Black Sabbath’s founding guitarist recounts the British metal band’s chaotic history.
Iommi’s as-told-to book, co-authored by T.J. Lammers, offers a rote look at his foundational group’s story, which practically ended before it began. At 17, the aspiring axe man sliced off two fingertips while operating a machine press. Inspired by the example of gypsy virtuoso Django Reinhardt, who performed brilliantly after his hand was severely burned, Iommi continued to play, with self-fabricated “thimbles” extending his digits. He soon hooked up with three other Birmingham, England, lads—singer Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward—to form Black Sabbath, whose churning, down-tuned music drew the metal road map. Iommi, the band’s resident riff-master and studio obsessive, unimaginatively recalls the band’s story album by album and tour by tour, without explicating the group’s unique sound, internal chemistry or propensity for provoking public outrage. He’s most entertaining when describing the Sabbath’s incessant, hazardous prank-playing; much of the “fun” came at the expense of Ward, who was nearly suffocated by a coat of gold spray paint and almost fatally incinerated after Iommi doused him with tape-machine head cleaner and set him ablaze. The guitarist is not wholly unaware of the oft-ludicrous nature of his enterprise: One of the best chapters recalls the building of a massive, misbegotten Stonehenge stage set, which inspired a choice gag in This is Spinal Tap. But he is unable to shed light on the band mates’ fraught relationships (exacerbated by drug and alcohol abuse), Sabbath’s hellish business affairs or his own chronic cocaine use and failed marriages. Excepting a rich passage about a once-unthinkable 2002 command performance before Queen Elizabeth II, the late going devolves into an unenlightening recap of the band’s revolving-door post-Osbourne years, when it was fronted by singers Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan and others, and its latter-day reunion gigs. However, readers do learn that Michael Bolton unsuccessfully auditioned for the position of lead vocalist.
As rock bios go, this just isn’t heavy enough.