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One would expect a solo album from one of metal’s most legendary axemen to own beyond all reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, what usually happens when someone records a solo album is that they fuse the style of the band that they came from with the mainstream rock/metal of the time. Tony Iommi is no exception. Just as his ‘solo’ album, Seventh Star, reeked of 80’s hair metal influence, this modern attempt at a solo album features plenty of infection from late 90’s modern rock.
The music is very divided in sound. Half of the songs have a modern Black Sabbath feel, with dark atmosphere and some heavy Iommi style doom riffs. The other half have mild industrial influences in the drumming, effects, and production, as well as mallcore meets Audioslave riffing and song structures. The songwriting is very simple and very derivative, although it does make for a decent listen overall. The most interesting part about this album is the variety of vocalists enlisted to sing on it. Each song has a different vocalist from different styles of rock, ranging from Henry Rollins to Billy Idol to Serj Tankian to Billy Corgan to Ozzy himself. In some cases this makes for some interesting songs, especially if you happen to like the particular vocalist, but in other instances it really sucks. The vocalists sing differently here than they would on their own projects which again, is either good or bad depending on your feelings on them. I thought the best songs on the album were those that featured Billy Idol, Billy Corgan, and the one with Ozzy. The ones with Phil Anselmo and Serj Tankian were decent (despite your view of SOAD, Tankian is a very capable singer). The rest ranged from mediocre to poor, partly due to the lame songwriting, partly due to the singers. When Iommi plays a solo here, it’s amazing, but he doesn’t play them often enough to save a lot of the songs.
So what we get is some decent mainstream metal crossed with Black Sabbath, with some decent singing, and some horrid lyrics. An altogether mediocre release that’s better than Seventh Star was, but not by a whole lot. The guest singer concept was interesting, but most of the songs still kind of had the same feel. One day Tony Iommi will put out an amazing solo album, but that day clearly hasn’t come yet.
Tony Iommi’s first ‘official’ foray into solo territory was this self-titled experimental LP, in which every song has a rotating line-up, including the lead singer. While it is quite intriguing for a Sabbath or Iommi enthusiast to hear the renowned guitarist collaborate with some contemporary names in rock, the constant rotating of the line-up gives the album a compilation feel, rather than the coherent ambiance of a tried and true studio album. It can also be said that some of the song writing, the lyrics in particular, are somewhat uninspired.
However, ‘Iommi’ does start off with a corker, “Laughing Man (In the Devil Mask)” featuring Henry Rollins. The main riff is excellent, and the drumming is very tight, with an almost punky edge to it. Rollins trades lines of the verse with himself, as only a complete schizoid nut like Rollins could do. Essentially, it sounds like Sabbath and Rollins Band collided at high speed.
Dave Grohl contributed to the radio single, “Goodbye Lament”, which is a very moody rocker that never received the attention it deserved. Although with Mr. Grohl providing the drumming himself, one has to wonder why there’s a drum machine loop during the opening of this song. The legendary Brian May lends his guitar skills on this track, which unless you read the liner notes, you’d probably not realise. That’s not to say the playing is bad, but it’s nothing sublime like May’s output in Queen’s heyday.
The highlight on ‘Iommi’ is a bombastic second track, “Meat”, featuring ex-Skunk Anansie singer Skin (now a solo artist). Her vocals are well suited to harder music, clearly evident during the chorus, when the guitarist provides a mean bastard of a riff that gives the song an absolutely massive sound. The duo effortlessly play off of each other later in the song, Iommi’s sublime solo complimented by Skin’s haunting wails in the background. Based on the strength of “Skin”, it’s a real shame Tony Iommi didn’t seek out more female vocalists for this project.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of ‘Iommi’ is disappointing at best. Pete Steele’s track “Just Say No to Love” being one of the prime examples. One might expect a man who’s band is clearly in the thrall of Black Sabbath to be a little more motivated to work on this project. Yet Steele’s track comes off as turgid and dour, and is utterly unmemorable after listening to it. These same qualities are also present on Serj Tankian’s “Patterns” and Ian Astbury’s “Flame On”: plodding music coupled with bored sounding vocals.
Worse still is Billy Corgan’s “Black Oblivion”, where an idea for a three minute song is stretched out to nearly eight and a half minutes. Iommi’s nonexistent flair on this track brings back bad memories of 1995’s ‘Forbidden’. Also on the turkey pile is Phil Anselmo’s track, “Time is Mine”. The song doesn’t seem to be suited to Anselmo’s strengths, and thus his vocal performance is stuck in a no man’s land between his typical Pantera scream and his sullen, macabre vocals for Down.
