paul, just to give it a contrasting sound. It wasn't my idea to do it that way, but it gave it a good sound. I used a Les Paul on all of the tracks, along with an SG for the rhythm parts and then for the solos, it was always an SG."

* in 2004, these original Iommi and Hughes recording were released as The DEP Sessions.

** in 2005, Tony hooked up and with Glenn and recorded the album, Fused. It's terrific.

Related / Also Recommended:

Iommi

Black Sabbath

By Dinosaur David B. Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved.