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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.