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For the hardcore Black Sabbath fan, otherwise doesn't go the extra mile to stand out from other Rock/Metal bios
on March 14, 2012
Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath is exactly what it says it is. Tony Iommi tells us in his memoir about his pre-Black Sabbath days, playing various gigs and goes in a linear line from Sabbath day one to Heaven and Hell to now. In many ways it's very much what you would expect out of Tony and there aren't any revelations or "wow!" moments, it's just Iommi being humble and telling his fans about his career exactly as it happened, one event after the other. We're pretty much all aware of the Ozzy years already and the Dio years of the band have been well-covered too. The short-lived Ian Gillan era was well covered and one of the best parts of Iommi's book in my opinion, perhaps because the Ozzy and Dio years are so talked about we tend to forget the album and tour Gillan did with Sabbath. Reading those stories about Gillan and recording and the tour was a highlight. I particularly enjoyed reading about the recording of the albums and the events that surrounded them, the musicians who played (it's easy to forget, especially mid-late 80's era Black Sabbath) and so on. Some of the albums didn't need more details like Paranoid or Sabbath Bloody Sabbath but others like Seventh Star, Forbidden Cross and Tyr beneficiated from the added details and perspective of Iommi. I appreciated reading the kind words that Iommi had to say about Dio and the last days of Heaven & Hell, the final project with Ronnie James Dio and the studio album they did.
I think one of the problems that bring down the book is that Tony Iommi simply isn't all that interesting or doesn't know how to make the stories and what he is attempting to tell seem interesting enough that you WANT to continue reading the book. I more as if I HAVE to read it because it's Tony Iommi, there must be some good stuff coming. Unfortunately Iommi's writing (or that of his ghostwriter) doesn't reach its audience and ends up being rather dry and dull. He's usually a more reserved person by nature therefore the fact that he wrote a book comes as a surprise. There's almost nothing about the inspirations behind the songs he wrote and not enough about the creative process of writing and building those songs fans love. But probably the most frustrating aspect of the book is the small chapters. I'm not kidding when I say very brief chapters; some of them are two pages at most and rather uninformative and low on content. What can you say in two pages that has potentially worthwhile content? Fortunately for us not every chapter is like this but his chapters tend to be generally short compared to other Rock bios I've read (I've read plenty over the years please believe). There are some good stories and I particularly liked to read about the often "forgotten" period of the band when Gillan left and they had a multitude of singers in Ray Gillen, Glen Hughes, Tony Martin and the others that never made it on an actual album. He also talks about working with musicians like Geoff Nichols and Eric Singer. In one chapter Iommi talks about almost hiring Michael Bolton as their singer and offers some comments on some of the singers they auditioned at the times which proved interesting. The part about the Stonehenge stage set incident and how they got the measurements wrong was fun to read. Iommi talks nicely about everyone generally and although he doesn't provide much insight on Ozzy or Geezer, he made me understand who Bill Ward is a little better. I believe he talks about Ward more than any of his other band mates and it gave me a clearer understanding of why Bill left and returned to the band all those times he did. There are times where I would have liked Tony to add more details such as his relationship with his daughter; passages like this were much too brief.
Black Sabbath fans such as myself will want to read this thinking it may give them some insight or tell them something they don't know but Tony pretty much tells you what you'd expect him to. It's fairly average bio, everything's there really: Tony's background, his trademark sound, forming Black Sabbath, touring and recording, the different singers and personnel changes, his drug problems and his personal life. Yet it doesn't go that extra step to provide crucial reading for the obsessed fan, perhaps it's the writing style or the annoyingly short chapters, the overly dull narrative but I call lack of substance. 3/5 stars, not a horrible book by any means but this one is only for the die-hard Black Sabbath/Metal fan who wants and needs to read everything there is on this iconic band. It's mostly a collection of short stories and recollections on the entire career of the band with interesting facts here and there. Unfortunately Iommi comes off as rather dull and someone who didn't really want to or was not inspired to write a book. I don't know whether to blame Iommi himself or the ghostwriter but it doesn't stand out in world where seemingly everyone in the rock world has written or is about to write a book. (If one had to chose between Ozzy and Tony's book, Tony's provides insight for all of the band's career but Ozzy is much more readable and entertaining in his depiction of the time he spent with the band).
On a side note, I'm saddened to hear about Tony's battle with cancer and I wish him the best of luck and hope that he comes back for many years with Black Sabbath.