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Iommi with Glenn Hughes
The 1996 Dep Sessions
Sanctuary Records

The first dozen or so notes of Black Sabbath's Vol. 4 remain, to this day, some of the most archaic and frightening ever recorded. "Wheels of Confusion" was created at a time when the world was still in the midst of the political and social turmoil created by the Cultural Revolution of the '60s, Vietnam, Watergate, you name it. This song, more than any other, conveys the sense of hopeless chaos that threatened to unravel the fabric of society at every turn.

And it isn't even their most recognized song.

In fact, in most fans' and critics' opinions, it is probably a ways down the list. For nearly a decade, Black Sabbath was THE heavy metal band in the world. Their influence is undeniable, but few seem to really appreciate the breadth and depth this band possessed. Tony Iommi made the electric guitar produce sounds that previously could only have existed in Les Paul's night terrors. Ozzy Osbourne had an otherworldly voice that was nasal but contained a deep and swaggering power. And for awhile, they created albums where nearly every song directly affected future descendents of the genre, and their expanse delved into areas that modern metal has long forgotten or overlooked. (Well, at least Pantera finally gave "Planet Caravan" its due.)

But eventually, all good things come to an end. Never Say Die was barely a shimmer of the early glory, and a sure sign for the band to hang things up. Ozzy parted ways and found even greater success with the prodigious talent of Randy Rhodes, whose own career was cut tragically short, and the future of the archetypal heavy metal band looked in doubt. During my period of Sabbath discovery, I felt that the end of the road had been reached with Never Say Die, and assumed that the resulting albums were desperate attempts to continue a career under a brand name that had only its firmly cemented historical status to ride on. Purely on a whim, I salvaged a copy of Heaven and Hell from a bargain bin and decided to give it a try. I'd heard of Ronnie James Dio before, but didn't know much about him. He was a somewhat minor figure in the heavy metal world, and I was heretofore unaware of his association with Black Sabbath. My expectations were low; amazement, my reaction. In one album, Dio and Iommi had reworked Black Sabbath into a totally different, fast-paced and energetic (but still nihilistic) band. And that was the last Sabbath album I ever bought. I know there've been others, but Dio had moved on, and the chances that lightning might strike a third time were clearly diminished.

At the last album scramble (My new phrase for the intense sessions at Hybrid HQ of trying to figure out which few-from-the-hundreds will serve as fodder for review.) I came across one of the most unique last names in entertainment: Iommi. Tony Iommi is metal royalty, and I was sure none of the other heretics- er, I mean peers - would give it a scant thought. So, I secreted the album away to give it a spin.

Well, I'd like to tell you that it was a monumental achievement, one that had been the subject of some huge IP battle between Glenn Hughes, Iommi, and um, lets say Warner Records or something, but it's not. 1996 was a long time ago, and had this been recorded in 1988 and released in 1996, I think I'd be saying the same thing then as now: this feels old. But I don't mean 1100 AD old like "Wheels of Confusion", but 1988 old, like Whitesnake, another metal band containing a rock icon from the '70s, David Coverdale. The original Sabbath was inventive, original, and ethereal. This album manages to display Iommi's considerable skill for playing and writing for the guitar, and on technical merit alone I can't really fault it. The problem is that everything on this album has been done before, and it was all done well before 1996, and during a time when mainstream metal had become clichéd and hackneyed; prior to Metallica's resurrection and then subsequent re-burying of the form. Fortunately, The 1996 DEP Sessions manages to avoid the overwrought, balladic roads that typically make for metal mockery, but I firmly believe that Iommi would best be served by pairing up with younger musicians who were NOT influenced by him, and therefore capable of doing much more than try to re-write the same music he pioneered 35 years ago. Artists tend to become set in their ways, much like everyone else, and need to be forcibly shaken from their ruts, have their molds broken, and someone at this stage in his career isn't likely to do it on his own.

Now, this album isn't bad by any means, but it is definitely only for hardcore fans of Sabbath or Deep Purple (Glenn Hughes' prior band). It exists entirely of known quantities, and will merely satisfy anyone's desire for "more of the same." If you're someone who has to have anything with either of these names attached to it, then you're the sort who will buy it sight unseen, sound unheard.

My only real duty at this juncture is to tell you that it exists, and that it doesn't suck. It is exactly what you expect it to be.


Track Listing:
1. Gone
2. From Another World
3. Don't You Tell Me
4. Don't Drag the River
5. Fine
6. Time is the Healer
7. I'm Not the Same Man
8. It Falls Through Me

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