Tony Iommi has the fist that's launched a thousand bands. His mutilated hand and the down-tuned, misshapen chords he births with it are the foundation for everything heavy in modern metal. Iommi's Chthonic riffs, his medieval chord progressions, his glacial pace and phrasing have been imitated by hordes of guitarists, but no one can equal the dark majesty of his first 14 or so years in Black Sabbath. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Sabbath crawled around for 30-something years. Finally Iommi has slipped the chains of his former band and released an album under his own name in an effort to break free of the post-Ozzy Sabbath comparisons and expectations. Yeah, like that's gonna happen.
To Tony Iommi's credit, Iommi the album is not a typical guitarist solo effort. Unlike a Joe Satriani or a Steve Vai, Tony Iommi plays guitar in a band context; he does not force endless solos, whammy-bar fandangos and effect-pedal step-aerobic workouts on his listeners. Iommi knows the riff's the thing, and he keeps 'em coming. Nor does he make the mistake of attempting to sing; he leaves that to the professionals. Unfortunately, some of those professionals end up dragging Iommi (the album) down.
Iommi features a different vocalist on each of the 10 tracks (almost as many singers as have succeeded Ozzy in the Sab), and the album as a whole is as spotty quality-wise as you'd imagine something with 10 vocalists could be. The best tracks (Phil Anselmo's "Time Is Mine" and Henry Rollins' "Laughing Man in the Devil Mask") are burly avengers of Iommi's early years. He shifts from crunch to creepy with malevolent grace, buttressing each singer's performance with his formidable talents.
Unfortunately, not even Tony Iommi can help some performers. The only track worse than Dave Grohl's "Goodbye Lament" (a gurgling brook of vapid keyboards and sissy-boy vocals) is Billy Idol's "Into the Night." How bad is it? Idol actually sings, "All the undead souls who walk the night can suck my dick." Sounds as if Billy has confused necrophilia with narcissism, but when you consider his career, you can understand his befuddlement.
Iommi is not a bad album, but it's not an outstanding one. Despite its faults, Iommi is better than anything Ozzy has done since Diary of a Madman, and with some careful track programming (mind you don't step in the Ian Astbury, Peter Steele or Ozzy Osbourne shit on your way out), it becomes an excellent, albeit brief, album by one of the original guitar titans. Hail Iommi!
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