“Like many projects featuring multiple singers, the album called Iommi is a mixed bag but with more gems than turds.”
Iommi is the first released solo album by Tony Iommi, but actually the third recorded. The first was 1986’s Seventh Star, released as “Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi”, with Glenn Hughes on vocals. 10 years later, Tony recorded another album with Hughes often referred to as “Eighth Star“, which was released in 2004 (after the drums by Dave Holland were re-recorded by Jimmy Copley) as The 1996 DEP Sessions. Then finally in 2000, Tony took a page from the successful Santana formula book and did an album with various lead singers called Iommi.
Like many projects featuring multiple singers and assorted musicians, the album called Iommi is a mixed bag, but with more gems than turds. The guitarist picked an interesting assortment of vocalists, mostly artists big in the 90s. It’s telling that Tony’s good buddy Glenn Hughes isn’t one of them (though Hughes returned on 2006’s Fused). Clearly commercial interests were most important when it came to selecting the singers and songs.
The inimitable Henry Rollins gets the enviable opening slot with “Laughing Man (In the Devil Mask)”. Rollins sounds best with a heavy riff behind him, and this one is pure grunge. Producer-de-jour Bob Marlette co-wrote almost every song, and there’s little doubt that this is how Iommi acquired its “modern” edge. Rollins creates a swirl chaotic rock around him, but the riff alone would have sunk without Hank. Iommi seldom writes such atonal, monotonous guitar parts as “Laughing Man (In the Devil Mask)”.
Skin (Skunk Anansie) is surely one hell of an underrated singer, and her track “Meat” howls. Iommi’s solos and riffs sound much more like what comes naturally from him. Then, it’s the unfortunate sound of 90s drum loops and samples. It’s Dave Grohl’s tune “Goodbye Lament”. Because as soon as one thinks of Iommi or Grohl, we think of drum loops, am I right? Fortunately Grohl has ex-Sabbath bassist Lawrence Cottle and Queen maestro Brian May on his track. He plays the drums when they finally do kick in. Three of those four guys played on Headless Cross! The drum loops suck and date the song to a certain period in time, but fortunately Grohl knows how to write good melodies so it’s not a total bust.
Phil Anselmo (Pantera) takes the very Sabbathy “Time is Mine”. That riff sounds like it may have been later used on an actual Black Sabbath record. The track simmers with fury, then Phil lets it rip loose. The only way to make Sabbath heavier than Sabbath is to include a singer like Anselmo. Drumming is Seattle legend Matt Cameron.
The expressive Serj Tankian (System of a Down) lets his pipes have their way with “Patterns”, amidst more of those annoying samples. It absolutely sounds more System than Sabbath, which is fine since both are heavier than fuck.
The one guy that pulls off a truly Black Sabbath-sounding song is the guy you’d least expect: Billy Corgan. Yet his “Black Oblivion” comes closest to the spirit of classic Black Sabbath, in terms of length and epic riffage. Billy plays bass and guitar on the track as well — what a phenomenal bassist! (The drummer, Kenny Aronoff, knew Corgan from the 1998 Smashing Pumpkins tour on which he played, and then Aronoff went on to play on two more Iommi solo discs.)
The Cult’s Ian Astbury makes Iommi sound like — who else? — The Cult! Brian May returns for some guitar (with Cottle and Cameron on bass and drums). The Cult rarely employ such monolithic riffs, but the chorus is pure Cult.
“Flame On! I used to bleed like a suicide mother,
Flame On! And now I breath in this dirty black summer,
Flame On! I bought the truth in the mouth of my brother,
Flame On! I used to bleed like a suicide motherfucker.”
Shame about the damn loops, like something discarded from Chinese Democracy. They also infect “Just Say No to Love” featuring the late Peter Steele of Type O Negative. Like Astbury, he makes Iommi sound like his band, which already sounded a bit like a Black Sabbath parody.
The biggest disappointment on the album is second to last. “Who’s Fooling Who” is a virtual Black Sabbath reunion, with Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward returning to the fold. On bass is Lawrence Cottle, making it 100% Sabbath alumni, 3/4 original. And it’s easily the most boring song on the album. The best thing about it is Bill Ward, the first drummer who didn’t sound like a session guy. A muffled Ozzy phones in his part, but Bill puts some effort into composing the percussion. The best part is the instrumental burnout.
And then, a surprising finish: Billy Idol, with a monstrous “Into the Night”. Idol should consider doing heavy riffy metal like this more often — he’s good at it. Though he effectively snarls his way through the slow riff, his punky side comes out when things get fast. The contrast between riffs and tempos is half the fun.
With Iommi freshly consumed and digested anew, it’s obvious that good portion of what you heard was purposefully geared towards the nu-metal Ozzfest crowd. The selection of musicians was clearly slanted post-80s, but it’s the loops and samples that really blow. The blame must be laid on producer Bob Marlette, especially considering some of the loops sounded exactly like another band he produced: Rob Halford’s Two. The whole thing sounds like a “product”, though at least with some pretty incredible riffs behind it.