Before the train goes completely off the rails, a familiar tolling bell goes off, bringing Ozzy and Bill Ward out of the graveyard to save the day. The almost original Sabbath line-up contribute a lovely atmospheric tune, suitable for a chilly late October evening. Ozzy’s vocals give the chorus a catchy vibe, in a dark pop kind of way, and Iommi saves his best solo of the record for this song, but the man of the match is Bill Ward, who’s drumming hasn’t sounded this good, this relevant, in ages. A classic.
What could have made ‘Iommi’ a better experiment? As shocking as it may seem, my personal opinion is that the man was too safe in his choices for vocalists. Iommi should have sought out a truly extreme vocalist, perhaps someone out of the death metal genre. I also believe Iommi should have gone even further out of the metal/hard rock genres to find a left-field vocalist to record a heavy metal song. Some fans were shocked, baffled, and/or disappointed that non-metal vocalists such as Billy Idol or Skin were selected for this project, but I feel these were the gambles that paid off. According to a Metal Hammer interview with Tony Iommi, he had convinced Tom Jones (!!!) to record a song for the album, but the two artists had conflicting schedules, and couldn’t find the time to enter the studio. Some readers are probably gagging at the thought of it, but I would have paid hefty amounts of cash to hear the guy who did “What’s New Pussycat?” wailing away to a Tony Iommi riff.
Well, this is the first review I've ever written, so hopefully it turns out ok.
When I first heard that Tony Iommi was going to put out a solo record with guest vocalists, I was pretty pumped. Sabbath is one of my favorite bands of all time, and a large reason for that was Iommi's crushing guitar playing.
The interesting part of this record is the fact that each song features different musicians accompanying Iommi, with the main focus being on having a different singer on each track. Also, each singer helped co-write their song. Many people seemed disappointed with the listing of singers for the album, but, although many of them are not 'classic metal' singers in the traditional sense, for the most part, they are all quite talented.
The disc opens with the Henry Rollins-sung track "The Laughing Man (In the Devil Mask)". A good opener, full of energy, with a good main riff going throughout. (ok, well it IS Tony Iommi, after all) Skin, a female singer formerly of Skunk Ananainse (sp?), a band I don't know much about, sings the second track called "Meat", and proves that she has an excellent voice. Its a good, moodier track, with some great vocals in the chorus.
The third track was the first radio single, and if I recall, it didn't get all that much airplay. It features Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters) doing the singing and the drumming. Brian May (Queen), plays some guitar on the track as well. Its actually a pretty solid song, to these ears at least, that has a good light-to-hard transition as it enters the chorus, and some simple but effective riffs. Phil Anselmo's song, entitled "Time is Mine" is next, and Phil manages to sing a bit more than he often tends to. Matt Cameron (Soundgarden/Pearl Jam) plays the drums on this track. There is a nice muted descending riff behind the verses that I like, and Phil puts a lot of emotion into his voice as the song moves into the pre-chorus and chorus sections. Some of the best riffs on the record show up in this song, too.
The fifth track features Serj Tankian from System of a Down on vocals. The guy has a very interesting voice, with a very wierd vibrato. The chorus makes this song, as the vocal lines compliment, and add power to, the already excellent guitar line. Billy Corgan's track is up next, on which he sings, plays bass, and adds some guitar lines. A very well-written song, probably one of my favorites off of the album. The song stays interesting by going through a variety of themes. Has a nice solo around the 6 minute mark, which is more laid back than the rest of the song, and provides a nice contrast.
Next up is Ian Astbury (The Cult), and Matt Cameron back on drums. Astbury's voice is pretty slick, but the song behind it isnt all that great. Still a decent ride though. One problem I have with these songs is that so many of them start out with sound effects and some 'modern' sounding drumming. Makes them start running into each other after a while. Peter Steele (Type O Negative) sings and plays bass on "Just Say No to Love", and definately has a cool voice. Another cool song. Don't quite know why Jon Lord's name is in the song though.
Track 9 is the one I was most looking forward too, as it features Ozzy Osbourne on vocals and Bill Ward on drums. Throw Geezer in there and you'd have the original Sabbath lineup! The song works well, and is one of my favorites on the disc, although Ozzy's voice isn't quite as good as it was on his album previous to this (Ozzmosis) and the one after (Down to Earth). Good chorus. The album closes with Billy Idol's track "Into the Night", which is isn't so great. "All the undead souls who walk the night, they can suck my dick." Wierd lyrics.
Overall, its a good and interesting album, although some of the songs are quite similar to one another. Recommended if you like good, sludgy metal, and don't mind listening to some 'different' vocalists outside the metal norm. Also recommended if you managed to read through my entire review, which is way too long.